Dave Grohl, leader of the Foo Fighters and former drummer for a band few people have heard of (i.e. Scream) makes the leap to directing with Sound City, a documentary about the legendary recording studio. While sporadically interesting with some fascinating info nuggets, it's ultimately a muddle.
Sound City was a nondescript studio located in Van Nuys, CA that became a magnet for bands to record because of two things: A great-sounding live room that made drums sound excellent and one of only four Neve 8028 mixing consoles to funnel the sounds down to tape. A veritable who's who of rock royalty from Tom Petty to Fleetwood Mac to Rick Springfield mined gold and platinum records in the seedy place, proving like Muscle Shoals did that the music is in the hands, hearts and gear, not the decoration and glitz.
One of the early revelations is that if Mick Fleetwood hadn't been checking out the studio, he may never have heard the Buckingham-Nicks album which had been recorded there which led to their joining Fleetwood Mac and enough stardom to make the cocaine super-abundant. As the Eighties brought digital technology, the studio started to fall on hard times until a three-piece band from Seattle (name escapes me) recorded there, setting off a rush of bands wanting to record where Nevermind had been tracked. (There's a quick clip of Rage Against The Machine recording half of their debut album in one night live in the studio with a bunch of friends serving as an audience.)
Eventually, the cheap power of ProTools and laptop recording along with the shrinking label budgets put the studio out of business in 2011. Not wanting to let that magic Neve, which was instrumental in launching Grohl's career, slip away, he bought the board to install in his home studio and then christened it with an all-star marathon jam session with the likes of Paul McCartney, Trent Reznor, Josh Homme, Springfield, Lee Ving, Stevie Nicks and others to write and record tunes on the spot. This segment makes up the back third of the film.
While the anecdotes are cool, the fundamental problem of Sound City is that it's too scattered in its approach. Is it about a mixing board and a studio? Is it about the changes technology have forced? Is it about the need for musicians to learn their craft? Is it about pretending Stevie Nicks doesn't sound like that screaming goat that was editing into that Taylor Swift video for viral lulz? Yes to all. While it's well photographed, it's not a well focused film.
Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable if you're a recording nerd and musician trivia junkie; otherwise skip it.