I loved the first 2/3 of this, and kind of glazed over during the last 1/3. (It’s the curse of feature documentaries — most have about 60 minutes of great material, but are fluffed out to feature length.)
The first 2/3 is about Sound City Studios , a dumpy studio in LA, where Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Neil Young, and Nirvana recorded some of their greatest albums. The studio is most notable for the sound of the live room (especially the drums) and the Neve 8028 analog board.
The last 1/3 is about how Grohl bought the Neve console and moved it to his own 606 studios.
The documentary is mostly about the human element of music — the messy serendipity of getting a bunch of people in a room and making noise and then recording that noise. (And how that element has slowly faded as young musicians make more and more music by themselves in their bedrooms on laptops.)
I was most interested in the producers who helped get a lot of this stuff to tape — they had interesting thoughts on how you take the raw material of a band and craft it into hit records. At one point, Rick Rubin says, “Everything I try to do is from a fan’s perspective,” and as much credit that’s given to analog tape and the Neve console, you also get the feeling of the producer as translator, or medium, between band and listener. Keith Olsen notes, “What you have to do is get the listener to claim what you’ve done as yours.”
Artists are not always the best judges of what’s working, or, at the very least, what’s commercial. (There’s a great story about how Rick Springfield didn’t think much of “Jesse’s Girl,” but Keith Olsen heard the demo and liked it immediately — the first check from Warner Bros. was $1,000,000.)
Anyways, if you’re a music geek, you’ll like it.