In 1991 Nirvana recorded the album Nevermind at Sound City Studios. The band's drummer Dave Grohl was inspired to create the documentary after he purchased several items from the studio, including the Neve 8028 analog mixing console, when the studio closed in 2011.
Sound City Studios was located in the San Fernando Valley, amidst rows of dilapidated warehouses. The little-known recording studio housed a unique analog Neve recording console and had a reputation for recording drums. Artists such as Nirvana, Kyuss, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Rick Springfield, Tom Petty, Rage Against The Machine, and Slipknot recorded groundbreaking music at the studio. The film tells the story of the studio from its early days in 1969 until its closing in 2011. It then follows Dave Grohl's purchase of the studio's custom analog Neve console, which he moved to his personal studio, Studio 606. Rupert Neve is an English engineer who founded Neve Electronics in 1961, designed and manufactured the Neve 8028, "one of four in the world", and is interviewed by Grohl in the film. Famous musicians who recorded at Sound City reunite at Studio 606 for a jam session and to make an album of "all-new all-original songs, each one composed and recorded exclusively for the film within its own 24-hour session on that console." It also shows album covers by some bands: Red Hot Chili Peppers's One Hot Minute, Nirvana's Incesticide and Nevermind, Rage Against The Machine's self-titled album and many others.
The film was first exhibited in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2013, and released on video-on-demand and in theaters on February 1, 2013. It was screened on January 31 in five Australian cities (Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth). The documentary was also screened in three cities in Canada (Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal) and 51 cities in the United States. The film was screened for a one-off showing on February 18, 2013 in 23 theaters across the United Kingdom.
After the closing credits there is a short, silent segment of a home movie showing a band getting set up. The picture freezes on one person and the following text appears: "In memory of Brian Hauge (1970 – 2012)." He was the key grip of the film.
The documentary features interviews conducted by Grohl of artists associated with the studio:
Current or former members of the bands Dio, Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell, Pixies, Fleetwood Mac, Nirvana, REO Speedwagon, Weezer, Ratt, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, The Beatles, Cheap Trick, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Nine Inch Nails, Slipknot, Stone Sour, Metallica, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Fear, Foo Fighters and Rage Against The Machine appeared in the film.
The drummer of Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins, also appeared in the film.
Sound City received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 100% of critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 7.7/10 based on 43 reviews. The site's consensus states: "Smart, affectionate, and unabashedly sincere, Sound City pairs a great soundtrack with a well-argued ode to one of rock 'n' roll's most fondly remembered bygone eras." It was one of the highest rated limited release and documentary movies of the year on the website. On Metacritic the film has a score of 76 based on reviews from 15 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Kenneth Turan from Los Angeles Times gave the film a positive review, saying "High-spirited, emotional and funny, Sound City is, of all things, a mash note to a machine. Not just any machine, however, but one that helped change the face of rock 'n' roll." In a review for The Daily Telegraph, Sebastian Doggart awarded the documentary five out of five stars and proclaimed it as "an exhilarating exploration of the creative process." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone admits "In his directing debut, Dave Grohl shows the instincts of a real filmmaker. Sound City hits you like a shot in the heart." Bill Goodykoontz of The Arizona Republic remarks "Sound City is a music geek's dream, a rollicking look at a dumpy California studio where a lot of musicians found magic. It's also a bit of a mess, like all good rock and roll ought to be.", while Elizabeth Weitzman of New York Daily News praised that "Grohl's aim is to explore the aura of a place, but what he winds up proving is that people make the magic."
Nevertheless Phil Gallo from Billboard stated "Grohl's inexperience as a filmmaker only shows when the film makes a sharp turn out of history and into the more recent past: There's a sense that instead of celebrating great rock 'n' roll moments, a product is about to be pitched at the viewer."
The film received a Satellite Award for Best Documentary Film nomination in the 18th edition and the Cinema Eye Honor 2014 Audience Choice Prize.
Sound City: Real to Reel is the official soundtrack of the documentary and was released on March 12, 2013. The songs "Cut Me Some Slack", "From Can to Can't", "You Can't Fix This" and "Mantra" were made available on Sound City's official YouTube channel on December 14, 2012, January 15, 2013, February 15, 2013 and March 8, 2013, respectively.