The audiences of this attention intervention were the fans of rock and roll, or the listeners. We are the ones who have enjoyed many albums released from Sound City without realizing where they were actually recorded, according to the documentary directed by Grohl, called Sound City. (Grohl, 2013) Before the purchase of the studio by Grohl, no one outside those labeled as musical artists were aware of the existence of Sound City, according to the same documentary. Grohl looked at this fact as an anomaly. When the studio was about to go under, he decided that an intervention had to occur to draw attention to the studio. Before the intervention by Grohl, the musical artists labeled Sound City as “the music industry’s best-kept secret.” (Grohl, 2013) After the attention intervention, everyone in the industry, including those just entering the scene such as myself, knew the studio Sound City. The reason this intervention is important is because Sound City deserves the same recognition as other recording studios such as Abbey Road and Motown and yet up until 2011 it received none. This paper uses the RSI model to analyze this intervention, as well as those laid out in Dave Grohl’s documentary Sound City and explains how Grohl promoted an attention shift among the listeners. Additionally, this paper also lays out an intervention discussed by Grohl in his documentary on the studio where the owners of the studio promoted a need intervention by labeling the studio and its sound as superior to its competitors. (Grohl, 2013) A search of scholarly databases turned up no research articles about the studio, however some rock ‘n’ roll websites are used in the post-intervention section of this paper, including Consequence of Sound and Pitchfork.
The year is 1973. Thanks to a bit of luck, Mick Fleetwood was looking for a studio in LA and happened to run into one of the producers at Sound City who directed him to check out their studio. This was the break Gotfried and Skeeter were hoping for to begin their intervention. If they could get Fleetwood to sign a deal at Sound City on the Neve and record his next album there, every artist would hear the superior sound quality of the board. This sound quality and mixing ability of the drums, which was viewed as superior for its time by Gotfried and Skeeter, would bring the musicians in droves to come record at Sound City. While taking a tour of the studio, the track played by Gotfried and Skeeter to show off the board to Fleetwood was a track off of the Buckingham Nicks debut album. Fleetwood was sold on the sound and agreed to record his next record at Sound City. When one of the members of Fleetwood’s band left just before the initial recording session, Fleetwood recalled the track he heard at his first visit of Sound City and asked the members behind the album, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, if they wanted to create a new band, called Fleetwood Mac. They agreed, recorded their self-titled debut album at Sound City, and are still together rocking today. (Grohl, 2013)
Unfortunately for Sound City, another need intervention occurred outside of their control in the music industry during the 80s because of the industry’s main audience, the listener. This intervention came in the form of the need for a synthesizer. Because of the success of bands like Duran Duran and Tears for Fears, the industry quickly turned to this fad as the next big thing and created a symbolic need for it, because that’s what the industry’s primary audience and source of revenue, the listener, wanted to hear. Sound City could not keep up. The anomaly that had been put in the background for years was that the Neve Soundboard was recorded with analog technology. (Grohl, 2013) The synthesizer instrument relied heavily upon digital technology, and because the technology was so new, there was simply no way for Sound City to be able to support this style of music. Before the studio knew it, this anomaly was in the foreground of the minds of the musicians, and there was nothing they could do to stop it.
To make matters worse, a stubborn mentality rose in the early days of Sound City that has stuck with the studio until they disbanded in 2011. Their philosophy was that they were not just sound engineers and producers: they too were artists. (Grohl, 2013) This was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because the sound engineers at the studio labeled themselves as the experts of how to use the Neve board. The artists would usually hand the production of their albums over to the engineers because they knew how to create the superior sound that Sound City was known for. It was also a curse when the fad of the synthesizer arose since the sound engineers of Sound City could not mix a synthesizer because of the limitations of the soundboard itself. While this philosophy of analog over digital was alive and well inside the studio, it was ignored everywhere else. Sound City was unable to use the influence it had obtained from 1973-1985 to convince anyone to come record at studio. No one saw Sound City as the place to go to meet his or her needs and to be successful. The studio fell into disarray from 1986-1991, releasing only one album in that span, which was a Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits album. (Grohl, 2013) Gotfried and Skeeter needed a miracle to bring the studio back to its former prominence. To say they got one was something of an understatement.
But nothing lasts forever. In the late 2000s, musicians began to shift from cooperating with recording studios to make their albums to doing it on their own on the computer. For years the recording industry had been able to mask the anomaly of the cost to record an album at the studio from musicians. They effectively did this because musicians had no other effective alternative than to spend thousands of dollars to use a studio. After all, Bands needed the sound of the studio. They needed a soundboard. However, the rise of the computer and applications like ProTools and GarageBand brought this anomaly into the foreground of the minds of the musicians. They realized that they no longer had a need to use a recording studio. All they needed to record a good album was a laptop. This intervention is still affecting the music industry today, as it has yet to find a way to respond to the practically free and homemade laptop-recording studio. One of the studios that fell to this rapidly rising trend was Sound City. Unable to pay its bills after the production of Arctic Monkey’s Suck It And See, the studio finally closed its doors in 2011. (Grohl, 2013)
According to Grohl in the same interview of him in his Sound City documentary, he gave the Neve Soundboard all the credit for his success. To him, the board is the reason Nirvana became as popular as they did and as a result made Grohl himself as popular as he is today. Without that board, he may still be in a little garage band somewhere in LA. (Grohl, 2013) He began this attention shift in order to give the board the same recognition it gave him back in 1991.
The documentary attempts to shift the viewers’ interpretation of Sound City Studios from “unknown” to “great” by changing what the viewer knows about the studio. Initially, Grohl brought credibility to the documentary by interviewing many of the prominent artists who recorded at Sound City throughout the years. Tom Skeeter and Rupert Neve, creator of the Neve soundboard, were also interviewed in the documentary. (Gotfried died suddenly shortly after the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind.) But the primary rhetorical maneuver of the documentary was Grohl highlighting the superior sound quality of the drums to the viewer. He did this by playing the drums in the studio and adding the recording track to the documentary itself. He then went on to play some of the more popular drum songs recorded at Sound City over the years. This maneuver put the naming of the “superior sound” that Gotfried and Skeeter had achieved during the run of Sound City in the foreground of our minds as the viewers. As a result, we began to also label the studio as “great” and with the help of this and the credibility of the documentary already established, Grohl created a successful intervention through the Sound City documentary.
With the documentary, Grohl does a great job to label the studio as great. His tactic of using anomaly-featuring communication to point out all of the albums released over the years of Sound City’s life effectively brings the level of respect that Grohl desires out of the viewer. While the documentary was unanimously received well by critics, (it currently boasts a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes) the album was not. Consequence of Sound labeled the album as heavy yet tame and far too similar to the recycled music of Grohl and the Foo Fighters. (Hadusek, 2013) Despite the great names attached to the album, the critic Jon Hadusek says that the album falls into the world of clichés with its lyrics, despite a strong second half. Pitchfork called the album “as generic and laborious as a ProTools tutorial.” (Berman, 2013) However, the critics of the album still labeled the studio itself as great and the Neve board as superior to its competitors, even today. I think Consequence of Sound put it best when they summed up the album and its use as a rhetorical maneuver by saying, “Who cares if these songs suck, let’s do this for the good of rock music.” (Hadusek, 2013) Even the critics label the studio as great.
Since 2011, Dave Grohl’s Sound City has been relatively dormant. After the recording of Sound City: Real to Reel, which was released on March 12, 2013, no major artists have come in to use the studio. This is about to change though. On March 24, 2014, it was announced that the band Bush would be using Grohl’s studio to record their next album. Additionally, it was recently announced that Grohl’s main project, Foo Fighters, would be using Sound City to record their upcoming album. Beyond that, who knows? One thing is for sure: the board is still very alive and well. The studio now constantly receives recognition, as it was big news when Bush and Foo Fighters announced that they were going to Sound City. Not because it was BUSH going to Sound City. It was big news because Bush was going to SOUND CITY. The studio is now labeled as great not just by the artists, but also by everyone. This is thanks to Dave Grohl.
In conclusion, the attention intervention created by Grohl effectively shifted the attention of the listener by realizing that some of their favorite albums were recorded in this little building in a back lot next to a parking garage. Similar to Sound City leading to the quick rise of Nirvana, Dave Grohl’s intervention led to a quick rise in popularity for Sound City. There is greatness in Sound City. Now us, the listeners, can’t wait to hear what Sound City has to offer next.