The music industry has dramatically changed in the last 20 years. Digital production and new technology has taken over from analogue, but is this an improvement? Modern music has become boring and repetitive, in all genres, but this could all be changing thanks to one man and his urge to get back to real, raw rock and roll.
Foo Fighters front man,Nirvana drummer, and now director, Dave Grohl has released his début documentary Sound City – Real to Reel. The documentary looks into the history of the infamous Sound City Studios in Los Angeles, and raises the argument of ‘which form of music is better?’ Digital recording has made a large impact in the music industry and has made consumption of the latest releases quick and limitless, but music is an artistic form and requires personality and passion that is provided from analogue recordings.
Opinions on the music industry are those that tire and exasperate friends and family. Which artists you like or dislike, that cheesy song you love to hate or that one musician who just sets everything apart and becomes your influence in everything you do. Either way, music is a part of our everyday lives and we all appreciate it – in our own ways.
The only way we get to enjoy music is through artists who dedicate their lives to producing material for the fans. Sound City Studios, founded in 1969, was home to some of the biggest names in the rock and alternative world; releasing iconic albums from the likes of Pink Floyd, Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac and ‘The Boss’ himself, Bruce Springsteen. However, the one album that shows the level of talent sketched into the history of Sound City comes from the Seattle three-piece who became the, accidental, greatest band of their time – Nirvana. Recorded in Sound City Studios Nirvana’s 1991 release Nevermind has become one of the world’s best-selling albums of all time, recently celebrating its 20th birthday.
Grohl through his documentary is now taking us back in time to see what recording original and personal music used to be like. Based around the classic Neve soundboard used in the studio, the Foo’s front man and a cast of musicians including: Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age (a band which Grohl has also drummed for), Corey Taylor from Slipknot and even Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, describe the changes in the music industry. The switch to digital has impacted smaller studios as they cannot keep up with the demand for new technology as well as music shops since the digital age lets people buy their favourite music without even setting foot outside.
Prior to the digital revolution artists such as The Beatles would have to practice for days before getting their shot to record their songs live, without the opportunity to make an error. The transition in recording started in 1972 with the introduction of reel-to-reel decks, where songs could be encoded to digital audio and these advancements continued to happen until the 1990’s when the compact disk, was released to play all the music recorded on to it. With the use of MP3 music which started in 2005, after legal battles due to copyright laws, the digital age was well and truly upon us.
Digital in the music industry is extremely successful, adaptable and importantly easily accessible to consumers, but it does mean the decline of analogue music. The closure of Sound City saw the original soundboard being removed due to the fact the studio was no longer being used as musicians are choosing digital recordings. With analogue, artists are expected to practice before recording allowing a raw sound which encompasses the personality and emotion behind each song and delivers true talent. Many artists today are choosing the easy option of digital where no practice is necessary and if you can’t sing that well then it isn’t an issue – auto-tune will fix all your bum notes.
For the unknown musician, digital can be seen as a guiding light and helping hand whilst staying true to their original musical talent. Singer-songwriter Gary McDowell, from Greenock, explains that changes in the music industry can help the independent artist because it let’s artists get music out there, with YouTube helping him get 500 views on a song he uploads. Therefore decline of analogue recording has actually helped many artists like McDowell when releasing music. He said: “Five years ago I could only sing songs when playing in bars and giving out free CD’s and there would only be only one guy taking a CD since nobody wants to carry something about with them.” The introduction of digital downloads means independent artists have the opportunity to make their names known.
The appeal of going out to the shops to buy an album is decreasing, leading to the closures of many music shops, due to the increase of digital downloading. Although this is a negative outcome for the traditional musical purchase, acts like McDowell see the benefits that digital purchases can have on their careers. He said: “For independent artists it’s like a needle in a haystack. If it was me in the 60’s all it would take is one lucky shot but now your lucky shot is with producers taking notice in your live acts and finding you on YouTube and Facebook to see what you sound like.”
However, Sound City Players have taken the traditional approach in recording their album, Real to Reel, with the help of the Neve soundboard taken from the original studios and purchased by Grohl after the closure of Sound City. Recording with the old equipment cements the idea of analogue versus digital in a poetic way, each member of Sound City Players has a connection to the studio and the soundboard as it changed their lives – especially each member of Nirvana – and allowed them to be the raw, talented musicians they wanted to be. Talent which flows through the documentary awarded Grohl’s directorial début a spot at this years acclaimed Sundance Film Festival.
Follow Gary McDowell on Twitter @GaryMcDMusic or search him on YouTube