The Story Behind Sound City Studios

Posted by Rob B

1969 was a turning point for the music industry. It marked sensational album releases from The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who and The Rolling Stones, it saw the introduction of the first Helios recording console and marked the opening of the soon-to-be legendary Sound City Studios.

The Story Behind Sound City Studios

Run by Joe Gottfried and Tom Skeeter, Sound City Studios started on a bumpy road until Mr Skeeter managed to buy a (soon-to-be) classic of British audio engineering – a one of four in the world Rupert Neve 8028 console. The newly acquired board featured 28 inputs, 16 busses, 24 monitor outs and came packed with model 1085 EQ modules and no automation.

The studio has always had an interesting clientele, from the productions of David Briggs (After the Gold Rush by Neil Young) all the way to cult leader Charles Manson who had used Studio B only a few months before the gruesome summer of ’69. Sound City soon became home to the likes of Joe Cocker and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – the latter of the two was introduced to the studio by Leon Russell and Denny Cordell of Shelter Records who had been recording at the studio for some time.


Tom Petty, teaching the Heartbreakers a new song, Hard Promises LP sessions, Sound City, Van Nuys, CA, January 1980. (C) John Bernstein

Popularity followed Sound City well into the 1970s with with Fleetwood Mac taking center stage in 1976 after recording Never Going Back Again from their seminal album, Rumours. The ‘80s and ‘90s saw productions from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (it’s worth mentioning now that the group has had a fruitful relationship with the studio which lasted over 30 years), The Black Crowes, Tool and the infamous Nirvana whose album Nevermind was recorded in May and June of 1991. Rick Rubin was also a common face at Sound City in the ‘90s, bringing in artists from the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Johnny Cash. What’s more, the late ‘90s and 2000s saw a slew of artists, such as System of a Down, Queens of the Stone Age, Slipknot, Vanilla Ice, Nine Inch Nails and even a young and somewhat undefined Kings of Leon in 2003.


Nirvana recording 'Something In The Way' at Sound City Studios

With this much talent passing through the studio for more than 30 years, many wonder what makes this rather small compound nestled in the Van Nuys district of LA so special. On the one hand, we have the unmistakable sound of drum recordings in Studio A while on the other, the classic 8028 console which used to sit gracefully in the adjacent control room. But we must not forget that behind each and every recording made at Sound City is a handful of very talented and resourceful people. Apart from the producers brought in by the bands and record companies, there exists a small but tightly knit community of engineers, technicians, managers and studio personnel who throughout the years have been at the heart of Sound City Studios since the very beginning.