10 Music documentaries every aspiring producer should see
With the news that Dave Grohl is making a film about his favourite studio Sound City, I thought it a good time to do a rundown of my all-time favourite music docs.
I spent ages sifting through the archives to bring you the definitive collection of films that should be on every musician and producers viewing list: regardless of your own genre, these are all massively inspiring and offer real insights into all sorts of production styles and creative processes, all of which will aid your own approach to music production. The list covers everything from Techno, House and Hip Hop to 60’s Pop, Rock, Metal, Dub and Dylan. Enjoy!
1. Tom Dowd & the Language of Music
Dir. Mark Moormann, 2004
This is perhaps the one unmissable film on the list, regardless of what kind of music you’re making. As well as telling the story of relatively little-known but hugely influential producer Tom Dowd, the film offers a fantastic history of recording and producing music, from the primitive early days to the computer/digital revolution. Thought-provoking and very inspiring. Get it here.
Dir. Doug Pray, 2001
In Pray’s own words, “A feature-length documentary film about hip-hop DJing, otherwise known as turntablism. From the South Bronx in the 1970s to San Francisco now, the world’s best scratchers, beat-diggers, party-rockers, and producers wax poetic on beats, breaks, battles, and the infinite possibilities of vinyl.” Get it here.
3. High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music
Dir. Gary Bredow, 2006
This excellent film about the birth and evolution of Detroit Techno focuses on the holy trinity of the genre: Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson, and also features interviews with Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills, Carl Cox and Matthew Dear. Essential viewing for every dance music producer. Get it here.
4. Scott Walker: 30 Century Man
Dir. Stephen Kijak, 2006
The story of a 60’s pop star turned reclusive, mysterious and actual genius producer, this film is a great watch even if you’ve never heard of Scott Walker. Not least because of the bizarreness of watching people who are icons in their own right, such as David Bowie, bowing down before his genius. Get it here.
5. Classic Albums – The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Electric Ladyland
Dir. Roger Pomphrey, 2005
What makes the Classic Albums series an absolute must view for every producer is the format of each film: it’s not just the story of the making of an album, but you actually sit down at the mix console with the producer, engineer or artists (sometimes all at once) and they talk through the individual elements of key songs, bringing up the faders for each track as they go.
The Electric Ladyland film is a favourite because it demonstrates how Hendrix (and his team, including engineer Eddie Kramer) was so ahead of his time in terms of how he constructed his songs with layers and effects in the studio, in a way we take for granted now. Get it here.
Dir. Hans Fjellestad, 2005
The story of Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog synth. It’s amazing to think just how far-reaching the effects of his work have been: would your favourite electronic genres sound the same if it hadn’t been for the Moog? The film also includes many good interviews with people like sometime-Nine Inch Nail Charlie Clouser, Keith Emerson, Luke Vibert, DJ Spooky and Beastie Boys DJ Mix Master Mike. Get it here.
7. Stones In Exile
Dir. Stephen Kijak, 2010
This is the story of the making of the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main St. album. At that time the Stones had literally been hounded out of England, so they decamped to the South of France, and set about recording in the sprawling basement complex of Keith Richards mansion. Great insight into a totally unorthodox approach (at least for the time) to recording, that ended up giving the album an incredibly atmospheric sound. Get it here.
8. Kraftwerk And The Electronic Revolution
Dir. Rob Johnstone 2008
If Bob Moog was the guy who created the potential, the equipment, for electronic music that would change everything, Kraftwerk were one of the bands that actually made that music. This film actually goes into the whole German ‘Krautrock’ scene that Kraftwerk sprung from, so you get nice bits of Neu!, Can, Cluster and Klaus Schulze too. And if you make music but don’t know who any of those bands or artists are you must watch this! Get it here.
9. Pioneers of Electronic Music, Vol. 1: Richie Hawtin
Dir. Slices Magazine, 2006
It’s fun going from the films on Moog and Kraftwerk to a profile of a producer who is really at the cutting edge of current technology and electronic music. A fascinating insight into Hawtin’s personal and creative lives, being part of the second wave of Detroit Techno producers (kind of), and his views and approach to technology in music. Get it here.
NB: I haven’t been able to find any other ‘Volumes’ from this series, does anyone know if there are any / where to find them?
10. Classic Albums – Nirvana: Nevermind
Dir. Unknown, 2005
Another favourite from this series. Featuring amazing in-depth analysis of stuff like the harmonies between Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl’s voices, and how producer Butch Vig created the huge sounds of the guitars and Grohl’s drums. An obvious must for every rock producer or musician, but also for electronic producers who can get some tips on bringing the energy and dynamism of rock to their sounds. Get it here.