NORTH HOLLYWOOD: From the outside, it’s a nondescript office building that blends in with its surroundings; step inside Larrabee Studios, however, and you’re walking into an epicenter of Los Angeles pop music production.
For studio manager, Amy Burr and the staff at Larrabee, survival isn’t the challenge. Their month-to-month is about keeping up with demand. With a large share of mixes by resident Larrabee engineers and clients finding their way into the Top Ten charts, they’re apparently doing a pretty good job of that. And… they’re growing.
How does a commercial studio become and stay popular in the 21st century? A recent tour of Larrabee revealed much about what seems to work – and a lot of it is nothing new, exactly.
I. HAVE A LEGACY
Of course, Larrabee is by no means a newcomer to the scene. Going back to the 70s, Larrabee Studios has held a number of addresses in Los Angeles, including its current location on Lankershim Boulevard – previously known as “Larrabee North.” And this building, too, has an even longer history. This space has served as a studio since the days when recording engineers wore white lab coats.
Originally known as Davlin Recording, it had also been Giorgio Moroder’s facility until ultimately being purchased by Kevin Mills and developed into the studio as it is known today.
Larrabee’s studios have always attracted long-term lockouts from high profile clientele; Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna, among others, have recorded in Larrabee’s rooms. More recently, Timbaland, Bruno Mars, John Mayer and Linkin Park have been familiar faces at this recording and mixing mainstay.
Innumerable Larrabee staff from runners to tech shop personnel have gone on to become some of the most influential figures in the music industry. As an institution, Larrabee has graduated an extensive and prestigious list of alumni.
Take mix engineer, Jaycen Joshua, whose discography from 2012 alone includes at least a dozen charting records in the Pop, Urban and Rhythmic realms. He started as an intern at Larrabee and worked his way up under resident mixer Dave Pensado. Joshua, who has worked out of Studio 1 for a number of years, has put his mark on records by Justin Bieber, T.I., Chris Brown, Mary J. Blige, Mindless Behavior and 2 Chainz, to name a few. And he is in good company; his neighbor in Studio 2 is top mixer, Manny Marroquin, who mixed the majority of Alicia Keys’ Girl on Fire, Bruno Mars’ entire Unorthodox Jukebox, Tegan and Sara’s Heartthrob, Linkin Park’s Living Things and songs off the latest albums by The Rolling Stones, Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Nelly.
II. BE A COOL PLACE TO HANG OUT
In addition to its rich history and reputation for great sounding control rooms, Larrabee takes the high-end services a step further by dedicating a great big chunk of space to the non-technical aspects of record making. The center section of the building resembles a luxury lifestyle hotel, with a beautiful, large atrium, pool table and a kitchen that serves as a hub to everything that goes on. Clients can have associates through for private meetings, and can even entertain a group – not to mention meet and get to know other clients and staff.
There is a strong sense of family here, and this is fostered in large part in the non-technical spaces – through regular barbeques and Margarita Fridays. In fact, depending on where you’re standing, the atmosphere at Larrabee doesn’t feel all that much like a recording studio. And this, it turns out, is a good thing.
“It feels like a home,” said engineer Del Bowers, pointing out, “There aren’t gold and platinum records everywhere you walk.” Instead, there is an impressive art collection hanging throughout the facility. This makes the studio a functional gallery too, featuring an eclectic mix of paintings and photographs, now on their third group of showings. It gives artists a unique opportunity for exposure and blends visual arts into the creative recording environment.
III. KEEP THINGS INTERESTING
Now housing five studios, two of which are new, Larrabee seems to keep expanding and remodeling.
“We’re trying to keep the momentum going so it never gets boring,” explains studio manager, Amy Burr. “It’s never the same day to day and every time someone comes back, there is something new and exciting to see and experience. We do the five star hotel thing where we really try to take care of everybody.”
And, of course, they carry this over into the technical realm by providing what their high-level pop constituents want, and then some. So, it’s notable that every room at Larrabee is outfitted with an SSL console. Studios 1, 2 and 3 (the studio’s senior most rooms) each feature an 80-input SSL 9080 XL K-Series console as a centerpiece.
The consoles are accompanied by credenzas filled with plenty of analog and digital outboard gear and a pair of George Augspurger main monitors. In addition to the broad selection of gear outfitting each room, equipment rental company, Gearworks, is also located on the premises, offering clients even more choices.
One of the latest additions to Larrabee, Studio 4, features a classic 56-input SSL G/G+ console. The installation was handled by in-house veteran tech Aaron Becker and Larrabee alumnus Bruce Millett (of The Desk Doctor, who also refurbished the G Series console). The new studio features a sizable live room to handle tracking dates in addition to an isolation booth with video tie lines and everything, even the restroom, is wired in case there is a need to use the additional space for recording.
Studio 4 has a modern feel to the décor and its associated lounge has a distinct “Rat Pack” Las Vegas/Old School Hollywood ambiance. Tricky Stewart and Justin Timberlake have been regulars in this room since its completion.
Studio A, another new offering at Larrabee, provides a cozy room for anything from preproduction and writing to full blown record making. Victorian wallpaper and chandeliers, which have earned this studio the nickname, “The Bordello Room,” surround an SSL Matrix. An adjoining vocal booth and, of course, a private lounge, round out the space. The “crunk-pop” artist Wallpaper was in Studio A not long after its completion to break it in.
The new studios make Larrabee that much more accessible for commercial bookings. It’s a busy complex, with long-term lockouts going on throughout the year, but with five rooms now, your chances of getting in have just gone up.