Studio Showcase: Larrabee Takes Over Schnee Studio

LOCATION—What is a facility to do when the recording studio right next door goes up for sale?
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LOCATION—What is a facility to do when the recording studio right next door goes up for sale?

Larrabee studio manager, Amy Burr (left), with Aaron Becker, Larrabee’s longtime chief engineer at the SSL Duality SE now anchoring the control room of the studio’s latest addition—the former Bill Schnee Studio next door to the multi-room main facility. LOCATION—What is a facility to do when the recording studio right next door goes up for sale? If that facility is Larrabee Studios, and the business next door is the legendary Schnee Studio, it’s a no-brainer—welcome to Larrabee’s new sixth room.

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Built in 1981, Schnee Studio soon gained a reputation as one of the best-sounding recording facilities anywhere. Built by Bill Schnee—nominated 11 times for engineering Grammy Awards, winning twice with Steely Dan (for Aja and Gaucho), and with dozens and dozens of gold and platinum records to his credit—in collaboration with his mentor, Toby Foster, plus Steve Haselton and others, Schnee Sound featured a custom console, custom tube mic amps and an enviable collection of classic tube microphones.

But the real magic lay in the tracking room: a very large space with a special acoustic signature that was perfect for capturing the natural sound of acoustic instruments, in particular. That magic has been carefully retained in the renovation, along with the two spacious iso booths.

“It’s breathtaking, just a stunning space. And it was a perfect fit; we’re next door. How could we pass it up?” says Amy Burr, Larrabee’s studio manager. “So many incredible albums were done here.”

Indeed, it’s almost easier to list the artists that have not recorded or mixed at Schnee Sound. Suffice it to say, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Diana Ross, Miles Davis, Cher, Toto, Supertramp, Rod Stewart, Diana Krall and Natalie Cole all worked at the studio.

“[Bill] had all these beautiful signatures from clients on the walls. We didn’t want to destroy them, so they’re still here,” under the new wall treatment in the control room, says Burr. “You can still feel the good vibes.”

Larrabee’s history and reputation is not too shabby, either. Opened more than four decades ago, originally on Larrabee Street in West Hollywood, the present location was launched in 1991 in what was previously Giorgio Moroder’s studio. For a time known as Larrabee North (there was also an East and a West), Larrabee Studios currently houses four control rooms with two tracking rooms, plus a production suite. Notable clients have included Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Fleetwood Mac, Dr. Dre and numerous others. Eight-time Grammy-winning mixer Manny Marroquin has been in residence in Studio 2 for many years, and former Larrabee intern turned mixer Jaycen Joshua, who has three Grammy Awards to his credit, works out of Studio 1.

All four control rooms house SSL consoles—XL 9080 K series consoles in Studios 1, 2 and 3, plus a 56-input G/G+ in the newer Studio A—so it’s not surprising that the newly acquired facility is also equipped with an SSL desk: a new Duality SE. “It contains the K electronics, so it has that K sound,” says Aaron Becker, Larrabee’s longtime chief engineer.

But the Duality offers some improvements over the older K series, he continues. “The routing is much easier; the automation has been streamlined; the electronics, the functionality and the DAW integration— that’s really why we got the board in here.”

The control room at Larrabee’s newest addition features an SSL Duality SE, custom Augspurger main monitors, ample outboard gear, an API sidecar in the rear of the room along with new wall treatments to improve acoustic performance and room aesthetics. Plus, adds Burr, “We wanted to have the best of all worlds. In terms of bookability, it’s a multi-purpose tracking facility; you can do everything from pop to rock to strings to whatever.”

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The control room’s front wall was totally reworked during the refit. “We had a lot of discussions with regards to the front wall and the speaker placement,” Becker reports. “I really love the front wall; it’s beautiful. It really came out nice.”

The previously installed soffit-mounted main monitors, like much of Schnee’s gear, were entirely custom. “The crossovers looked like something from the phone company— very industrial,” Becker recalls. “So these are custom Augspurger cabinets; they’re based off the George Augspurger design, but there are some subtle differences, like the MLR horns. I like those horns a lot.”

Becker oversaw consultations with the outside vendors involved in the facility’s refurbishment and wired all of the outboard equipment in the credenza. “We have 12 Neve 1066s and four 1081s. We’ve also put in two Telefunken V72s,” he says.

Some of the gear was purchased for the new credenza. “But some stuff remained from our old Larrabee West location, so we had it available to us here,” he adds. The credenza also houses classic pieces from AMS, Eventide, GML, Pultec, Teletronix, Universal Audio and others, and there is a vintage API sidecar at the rear of the room.

“At Larrabee, the idea is that people—depending upon what they’re doing—can move from one room to another. There are similar choices in each of the rooms so that there can be continuity,” Burr elaborates.

“But this studio can also be standalone, if we have a client that wants to do a whole album here and have their privacy. It’s a pretty private facility next door anyway, but sometimes people want something even more private. And they would still have all the amenities they would have over there—the front desk, the runners and the service.”

After an initial shakedown period, the room has already been attracting clients, she reports. “We have a new Island Records artist, Linus Young, who’s been doing some tracking in here. Ricky Reid, who also goes by Wallpaper—he’s a pretty hot producer right now, through Sony—was here for a couple of days. And we’ve got Salaam Remi and Jordin Sparks coming in.”
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