Larrabee Studios started out, literally, as a “mom and pop” business when, back in 1969, music producer Jackie Mills and his wife, Dolores, purchased a two-room, 16-track facility from songwriter Gerry Goffin. Owned since the mid-'80s by their son Kevin, Larrabee today is one of the largest studios in Los Angeles, encompassing seven studios spread over 30,000 square feet in three locations.
It's a bit ironic that Kevin Mills ended up as a studio owner; although he labored at Larrabee's front desk while in college, he was originally determined to avoid the family business. After graduating with a degree in economics, he launched a career as a stockbroker, but his fate took a turn in 1986 when his parents put their studio on the market. “I'd wanted nothing to do with the record business,” he says with a laugh. “But when my parents wanted to sell the studios, they had no takers. I decided to take over, and we agreed that I'd buy it from them.”
Once he became involved, Mills became a hands-on owner and a passionate gear collector. Over the years, he's combined that passion with a drive for excellence and a series of solid business decisions. Larrabee's long-standing relationship with SSL, which began in 1979 with the purchase of one of that manufacturer's first consoles, started a trend. A second SSL soon followed, and Larrabee became known for top-of-the-line mixing, cranking out innumerable hits throughout the '80s. When the company expanded north in 1990, adding a three-studio complex on Lankershim Boulevard, it was no surprise that SSLs were part of the equation. The spacious North was capable of accommodating entire multiroom projects; among them have been such high-profile sessions as Michael Jackson's Dangerous and History, and Madonna's Ray of Light and Evita.
In 1996, Larrabee became the first Los Angeles studio to purchase an SSL 9000. “SSL brought me and Dave Way — a client whose opinion and judgment I trusted — to their headquarters in England to demo the console,” Mills recalls. “We'd become known for mixing in the '80s, but for North in the '90s, we wanted to be more complete and multifunctional. That made a 9000 the best choice. People really liked the preamps and EQ, and its sound quality even won over people who traditionally liked older 80 Series Neves.”
Larrabee ended the '90s on a high note; in 1999, after 12 months of construction, North's Studio 3, the first ground-up 5.1 SSL 9000 J studio in Los Angeles, was completed. Also in 1999, Mills acquired Andorra Studios, a two-suite Neve 8078 tracking and mix facility. Now known as Larrabee East, the complex has been renovated and updated with the assistance of head technician Steve Anderson.
Growth continues at Larrabee: In 2000, a large atrium with extensive lounge space added a new dimension to North. With that project complete, Mills turned his attention to the original studios, which are housed in a designated historic building on Larrabee and Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. A 2002 renovation of what is now called Larrabee West left Studio B's popular SSL 68-in E Series desk in place, while Studio A became home to Los Angeles' first SSL 9000 K Series XL console, pictured on this month's cover.
“Larrabee West, which is in an old bank building, is clearly different architecturally from most studios,” Mills notes. “It was time to freshen it up, so we redid lounges, the entry area and, most importantly, Studio A. We wanted to take what had been our flagship room in the '70s and '80s and make it our best room, using everything we've learned over the years. We concentrated first on the recording area, with new wood floors, wall and ceiling treatments, and antique stained-glass hanging fixtures that provide a warmer feel. A's control room has always been popular, so we didn't want to rebuild it. We just improved it — the acoustics, the wiring and updating the outboard gear. The reviews have been great: The good news is that clients who already liked A still do, while some people who preferred other rooms of ours now also really like A.”
According to Mills, the response to the K Series desk has been unanimously positive. “People love the J technology,” he states, “and the channel strips on the K Series are the same. It's the J with a faster computer and a lot of other improvements, like the flip-up display, the new software and better bandwidth. What's really great about the K — unlike some other new-generation introductions — is that it's been bulletproof. We haven't had one minute of down time.”
Mills' studios continue to turn out hits from an industry Who's Who. All seven Larrabee rooms now offer either Pro Tools MIX Plus 888/Apogee 8000SE or HD systems with all current plug-ins and multiple flat-screen displays. In addition, a dedicated Pro Tools technician has been added to the studios' six full-time maintenance staff. “I try, month by month and year by year, to provide a better studio in terms of service and facilities,” Mills concludes. “I'm always trying to make Larrabee a better company than it was six months ago.”