Crystalphonic goes bankrupt

Only four years after opening its doors, Charlottesville's multi-million dollar recording facility Crystalphonic Recording Studio has declared bankruptcy and will sell off much of its contents at an auction on Thursday, October 11, according to a classified ad that's been running in the Daily Progress. Reached for comment, Crystalphonic CEO Dave Spence would say only, "I am not at liberty to say anything."

It's a state of affairs that's a far cry from the fanfare that accompanied the studio's 2003 opening in the old Monticello Dairy building, when it was purported to be on par with the best studios in the world, but in a setting far calmer than the hustle and bustle of New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville. "People live there for the industry, but they hate being there," explained Crystalphonic founder Kevin McNoldy in 2002 adding that many a musician with whom he had worked had said of Charlottesville, "Man, if I could live there and work, I would."

But as of 2005, that steady stream of rock stars coming to town had yet to materialize (save recording sessions by jam rockers O.A.R. and former-next-big-thing Blue Merle) and well-established recording studios on both coasts were closing their doors as at-home recording technology got cheaper. So, in an attempt to stay ahead of the curve, Crystalphonic made the switch from analog to digital recording. At that time, McNoldy said of the transition, "When things get low in the industry, that's when change can really happen, and you should invest in the things you believe in because it can only go up from there."

As he made those comments, McNoldy was sitting in his new home in Florida, and intended to work with the studio exclusively via the Internet. At the time, he didn't see a problem with such an arrangement. "In the same amount of time it would take to send a file upstairs to downstairs," he explained, "I can send a file from here to Virginia."

"My involvement with the studio ended shortly thereafter," McNoldy tells the Hook today. "I'm afraid I can't offer much help to you."

Jack Gray had worked as Crystalphonic's chief engineer until March, and moved to Atlanta soon afterward to pursue greener recording pastures. "I love Charlottesville, but any career move I could have made would have been a lateral move," he says.

Gray expressed shock at learning of Crystalphonic's demise and says that, based on his experience, the studio's financial problems weren't due to a lack of clients. "I was working 90-hour weeks there," he says. "It's not like I was sitting around with nothing to do."

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4 comments

A few excellent points above - I also thought of Bearsville in Woodstock, NY.

However, I also agree that it was a bad business model from the get go. First of all, if you going for the residential retreat model, then put the studio out in the country somewhere, not right in the heart of Cville. In addition, for the money that was spent on the studio, they really should have owned the building/property.

I actually thought it was ironic that they dumped the bulk of their analog gear at a point in the industry where analog gear is making somewhat of a comeback.

Also, my initial impression was that they were relying on a certain manager of a certain band for business and that didn't seem very realistic to me.

Looking forward to seeing what goodies are available this Thursday.

This was a doomed business model from the start.

Who would choose to record in Charlottesville Virginia over places like NY, LA, Vegas, Nashville, etc. Don't get me wrong, Charlottesville is a nice place to live but it's rather boring. Most musicians are stimulation junkies and Fridays After 5 and the Paramount just don't cut it. Plus, why would a major record label send their artists to a studio and producer that they don't have any influence/control over. Also, they didn't seem to acknowledge is the growing home studio market. With technology becoming more accessible to musicians, the need for the high end studio is diminishing. You can't compare a well calibrated room over some musicians basement, but can the average listener. And while production values will diminish in live recording sessions, they are also being advanced in the electronic music genre.

"Most musicians are stimulation junkies and Fridays After 5 and the Paramount just don't cut it."

The legions of amazing recordings made in such off-the-beaten-path locales as Woodstock, NY (The Band's "Music From Big Pink"), Keith Richards' home in France (The Rolling Stones "Exile on Main Street"), Criterion Studios in Miami (Derek and the Dominos' "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs" and a few great Allman Bros records) and numerous tiny studios in the Caribbean tell me that there are a lot of advantages to low-keying it. In fact, I would venture to guess (and this is purely a SWAG) that as many great albums have been made away from big cities as have been made within them - especially in the past 30 years or so.

Until the 70s, there was really no choice - you either went to LA, Nashville, Chicago, Detroit, or NYC. Recording equipment was prohibitively expensive, and in most cases custom-made by the house engineer. Atlantic Studios in NY, virtually built from scratch by the late great Tom Dowd, just didn't have a mobile unit. In fact, the first amazing live recording of any genre was made when Dowd trucked his gear down to the Fillmore East and recorded the Allman Brothers show. Then the Rolling Stones commissioned their mobile recording unit.

Now technology has advanced to the point where it's possible to have a state-of-the-art studio almost anywhere for practically nothing (relatively speaking). Because of that, it seems that it's even more likely that more recordings will be made away from big cities, not fewer. I don't agree that it's a bad business model - as the engineer noted, they kept him very busy. How about good idea, bad management?

Anyone know what ended up happening to the Studio? It's unfortunate that all these studios are going under now-a-days, although I haven't heard of any yet in '08.