MNYK Studios, a new creative space for musicians, videographers, photographers, and engineers, has opened a block off Main Street in Manayunk, representing a significant investment and a cause for optimism within the local creative economy.
MNYK Studios boasts facilities for digital and analog music recording, a podcast lounge, a green screen, an editing room, and an event space. It’s the brainchild of Muhlenhaupt + Company (M&Co), a boutique consulting firm run by father/son duo Adam and Rip Muhlenhaupt. While they have operated out of the Philadelphia area for more than a decade and have serviced music-industry clients in the past, MNYK Studios is an unexpected venture, thanks to the marriage of an empty space and an unforeseen opportunity.
Sounding it out
After cycling through potential tenants and finding no promising candidates, the owner of the future MNYK Studios space offered it to Adam. It was an enticing opportunity, since the company already inhabited the adjacent space, but also an unanticipated one—there was little about M&Co’s existing business model that would have made opening a creative studio seem like a natural progression.
The Muhlenhaupts ultimately decided to undertake the project when they learned that the space had previously served as Philadelphia University's textile-machinery research center, where heavy-duty equipment had operated for years—meaning that much of the building was already partially soundproofed. This, in addition to many other infrastructure features, made converting the space into a studio a viable move.
The company began by dividing the 3,000-square-foot industrial space into separate rooms for each service it planned to offer. It put up specially designed walls and doors and a professional acoustician soundproofed the space, a process that amazed M&Co's owners.
"He walked into this room, he clapped his hands, and told us it went back and forth 27 times," says Adam. "I thought, how can you hear that?" A few months later, they were open for business.
Why not DIY?
With the rise of ubiquitous and relatively cheap home recording equipment, how profitable is it to operate a business like this today? Why would musicians record here when they can feasibly record something approaching professional quality at home? These two models—DIY and professional recording studio—seem diametrically opposed. In many ways, the former is cannibalizing the latter.
MNYK Studios manager Kristen Humphries, who grew up immersed in the DIY movement, says that the biggest reason to come to a place like this is that professional-grade gear is, frankly, quite expensive and not so easy to master.
"Macs come with GarageBand, so any kid who wants to be a producer, you get a Mac, and you're there. In terms of efficiency and ease, then, DIY is the way to go. The hitch is you have to teach yourself everything,” she explains. “Whereas you can come in to a studio simply knowing how to sing and play your instruments and be supported by the staff, supported by the equipment."
Powered by collaboration
The other major reason might be that a place like MNYK Studios is as much a creative environment as it is a traditional studio. As M&Co sees it, having an agency connected to the space brings additional value to those who decide to record there. Adam notes that an engineer who recorded in the audio space then reached out for help with designing the band's cover graphic; a band recorded both video and audio in the same day, then had professional headshots taken in front of the green screen.
"You could just use a laptop and teach yourself," says Kristen, "but the biggest thing is the collaboration that happens when you're in a space like this."
That was a big part of M&Co's decision to build an interdisciplinary space in the first place. Having a green screen the next room over means that musicians have the opportunity to record their music, take photos, and conduct a music video all in the same place. It also means that as they come and go, they're brushing shoulders with artists from other disciplines—photographers, sound technicians, videographers—with whom they can work and learn.
Not the only sound in town
MNYK Studios differentiates themselves in this regard, but when it comes to their core offering, they're not the only game in town. Competition is fierce in a field which already includes Milkboy, Boom Room, Germantown’s Rittenhouse Soundworks, and the Forge—each offering a different price point and slate of services.
But a new studio with expanded offerings opening in Philadelphia should be heartening to the city's vast community of working artists in every discipline, a strong signal of investment in Philadelphia itself. A new space broadens the canvas of those benefiting from these kinds of investments and could breathe new life into an area of the city that's underserved in this regard.
At home in Manayunk
While Philadelphia has always been a home to professional musicians and video artists, why build MNYK Studios here, and why Manayunk specifically? For the M&Co team, the answer turns out to be simpler than you might expect.
"I've always wanted to invest more in Manayunk because I just love it," says Adam. "It's my home. It's a fantastic neighborhood with so much character, and it's a growing neighborhood.” It’s outside the city center, “but it's of the city. There was no other place it could be."
What, When, Where
MNYK Studios is located at 4145 Station Street, Philadelphia. (888) 669-5788 or mnykstudios.com.