Standing inside the main performance hall at Catalyst Media, there are subtle cues that this room isn’t just your standard four walls and a ceiling. For one, the wall opposite the stage juts out with a shallow zig zag pattern from floor to ceiling. “That’s the Helmholtz resonator wall, it defeats our axial mode,” owner and founder Bryce Kinsey tells me. It prevents standing waves in the room’s air mass from producing unwanted bass frequencies by disrupting those vibrations. Similarly, the two adjoining corners don’t come to right angles, but instead make a sharp 45 degree cut. As it turns out, this room-within-a-room has been constructed to shut out the rest of the world and allow the music inside to breathe deeply. It has also been wired to broadcast HD streams across the internet, all the while capturing the video of the performance for later use. Beaming with pride, Kinsey says, “It’s probably the best live audience sound stage in all of Virginia.”
His satisfaction is understandable given that a year ago, this space was nothing more than an old roller skating rink that had been chopped up into a mini shopping mall (you can still see the original narrow wooden slats of the skating surface in the floor). Tall and lean, Kinsey is the kind of guy who has a vision and goes for it, pulling in dedicated recruits along the way. He grew up as a military brat, relocating every three years to another part of the country. After studying clarinet for most of his childhood, he was later offered a scholarship to Berklee School of Music, but decided it wasn’t for him, saying, “I knew I had bigger ideas than just playing clarinet.”
They were saying, "You don't want to overwhelm your investor with too many ideas,” to which I replied, "Well, I'm one of those guys. What should I do?”
Instead, in 2007, he moved to Florida to attend Full Sail University where he earned an associates degree in Recording Arts and Entertainment Business. When he didn’t immediately find work that suited him after graduation, he joined the military as an electronics engineer to help pay off his student loans. When he got out, he spent a couple of years doing instrument calibration for a private firm, but eventually decided to go back to school for a degree in physics at the University of Mary Washington. That was where he hooked up with FredXChange, a group of entrepreneurs and start-up enthusiasts in Fredericksburg.
“I was attending one of their Open Coffee sessions,” Kinsey recalls, "They were saying, ’You don't want to overwhelm your investor with too many ideas,’ to which I replied, ’Well, I'm one of those guys. What should I do?’ Right then, somebody leans over and says, 'Hey, buddy, want to go check out a place after this?'" That somebody turned out to be Bill Stuart, one of the angel investors in attendance, and the two hit it off. Stuart owned the roller rink building and was impressed by Kinsey’s business ideas, so in September 2014, they started a multi-million dollar construction effort to make Catalyst Media a reality.
Kinsey wants the center to become a full-service suite bringing together artists and producers from around the region. He grew up on the tail end of the transition from analogue to digital recording techniques, a shift in the industry that has lowered the barrier to entry for sound engineers, but also diluted overall quality as a result. “These days, everyone feels like they're a producer because they can go to Guitar Center and buy a Protools rig with some Beats headphones,” he complains. Because Catalyst Media is set up to be a public use facility, not a record label, independent producers can reserve time to work on projects without worrying about compromising their intellectual property ownership. Kinsey continues, “We want to always have an open door to those grass roots communities because that's where it's at these days. Once an artist has grown beyond the basement, our larger facility is here to bring them up to the next level.”
In addition to audio recording and video production, Catalyst Media offers a slew of other services to bolster any musician’s level of professionalism. For those who are just starting out, they will help establish electronic press kits, print-ready photographs, and membership in trade organizations like BMI and ASCAP. In collaboration with SlamOne Studios, they can also work on song compositions and arrangements. Kinsey explains, “An artist can start with some left hand chords and a melody and leave with a fully realized song.” For solo artists who need a backing band, their team of in-house session musicians is ready to provide. Kinsey boasts that some of these session players are hired as full time employees, complete with health benefits and 401k options. “We want to encourage a thriving professional music scene in Fredericksburg and we hope this allows more career musicians to set up shop here.”
Finally, once all the recording is finished and it’s time for the public release, Catalyst Media can host live performances designed to further flesh out the artist’s content library. “This is would be a VIP exclusive event,” Kinsey says, “tailored specifically for sponsors, Kickstarter backers, scouts, and major label guys.” With a room capacity of 150, artists will get the feeling of a live show with the quality of a sound booth recording. Video of the event can be streamed live over internet to family and friends around the world, then later repurposed for use on social media or to send to booking agents.
"The whole reason I did this was to pay it forward,” Kinsey admits, “It was to give us a leg up, to finally give Fredericksburg a real full-blown production facility that everyone can use." The doors opened in the beginning of March and operations have been ramping up since then. In his usual style, Kinsey is on the lookout for partners to collaborate with in his shiny new playhouse. "What I love is when people come in and say, 'Bryce, I've got this crazy idea. Can we do it?' That's what does it for me."
Follow the journey online at catalyst-center.com.
Photography by Seth Casana