In 2009, nearly a year after its opening, Matt Molchany’s unnamed recording studio sat hidden in the dark, trash-ridden alleyway that bisects New Street and East Graham Place.
One late night, Molchany sat outside the studio in deep thought, sitting on his hands to protect him from the ground. When he rose to greet his friend who had come to “jam out,” he realized his hands were covered in broken glass.
That day, he named his business Shards Recording Studio — an ode to its interesting location and Molchany’s punk upbringing.
Fourteen years later, Molchany is continuing to use his expertise to provide music opportunities for the local community.
“(Music) is a big part of how I self-soothe and how I exist in general,” Molchany said. “It’s the background of every second of my consciousness, almost. But outside of that, I want to define myself by who I am to people and being a good person, contributing in some way to humanity.”
Shards currently supports 15 artists and has collaborated with the Bethlehem Public Library, city government and the Lehigh Valley public radio, WDIY, to expand the local arts scene.
Molchany is the only employee at the studio and handles every responsibility, from taking out the trash to helping others feel comfortable enough to sing personal lyrics in front of him.
The studio’s walls are lined with a collage of Christmas lights, posters and instruments, including a 6-foot electric guitar hanging from the ceiling. Molchany said the decor came from a slow but effective “community effort” from thrift stores, bands and friends who were good at do-it-yourself projects.
Kevin Federico, ‘25, and Mike Kaufman, ‘25, are members of Landline, a local electric folk and psychedelic band. They started recording their first demo at Shards in August 2023 and described the wacky design of the space as a “mad scientist laboratory.”
They said Molchany can create nearly any sound they desire and can identify what additions a song needs before the band even realizes it’s missing something.
“I think (the design) gets you into the state of it more because it’s almost anti-professional,” Federico said. “I think that’s why (making music) doesn’t feel like a job. It feels more like you’re trying things out.”
Landline is working on their four-song EP and is hoping to record a full-length album at Shards next year.
Kaufman said Molchany is a talented yet humble producer. He described Molchany as “the guy” who knows what sounds good musically and can help get a band to where they want to be.
Shamus McGroggan, WDIY’s membership and development director, said Molchany has the musical expertise and resources at Shards to help develop new artists.
McGroggan and Molchany co-founded Tape Swap Radio 10 years ago, an original live music series that plays out of Shards.
McGroggan said the series started with hosting musical guests at Shards for the radio and a video series. Now, it books shows, releases live-recorded cassettes and creates zines, which are small-circulation publications.
“(Molchany’s) years of experience with recording music and being in bands has provided me with invaluable knowledge on how to best serve the Lehigh Valley’s artists and musicians,” McGroggan said.
As part of the series, Tape Swap collaborates with IceHouse Tonight, a diverse performing arts series in the Lehigh Valley, to record live shows with local artists at the Ice House.
Ice House’s artistic director, Doug Roysdon, has worked with Molchany since 2016. Roysdon initially worked in theater, but later expanded the Ice House to provide a space for emerging local artists with a focus on community-building.
Roysdon has been involved in the arts scene for the past 20 years, and he first met 10-year-old Molchany and his father at a local show.
Influenced by his father, Molchany said music has always been part of his life.
At age 3, he was playing the drums. By 7, he was editing and recording music with his father’s gear. And as he aged, he began to explore his talents in multiple bands.
“The punk rock side of things I discovered when I was 15 playing my first show, that made me feel like I can do anything and taught me to be myself at all times,” Molchany said. “I decided I wasn’t going to listen to any pressures, and I would just truly find what I really want to do, no matter how much time it takes.”
By 19, Molchany opened a commercial studio in Allentown. But after two years, he decided to drop everything and tour the West Coast with his band at the time.
When a family emergency brought him back to the Lehigh Valley nearly eight years later, he observed the area’s music scene and knew he had to get involved.
Molchany was motivated to quickly find a place to create his own studio. He didn’t have anywhere to live yet, but he felt the first step was finding somewhere to pursue music.
In the meantime, Molchany got a job as a social worker and operated the business on the side. By 2015, he was making enough income from sessions to support himself full-time and expand his studio hours and projects.
Molchany said he charges $35 to 40 an hour for local musicians.
“(Molchany) is just committed to it,” Federico said. “It’s his thing. He doesn’t care about getting monetary compensation. It’s not his main goal in running the studio.”
While making sure to keep his services affordable, Molchany also advises the mayor on expanding the local arts scene.
In 2019, together they established a free public recording studio at the Bethlehem Area Public Library. Now, they’re organizing an underground music scene celebration. Molchany’s goal is to find someone from each Bethlehem neighborhood to perform at the event.
Roysdon said Molchany’s involvement in Bethlehem so far has made him the perfect example of what he calls an “artist of place” — someone who knows an area’s history, the citizens, the local artists and has lived there for their entire life creating artistic spaces for others.
“Molchany does the arts as a community member, not as an artist only interested in fame,” Roysdon said. “His work is connected to place.”