You're 13, and nothing will stop you from rocking with your killer band. Nothing except not knowing how to play an instrument and not knowing anyone who does. Having no knowledge of song structure, recording, booking gigs or playing out doesn't help.
Fear not, Junior. Like a rock 'n' roll adoption agency, Madison Music Foundry gathers in musical orphans and matches them with peers. Celebrating its fifth anniversary this fall, the Fitchburg facility takes the quaint School of Rock concept and turns it up to 11.
Some students come in as stone-cold beginners, start lessons, then enroll in the Rock Workshop band program. Others come in with some ability and sign up for a band right away.
"They tell us what kind of music they like," explains education director Ken Fitzsimmons, "Then we do a kind of musical meet-and-greet to get an idea of what they're into. Their age and ability level are considerations, and then we place them into bands."
The Foundry staff teaches rehearsing and recording, setting up PAs and getting gigs. Then the bands get gigs, while still in the program, thanks to nightclub partners including the High Noon Saloon and Frequency.
"Early on I started asking myself why people in the music business in town should see each other strictly as competitors," says founder, owner and manager Michael Olson. "The partnerships with places like the music clubs are win-win."
Nearly 40 bands have been forged at the Foundry. The rich, caramel-colored walls of the lobby are filled with portraits of Workshop groups with names like Pineapple Something and Perfection Thru Silence.
Madison Music Foundry is in a 7,000-square-foot industrial space just off Greenway Cross Road. As you stroll through the plush, artfully finished hallways, it's hard to imagine that the building used to be a welding shop. WHEDA money seeded the transformation. Olson did much of the construction himself in the same way his students find their way into music: learning by doing.
Matching young musicians with bandmates is a relatively new Foundry service. Olson began with other goals in mind.
"For the first year and a half I focused on the rehearsal studio offering, he says. "After that, we started to do just a few lessons."
Olson discovered that bands, especially ones that only rehearse once or twice a week, appreciated an affordable, professional studio space. He sweetened the deal by offering a complete back line - drum kit, amplifiers, the works - so bands could arrive, plug in, and be at work in minutes.
I visited on a recent Monday. Olson said that over the next two days, 20 bands would be coming in for hourly-rate rehearsals.
Last year Fitzsimmons finished his MBA at UW-Madison in arts administration. Many know him for his work in bands including the Irish rock group the Kissers. He says integrating private, one-on-one lessons into other services makes the Foundry experience unique.
"We've had students who come in for lessons," he says. "Then they enroll in the Rock Workshop, and then they form a band, and then that band stays together, and then they book rehearsal rooms, and are working toward recording."
There are no plans for an anniversary celebration. That's a sign that business is good. There hasn't been time to plan one. Says Olson with a smile, "We'll think of something."