It takes more than bands and clubs to make a music scene thrive. It takes people like Mike Olson.
Olson is the owner of Madison Music Foundry, an innovative 7,000-square-foot rehearsal and recording space he opened in Fitchburg last fall. Before he decided to convert a vacant warehouse into a music hall that's as plush as a luxury hotel, Olson spent long hours doing market research online and on the phone.
"I called every recording studio I could and asked ‘how does this work?'" he says.
A theme emerged from the responses he gathered.
"Over and over again I heard people say that home recording was killing their business," Olson says. "With Pro Tools and other computer programs out there now, you've got excellent recording equipment already available to people."
So Olson decided to adapt to that trend. Inside Madison Music Foundry, you won't find a traditional recording studio. Olson has assembled a "sounding" room that provides quality acoustics for freelance engineers or musicians looking to self-record.
"I wanted to give people a good room with good mikes and the right acoustics," he says. An adjacent control room peers into the recording space, providing the professional feel of a traditional studio.
That's just one example of the unique services Olson offers at Madison Music Foundry. His current business plan grew out of his belief that the rehearsal-space market is ready for a shift to a more flexible renting policy.
It's an insight Olson gained during his five years operating 24/7 Rehearsal Studios LLC, where he provides 18 practice spaces to local bands on a monthly rental basis. At 24/7, Olson saw part-time musicians and solo artists whose sporadic rehearsals didn't justify renting a room by the month.
"I wanted to make a place where someone could come if they just wanted a private space to practice their instrument," says Olson. "Or a space where a music teacher could give a lesson if they weren't comfortable with people they didn't know coming into their house."
Just inside the front door of the Madison Music Foundry, three small solo rehearsal rooms rent for as little as $8 per hour. One comes with a piano, another with a five-piece drum set.
The Madison Music Foundry is a one-man gig for Olson, 31, who moved to Madison six years ago after completing a degree in product package engineering at UW-Stout. He used that degree to design product packaging for Spings Window Fashion until last fall, when he quit to dedicate himself to MMF.
Olson says his business is still growing into profitability, so he has no staff to assist him. That means he's the guy who has to be present at MMF during its 10 a.m.-to-midnight daily operating hours.
"Twelve- to 14-hour working days can be tough," says Olson. But it doesn't drain his boundless energy. If, for some strange reason, a band had to practice after midnight, Olson says he'd be there to let them in.
"I really want to make the hourly rentals as convenient as possible," he says. To achieve that goal, Olson doesn't just unlock the door for his customers. He encourages them to drop off their equipment and let him arrange set-up.
"I'll have a band like Black Star Reggae give me a call and say ‘we're coming in and we'll need a drum set, a bass amp and three mikes for the PA.' When they get here, everything will be ready for them."
Olson himself plays guitar and bass for Lost Issues, an all-ages punk band. He maintains a strong connection to other players in the scene. He says he's dedicated MMF to Scott Stafford, a musician who helped Olson remodel the facility. Stafford was killed in an automobile accident last December.
"I don't have any intention of trying to make a living with music," says Olson. "I want to keep it as an element of enjoyment, not business."
But Olson has every intention of making a living off helping other local musicians. Six months after opening Madison Music Foundry, he's carefully assessing why the business has yet to become profitable. "This is a new concept for this area, so I'm trying to get the word out," he says.
To that end, Olson spends a lot of time online at MMF, reaching out to bands and solo artists by sending messages to every forum and MySpace page he can find.
"People aren't looking for something they don't know exists," says Olson. Then he walks down a hallway painted in rich brown tones, into practice rooms furnished with new couches. He's optimistic that his business will succeed.
"It's an atmosphere that induces creativity," he says.