Madison Music Foundry: The Nuts and Bolts of Spreading Your Wings
The Foundry offers a valuable space for musicians young and old to learn, rehearse and record
A guitar lesson at the Madison Music Foundry
There’s a “factory” in town producing some unique products, and there’s a very good chance you’ve sampled some of their wares. The raw materials that go in the front door are often young and tender, sometimes undisciplined, and nearly always impatient for the end result. The Index Road facility is quiet inside and out … unless you happen to enter one of the studios. Inside you might find anything from beginning drums to classical violin, a young band learning how to set up their first recording session, or a veteran group making a demo.
In short, the Madison Music Foundry, along with Blast House Studios and 24/7 Rehearsal Studios, is a unique collection of venues that welcomes novices, offers them lessons and workshops, and nurtures bands of all ages and experience levels.
But it’s not at all what founder Mike Olson set out to do. Eleven years ago, Olson had a job that suited his degree in packaging engineering from UW–Stout—and he also had a band that needed a place to rehearse. He found a place to rent by the month, and soon had other bands renting monthly as well.
It wasn’t long, Olson says, “before I kept getting requests for other situations, especially for bands who needed rehearsal space on short order—and for short periods of time, even just a day.”
In 2006, Olson was able to acquire the facility at 2818 Index Rd. just off the Fish Hatchery Beltline exit. From the start he designed everything from scratch with one goal in mind—that the facility would be about musicians and their needs.
Within a couple of years, people started to rent out space in the Foundry for music lessons, eventually leading MMF to see education as the core of its operation. “In five years, the Foundry has gone from zero to more than 20,000 lessons in a year, around 500 per week. Every room [of the seventeen in the main building] is filled from Monday through Thursday, 2–9 p.m.,” Olson says.
Soon Olson added educational workshops, like the Rock Workshop. The website description of the Rock Workshop is crystal clear about what it entails: “In Rock Workshop everyone is a rock star. Over the course of ten weeks, bands practice with an instructor, write originals, record at professional recording studio Blast House Studios, and play a packed show at Madison’s top rock venue, the High Noon Saloon.” Kids and adults alike are welcome at the Rock Workshop, and more than one hundred fifty students in sixty-plus bands have recorded well over one hundred songs and played thirteen live shows.
Rick Tvedt, the founder and executive director of the Madison Area Music Association and contributor to madisonmagazine.com, has a keen awareness of the significant impact the Foundry is making. “The thing that sets the Foundry apart is the instruction; not only do kids and young bands get to rehearse and record, but they get taught by some amazing people,” he says. “I can’t begin to imagine what my life might be like if I had had the Foundry when I was growing up. My first experience in a studio was in 1982, in Boscobel—I think we used 16-track tape! But now students from about thirteen to seventeen years old get to go into a professional studio and learn real production values. That opens your mind up, and you never hear music the same way again.”
But adding a professional recording studio to the Madison Music Foundry nearly remained a dream; in fact, the Foundry itself almost closed just as Olson was getting on his feet.
“In 2011 I had twenty teachers who were making an important part of their living at the Foundry, and I had my first quarter where I was going to be in the black,” he says. “But in the wake of the financial struggles going on, my note got called early. In November 2011 I started thinking I was going to go out of business, but I fought tooth and nail and ended up in a better place.”
Olson found a smaller, local bank that not only allowed him to refinance the Foundry, but also keep Blast House Studios, an existing professional studio on nearby Jonathon Drive he purchased in 2009.
The last eighteen months have not only seen the Foundry jumping with increasing activity, but it has also been recognized for its myriad unique qualities. Last October, Isthmus awarded Madison Music Foundry a “Bridge Builder” award, and in early June, MMF won a Dane County Small Business award, which recognized the Foundry for its workplace environment and impact in the community.
Olson says the formula is simple: “A kid wants to start lessons, he forms a band, they go to workshops, then learn to record—and hopefully they keep it going and come back to record professionally.”
So the next time you hear some rock, jazz or bluegrass, just imagine that there’s a chance the soundwaves carry an invisible but audible label: Made in Madison.
Greg Hettmansberger is a Madison-based music writer. He blogs about the local classical music scene in Classically Speaking.