Credit: Pete Olson

Mike Olson, , Madison Music Foundry and Blast House Studios

Ask Mike Olson to describe a bridge, and he'll tell you about the part of a song that ties a verse to a chorus. Music is his passion. It's also his job. As the owner of Madison Music Foundry, he helps nearly 600 students learn to sing, strum, fiddle and drum. Side effects range from better grades to increased confidence and an enduring sense of pride.

Olson, 37, started the Foundry in 2006, after seeing how quickly practice space filled up around town. With the help of a construction firm and an acoustics consultant, he transformed a 7,000-square-foot warehouse off Greenway Cross into clean, cozy rooms for hosting music lessons, band practices and rock workshops. Down the street, bands record their songs at his latest venture, Blast House Studios.

Olson discovered his business acumen through the DIY world of punk rock. In addition to performing, he organized shows for friends. In the process, he learned how to help others band together to reach their goals.

This is no small feat, considering that creative differences are a leading cause of band breakups. So how does Olson get musicians to cooperate and compromise?

"It's just a matter of communication," he says. "Getting people together and making sure everyone's ideas are out there and heard, that makes a big difference."

Olson and education director Ken Fitzsimmons work hard to keep the Foundry's 26 instructors happy. Instead of taking a top-down approach, they encourage the staff to learn from each other.

"If one teacher finds a really good way of scheduling lessons, we share that with the other teachers. If one person has a question, someone else might be able to help," he explains.

Olson says he's not a bridge builder but an engineer. He helps others turn their ideas into reality.

"We're always asking people, 'What do you want to do?'" he says. "Once we know their ideas, we help implement them, whether it's starting a new class or encouraging a kid to do his homework so he can come to his guitar lessons. We're like a big family."

- Jessica Steinhoff