Owner Mike Carlson is moving on to focus on his DJ gigs.
Photo: A sign for MC Audio occupies a glass door in a strip mall. Above the sign is a partially visible advertisement for the soon-to-be-vacant commercial space.
Madison DJ Mike Carlson has closed up shop at his store MC Audio, ending a 21-year run of not just selling and renting music gear, but also providing a community hub for electronic music.
Carlson has already begun clearing out the store’s space at 1734 Fordem Ave., where MC Audio moved in 2018 after vacating its original downtown location. He’ll be selling some of the remaining inventory online via Reverb, and some will move next door to Jiggy Jamz Records.
“I’ve been fortunate in that I have a wonderful family in general, my wife and my kids allowed me to do this and deal with the time commitment, because doing this meant I also had to be DJing at night, because this wasn’t going to be paying the mortgage,” Carlson says. “I consider it a fantastic run.”
Now that bars and music venues are re-opening, Carlson, long one of the most busy and popular DJs in the area, says he’s been swamped with bookings. Running MC Audio and DJing—at venues from Crucible to the downtown Great Dane to bars in the Wisconsin Dells—often makes for days that start at noon and end in the wee hours of the morning.
“If I can’t be down here proper hours to provide what I want MC Audio to be … then it’s probably time to close ‘er down,” Carlson says. “Sure, I could work until 7 or immediately go to the Dells or immediately go to the Dane, or immediately go set up at Crucible for Leather + Lace, or anything else that I’m doing, and it’s just too much. I’m too old a dog to be running that hard. I want to enjoy life a little bit more, and I want to take care of myself a little better than that schedule allows.”
Carlson founded the store in 2000, but has always relied primarily on DJ gigs to make a living. The store has served as an important resource, renting audio and lighting equipment for events, and selling music gear that ranges from cables to turntables to synthesizers and sequencers. The gregarious, laid-back Carlson and his staff also gave customers a lot of opportunities to learn the fundamentals of DJing and production. Madison still has its share of independent music-gear retailers—including Spruce Tree Music and Guitar Shop of Wisconsin—but MC Audio was really the only locally owned place where the curious could learn beatmatching, experiment with turntables and electronic DJ controllers, or try out the ever-evolving new generations of synthesizers and drum machines.
“That’s why we lasted 20-plus years, right there,” Carlson says. “Truthfully, that was one of my favorite things to do. I really do like turning people onto it.” He wanted to provide a resource to other DJs and musicians and event producers, all in a spirit of friendly competition: “I want you to be a super good DJ or synth dude or lighting gal or whatever,” he says, “because then that makes me go ‘the music [they’re making] is really dope, I’ve gotta spend more time working on it!'”
At the Fordem Avenue space, upstairs in the Camelot Square strip mall, MC Audio had an ideal neighbor: Jiggy Jamz, which serves much the same clientele with a selection focused on house and techno on vinyl. During the pandemic, both businesses held online DJ streams and got by with a mix of online and in-person sales.
“We pulled through COVID OK, I won’t say shining,” Carlson says, crediting his wife, Jen, for keeping his family afloat when DJ gigs dried up.
Carlson is thinking about getting some other creative projects off the ground, though he’s not sharing any specifics yet. He’s also looking forward to riding his bike more and having a less hectic schedule.
“I can’t be two places at once, no matter how hard I try,” he says.
There’s more where this came from.
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