Maxwell’s House of Music, just across the river in Jeffersonville, IN, is a music business that grew organically out of another Louisville music staple – Mom’s Music. The shop opened as it exists now around 5 years ago, although they’ve been operating in the area for more like 18 years.
When I went to visit Maxwell’s for The Backbeat, I knew I was in for something different, as I passed through their “pocket park,” complete with a stage, lush grass, and artfully decorated graffiti walls. The space was created by the store and then granted park status by the city. The lobby floor is covered in record albums, the ceiling is covered in vinyls, and there’s a Game of Thrones style throne made of music equipment near the entrance. The product floor is separated into clever nooks, designed to make you feel like you’re in a particular venue or practice space. The electric guitars are in a bedroom, the acoustic guitars are hanging around a campfire, and the drums are parked in a garage, complete with a real garage door. (Drummers, you’ll get the joke if you’ve ever been banned to the garage to play!) The whole thing is designed to make you feel at home, wherever that may be for you.
I sat down with Mike McAfee (often affectionately known as “Mohawk Mike”) the product buyer and manager – although they don’t adhere to strict titles here. Mike is a member of Eight Inch Elvis, a local band performing on Great Day Live, the Jeffersonville RiverStage, and many more places around the Louisville and surrounding areas. Mike also spent 25 years as a manager for Willis Music and has a great deal of experience in the Louisville music community as a musician and retailer.
“Mark Maxwell approached me saying he wanted to do something that was different from everyone else. We made a decision to change the name [from Mom’s Music], because the store was going to change. New décor, lesson rooms, studio and performance spaces, practice spaces, changes in the inventory – it was a brand new thing, and that became Maxwell’s House of Music.”
Formerly a theatre, Maxwell’s really is expansive, with an impressive product floor, 16 lesson rooms (soon expanding to 24), and a large performance stage that rivals venues across town. There’s even an attached gym called Maxwell’s House of Fitness, which I guarantee you won’t find anywhere else! I asked Mike about their philosophy when designing, opening, and running the shop.
“Being bigger wasn’t the immediate goal. The immediate goal was to give a better experience, because most music stores are getting smaller, and we didn’t. We literally doubled our size, and we did that mostly because we wanted it to be super comfortable for people to come in and hang out. And people come and hang out all week long. We’ll see the same people come in 2 or 3 times a week. Bands form here, people meet here – it’s just incredible. If you’re a musician and you’re shopping for gear, not being hassled, having plenty of room – it’s a laid back atmosphere that just makes you feel relaxed.”
The sign above their door reads “We create musicians,” and everything about their store and approach to the business reinforces that motto.
“This is a relationship thing, and we’ve grown from 135 students originally to 440 students over just in the time I’ve been here. It’s more students than we have space for, so we’re having to expand into 8 new classrooms.”
Their Backstage Pass and Weekend Warriors programs focus not only on learning an instrument, but also playing in a band context and developing stage presence. Mike told me, “Our bands are playing shows, some are making albums – and it’s all relationships, because our coaches are helping them succeed.” In addition to traditional instrument lessons, Maxwell’s also offers master classes on how to make your band more successful and look for sponsorships, studio recording, video editing, repair services for stringed instruments, and much more. One of the most unique services they offer is a $199 package where you can record a professional vocal track, complete with professional editing and video recording, which can be used for auditions and promotional material.
Maxwell’s is also heavily involved in their community. The city of Jeffersonville has used their main stage to host auditions for the RiverStage series of concerts, they’ve hosted singing competitions for charity (including vocal training and stage performance lessons), they’ve conducted corporate events where they go out to teach ukulele to associates, and they developed a music enrichment program where teachers and staff members go to local schools 3 days a week to teach lessons, write songs, or otherwise introduce music to young people who may not access to it on their own.
With their laid back style, clever store design, suite of lesson rooms, professional performance space, and “all access” approach, Maxwell’s seems not only to create musicians, but to take musicians wherever they are and help them become more professional, better onstage, and succeeding in the music industry. With 400+ students and many regular customers coming through each week, their inventory and product line-up is constantly evolving. Whether you’re a beginner, a weekend warrior, or a professional, Maxwell’s has something to offer, and if you’re on the south side of the river like me, I’d say they’re worth the trip!
Check them out on whatever platform you dig: