Pandemic leads three couples to launch rock-music school

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Opening a physical location for a collaboration-based company might appear to be a risky move during the peak months of the pandemic. But for Indianapolis-based Rock Garage, it seemed like the only way to go.

In fact, the pandemic itself drove the creation of the company, which offers music lessons as well as a program that places musicians of all ages and ranges—from beginners to seasoned guitarists, drummers and vocalists—into rock bands.

The founders—three musically inclined couples—became frustrated by the lack of options for both jamming and teaching music during the shutdown and then months of restrictions.

So in June 2020, they opened Rock Garage, first in a temporary location, then moving in September to a nondescript office building at 8115 Center Run Road in Castleton.

The founders describe the business as a music school. But it offers more than lessons. Musicians—and aspiring musicians—pay for memberships that place them in a band.

Preston Nash and five co-founders run Rock Garage out of a Castleton office building. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

The bands receive guidance from music directors and can practice, perform and create their own music. They choose a band name, and some perform at independent shows apart from Rock Garage. Members range from pre-teens to 80 years old.

Rocky Nash

Preston and Rocky Nash, two of the six owners and founders of the business, started a similar program at a music retailer in Indianapolis in 2011. When the pandemic hit, that retailer’s hours changed and it no longer offered group lessons, which meant the Nashes were out of a place to run their school.

But Preston, who has been teaching music since the 1990s, thought rehearsals and lessons could still be conducted safely, with social distancing and a disinfecting protocol. So last summer, he and Rocky found a warehouse in Indianapolis to start teaching again.

In the meantime, Preston and friend Dave Foellinger started an online forum called “Rock Garage” that allowed musicians who had been part of the previous program to keep in touch and share ideas.

Eventually, they combined the two efforts and decided to open a permanent location in Castleton.

“We didn’t just get together one day and say, ‘Hey, let’s open a school called Rock Garage,’” Preston Nash said. “It evolved out of circumstances, and now we’re at a point that I don’t think any of us expected growth this fast.”

The six founders—the Nashes, Dave and Kate Foellinger, and Steve and Kimberly Klinger—funded the startup and have since seen membership grow from about 20 bands to 42. (Kimberly Klinger is a sales representative at IBJ Media Co., which owns IBJ.)

The company has been profitable since its inception and is continuing to see membership growth.

“The three of us all brought different things to the table,” Dave Foellinger said. “I said, ‘Let’s risk it all!’ So, in that sense, it’s very much an old-fashioned startup.”

Rock Garage is in a long, low-slung office and retail building just south of a Goodyear Auto Service shop off East 82nd Street, between interstates 69 and 465. Nothing about the exterior screams rock ’n’ roll, but a large mural inside the front entrance announces the location as a house of music.

Rooms containing drum sets, electric and acoustic guitars, and full recording consoles and keyboards are spread throughout the 2,800-square-foot facility.

Rock Garage offers both memberships and fee-based lessons.

Memberships are typically broken into 13-week sessions with multiple options for lessons and band placement. A basic membership costs $300 (a little more if a customer pays in installments). The 13-week platinum and double-platinum memberships cost $540 and $765, respectively.

Private lessons, which are $30 for a half-hour or $55 for an hour, are offered for guitar, bass, drums, vocals, banjo, mandolin and ukulele.

Jade Swanson has been taking drumming lessons from Nash for two months. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

But the magic isn’t in the lessons themselves. It’s in the bands—and the community that has grown among the people who participate. That’s a big reason the founders put an emphasis on carefully selecting groups of people they believe will bring positive chemistry to a band.

“Having a rock music program, on paper, isn’t really reinventing fire,” Preston said. “But the way we do it, I think, sets us apart from other programs out there. We really try to make it as much of a microcosm of what being a gigging musician is really about. There’s something to band chemistry; a band develops its own personality, and this program is like being in a real band.”

Foellinger and Nash say that work is reinforced by the new members who join on the recommendation of an existing customer.

Rock Garage is also adding a full production recording studio that will include a recording console that once belonged to Kenny Rogers’ keyboard player.

The studio will allow bands to produce recordings of their music and will provide the opportunity to teach recording classes. The owners also plan to rent the studio to outside groups when it’s not being used.

And they’re looking to add specialized music classes—including music theory—and offer additional services, like virtual lessons.

Preston and Rocky Nash work full time in the business—and they have four other full-time instructors and band coaches.

Paul Giefing, who does vocals and is lead guitarist for the Indianapolis-based band Rhino Down, met the Nashes while they were teaching at the retail location 2-1/2 years ago. He has since followed them to Rock Garage.

Giefing, a commercial banker, said the program has given him an avenue for his musical passion and allowed him to become part of a rock community. His son is also a member at Rock Garage.

“It starts with the place’s leadership, bringing out the best in people,” he said. “Preston and Rocky know the industry, but they run the program from the heart. They’ve built an environment where, when you show up, you want to grow and learn.”

Ben Howard sings for the band Doppelganger and plays drums for a band called Plank. Howard, 20, is part of the youth band program, for those age 21 and under. Howard had been part of the Nashes’ previous program since 2017 and followed them to Rock Garage.

“Everyone knows everyone, and I think that’s what makes it unique,” Howard said. “I’ve seen music programs where you go in, you see your teacher, and you practice in a band. Here, it’s family-oriented. You get one-on-one time.”•

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