Kayleigh Bywater and Rachel Kressin
Standing in front of the button wall at Mad World Records, Mark Burke, 43, plucks off a Pikachu button while holding a white and black record snug under his arm. The button is his son, Wren’s favorite – one that he admires every day when he walks into his dad’s store.
“This is my favorite,” Wren, 6, said. “I’m jealous because my dad gets to own all of these buttons, even the Pikachu one. And he gets lots of cool music, too.”
The buttons aren’t the only aspect of the store that Burke hopes people admire.
With a sea of records behind him, figurines lining the wall and his son eyeing everything in the store, Burke is standing among his haven.
Burke spends day and night at Mad World Records, ordering albums, arranging records, looking at buttons and talking music. And although it may not be the most rewarding job financially, it provides an outlet for Burke that not many business owners receive. Instead of focusing on the money, Burke focuses on the music and the people.
“I’ve always been interested [in music],” Burke said. “I can’t remember not being interested.”
Burke has been immersed in music from the times he would listen to the Top 40 on his way home from elementary school to his experiences playing in punk rock bands.
When Burke graduated college with an anthropology degree, he had two choices – he could either teach anthropology to students or teach music to a variety of people.
“I noticed that a lot of [record stores] were closing, which means I probably shouldn’t have opened one,” Burke said.
Once he opened the store, he faced ups and downs opening a record store in a digital age.
He grew up in Denton, so Burke knew that when the space on the Square opened up, he couldn’t give up the opportunity to open a record store in this music-centric city.
Burke opened Mad World six years ago after moving from another location in Carrollton, Texas. All the while, his wife, Maria Burke, and Wren were by his side.
Maria, who works as a speech therapist, and Burke have been together since 1997 when they met at a punk rock show during college. Burke said he could not keep the store grounded without Maria’s support.
“My wife has a real job, which is why we could do this,” Burke said. “You don’t make enough money in a record store to support yourself. I’d be eating a lot of Ramen all the time.”
Maria is usually only able to help out at the store on Saturdays but said she is constantly supporting the store’s overall purpose.
Compared to other shops on the Square, Maria feels that the store provides a unique opportunity that not many other places in Denton offers. The record store is a space for conversations, critiques and stories.
“I like seeing the happiness people get out of finding stuff they enjoy [here],” Maria said.
The store is also one of the only record stores in the area. While other stores, such as Recycled Books, sell some records, Mad World’s atmosphere is to provide music for everyone.
“There are other places you can get music, but there’s none of that soul to it,” Mad World employee Jo Schmidt said. “This store specifically has a good energy about it of just [knowing] music is so universal.”
Looking through all the records could possibly take hours, if not days, Burke said. Even though the store holds thousands of records, there’s still more to buy every week.
For him, it’s a balance between figuring out what people want and how much to buy.
“Every single week, every Friday, new music comes out,” Burke said. “And it’s not just two things you have to know about, it’s 30 to 50 things that come out a week. You have to decide what to buy, what not to buy [and] what’s going to sell.”
Although records have become popular again, Burke said he still has trouble selling them to the public.
While records provide a nostalgic feeling, sometimes it’s easier to click a button and download a song.
“When I worked in the big corporate stores, they would get like 50 [records] and you’d sell those 50 in less than a week,” Burke said. “Now, it would take years to sell 50 of [one record].”
The money isn’t why he persists, however. He pushes on because of those in Denton who really care about the music.
“We keep this store open, honestly, for Denton,” Burke said. “For people to come in and get music without having to order it on the internet. I carry every style of music, but I do focus on what our neighborhood buys.”
For Burke, that means listening and buying music he may not always be familiar with. While he loves listening to the classics, like Queen and the Beatles, he also emerges himself into different genres so that he can provide an opportunity for everyone in and around Denton to find something they like.
“It’s really cool to see people buying music they love, and I love seeing Mark interact with people,” Maria said, standing next to her husband. “He tends to remember what people buy and what they would like based on things they bought before. He knows so much about music.”
With that knowledge of music comes a responsibility to know about the surrounding music scene. Burke said one of his favorite things to do is go and listen to local Denton bands perform.
Although he has been a part of the record scenes for over half of his life, Denton always provides something new and exciting for him to listen to.
“I’m so bombarded by music that it’s hard to impress me at this point,” Burke said. “It’s weird. It’s like someone who eats ice cream every day, you don’t taste it after a while. So, something has to have some kind of heartfelt connection for me to be into it. And live, local bands are friends, and talented ones [at that].”
While records may be something of the past, Burke wants to make sure people don’t forget about the importance of them.
And for Burke, that starts with sharing records with his community. Whether it’s an older customer looking for Johnny Cash or a teenager looking for the newest Weeknd record, Burke wants to accommodate to everyone’s musical tastes.
“I’ve been able to relate to every generation for so long because most 43 year-olds are telling dad jokes, not figuring it out,” Burke said. “But I have no trouble talking to a 16-year-old and holding my own. I do it for the customers.”
Featured Image: Owner of Mad World Records, Mark Burke, looks at the store’s button collection with his son, Wren. Rachel Kressin