Update: Michael Johnston pleaded guilty to charges of recording three women in his home. Full story.

The Chicago music scene erupted in outrage today after learning that a local man accused of using hidden cameras in his home to secretly record multiple women was named as Michael Johnston, Chicago’s local NBC affiliate reports.

Johnston, who is the owner of local music venues Schubas, Lincoln Hall and Tied House as well as music label and live music platform Audiotree, appeared in Cook County bond court last week on a felony charge of making an unauthorized recording. The allegations came to light as a result of a civil suit by two unnamed women who accuse Johnston and his wife of encouraging them to undress for the purposes of recording them.

The women are represented by attorney Gail Eisenberg, according to NBC, and were hired by Johnston and his wife to house-sit in January 2020. Johnston’s wife “encouraged [them] to use the jacuzzi bathtub in the master bedroom,” the suit claims. (Johnston’s wife is named in the civil suit but has not been criminally charged.) A month later, when asked back to the couple’s Roscoe Village, one of the alleged victims discovered a hidden camera disguised as a picture frame and aimed at the bathtub. Two other hidden cameras were also found.

The footage, which is now in custody of the Chicago police, allegedly includes not just the surreptitious recordings of the women but Johnston setting up the camera to record.

On Monday evening, after the identity of Johnston became known, Lincoln Hall, Schubas and Audiotree posted identical statements on social media announcing that Johnston had been “removed as President and CEO of Audiotree, Audiotree Presents, Lincoln Hall, Schubas and Tied House.”

“As of Saturday, November 12, Johnston is no longer part of the Audiotree team. We respectfully ask for patience as we navigate this challenging time. Co-founder and COO Adam Thurston will now lead the companies as President and CEO.”


Neither the civil suit nor the charges announced by the Cook County District Attorney’s office at Johnston’s bond hearing make any mention of secret recordings on the premises of Schubas, Lincoln Hall or any of Johnston’s other companies.

It was not made clear what if anything has happened to Johnston’s ownership share in the companies.

Johnston and Thurston, who founded Audiotree in 2011, were said to have grown up in Kalamazoo, Michigan where they began the Audiotree Music Festival in 2013. A twitter account belonging to Johnston has been deleted.

“My intention is to provide Schubas and Lincoln Hall with more resources,” Michael Johnston told Chicago Tribute columnist Greg Kot when he bought the venues in 2015.

NBC reports that the couple appear to have vacated their Roscoe Village home and Johnston “listed his current address at a mansion in the suburbs.” In a written statement, one of the victims told the news station, “My life is forever changed because of what they did to me… I hope that by speaking out about this I can empower other survivors to do the same.”

Johnston is expected back in court on the felony charges on Wednesday, November 17.

Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash