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Keyboard Industry Mentors


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KC adds much value to my life. As a recipient of the valuable knowledge shared here, I am unsure about what to contribute. My professional keyboard playing occurred more than 35 years ago - although I rebooted playing when I joined KC. My music industry career was a blast. MIDI's inception coincided with management ascension, so I was mostly distanced from the music technology in the early 1980s. Overall, the journey has been stellar and terrific mentors left their mark - and I"ve been privileged to work with some of the best. One memorable mentor was Mike Kovins from KORG USA and the story unfolds in the following text.

 

Most Long Island musicians knew about Unicord in Westbury, NY. In the 1970s, I'd go there so Kenny Franks could fix my Univox Multiman and STAGE amplifier. Working at Unicord seemed unattainable - it would have been a dream job.

 

In 1982, I was playing 4-5 nights a week and I would seek a day job when needed - the easiest and lucrative day jobs were telemarketing boiler room operations. On one such occasion, I saw a help wanted advertisement, "Customer Service Rep Needed with Knowledge of Keyboards and Amplifiers". I knew it was Unicord based on the phone number. I phoned the number, left my name and number and waited. In about 20 minutes, Kim Holland phoned me and we chatted for a while. Kim was Unicord's keyboard product manager. Thankfully, I owned a KORG Delta and this gave me an edge with Kim. After an in-person job interview, I was hired. And thus began a new chapter.

 

Unicord was a Gulf + Western Company back then. The office was divided between the G+W corporate folks and the cool Unicord musical types. Among the cool Unicord managers, Mike Kovins stood out to me. Mike had worked at Sam Ash years prior and along with hands on experience, he also had a keen eye on the big picture. His morning ritual included a deep dive into the Wall Street Journal, in which he circled key articles. Then his administrative person cut out the key WSJ articles and pasted them into a scrapbook. It was a daily discipline. Mike kept a historical resource of economic factors for future reference. This impressed me and I soon gained an appreciation for facts and details. Mike was young and hip, but he was a serious guy. He spoke slowly and confidently. I learned from his cool, calm demeanor and from his intellect. Mike didn't waste words - when he spoke, the words mattered.

 

A few years later, when I went to Ensoniq, thanks to my good friend, Dan Garrett (who also worked at Unicord), Mike was encouraging and congratulatory when we met at NAMM Shows. About twenty years thereafter, when I started consulting, KORG USA hired me, on numerous occasions, to boost their phone service. Mike was sick then, but no one knew. I'd arrive at their Melville, NY facility to consult and train their employees. I was very appreciative for the work.

 

The final KORG USA assignment was different from the previous site visits. After conducting a morning seminar, I was ready to take a lunch break, but Mike had other plans. He wanted to talk. So I assumed a brief delay would be fine. But, the conversation took on a whole different vibe. Mike reminisced about the old days and about industry successes and failures. He lit up during those old stories conveyed in his signature bravado style. Mike's industry knowledge was encyclopedic and I could see that he was having fun hanging with an old friend.

 

On that day, I asked myself, "Why is Mike so talkative about the old days?" I didn't know that he was dying. No one knew. News of his passing brought me right back to that day.

 

Investing time with me mattered more to Mike than the consulting. He made me feel like a million bucks. I could go on and on about Mike. He left an imprint on me that will last forever.

 

How has your life been impacted by industry mentors?

Steve Coscia

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Well written Steve. I have had a few people in my professional life that have had that kind of impact on me. Whenever I am unclear how to approach a situation, I ask myself what they would have done. It's very helpful. Those kinds of relationships are few and far between (IMHO), but of such great value. Our ability to be coachable is directly related to how successful we can become.
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There are quite a few significant people on my list if we're talking industry. Mark Vail gave me my first freelance assignment for Keyboard magazine, after inviting me to participate as a test player in a clonewheel roundup in 1997. Tech editor Ken Hughes was a great mentor about nailing the Keyboard review style, and Ernie Rideout about writing artist features. When Ken departed at the end of 2005, it was Ernie who brought me in full-time to replace him.

 

I credit our own uber-moderator Dave Bryce with really making me feel like part of the community from the beginning of these forums, and Craig Anderton for introducing me to a ton of people. I learned a ton about being accurate, precise, and diligent from Jerry Kovarksy (for the first few years, from him fact-checking Korg reviews I'd written or edited). On the artist side, Mike Garson and B.T. stand out as teaching me very different but equally valid lessons about the creative process, and I've kept in touch with both. Jordan Rudess has always been a great friend and inspiration, though he's such a shredder that I wouldn't presume to be good enough a player to learn anything from him.

 

A real standout is Michael Boddicker, with whom dB did a video gear tour on this forum. As well as giving generous musical insights into all the folks he's worked with in his career, I can say that his influence and friendship outside of music has been a huge positive influence on my life. He and Edie have treated me like family the past few times I've been in L.A.

 

I'm sure I'll think of more.

Stephen Fortner

Principal, Fortner Media

Former Editor in Chief, Keyboard Magazine

Digital Piano Consultant, Piano Buyer Magazine

 

Industry affiliations: Antares, Arturia, Giles Communications, MS Media, Polyverse

 

 

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Well written Steve.

 

Amen to that, and Kudos' for taking the time to honor your friend & mentor with that fine tribute.

 

Old No7

Yamaha MODX6 * Hammond SK Pro 73 * Roland Fantom-08 * Crumar Mojo Pedals * Mackie Thump 12As * Tascam DP-24SD * JBL 305 MkIIs

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Steve:

 

Thanks so much for that remembrance. Mike Kovins is THE reason I went to work for Korg. We were both on the board of an industry sales reporting organization while I was at Ensoniq (IAEKM - International Association of Electronic Keyboard Manufacturers), and we would speak on the phone often, and for a long time. As I related to the Korg USA staff at his memorial, we would lie to each endlessly, and we loved every moment of it! So when he reached out to have me join I decided to go for it. He was such a great guy, and he cared so deeply about the industry, music education and his staff. Every day when I came into work, I would go into his office and we would talk about the latest communications from Korg Japan, the projects, a little industry gossip and so forth. A bit gruff on the outside, but a heart of gold. He taught me a lot.

 

Stephen Fortner: thanks for mentioning me. And you returned the favor and mentor ship when you reached out the moment I left Korg and said that we had to do something together. I came up with the idea of a column on synth soloing, and here it is, over 8 years later and it's still going. And you were the person who brought me the opportunity to write Keyboard For Dummies, which you simply didn't have the time for. I am forever grateful for your friendship and help.

 

Back when I was just a gigging musician, I did a recording session for an Evatone floppy soundsheet (like the ones that used to come in Keyboard Magazine) from some upstart company called Casio. I met the head of their division and started a relationship as a demonstrator, which eventually turned into a full-time job 4 years down the road. The whole time, I was getting advice about the music products industry from a rep who would visit the music store I worked/taught at, named Al Marinaro (he worked for Hoshino/Ibanez). He guided me on my early steps into the industry and gave me the push I needed to leave gigging and take the full-time job. Thankfully, I was able to later repay him by hiring him as a sales rep when we broke off pro-products sales from the consumer stuff around 1988. East Coast musicians might know the name. He was so important to my beginning steps.

 

Early keyboard demonstrators like Tom Piggott, Mike Brigida, John Shuykun, Don Lewis, Don Muro, and later Eric Persing and Jack Hotop (and many others) set an example for me on how to both educate/demonstrate and be musical...

 

Craig Anderton continues to teach me (or at least set the example) of how to multi-task and put out an astounding amount of good information on technology and music, and how to navigate the changing state of... lots of things!

 

And I'll end with the people of this forum: you all are a lifeline to such accumulated experience and diverse tastes. I continue to learn and stay current through you all. I get more than I give, and that's a wonderful thing.

 

Jerry

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