The Man Behind the Curtain


By Steve Oppenheimer

(July 2006)

People behind the scenes often have a much greater influence on the development of our industry than we realize. Such a person was Korg USA president Michael Kovins, who passed away on May 2 at age 57 after a long battle with leukemia.

Mike Kovins wasn’t a product designer. He didn’t play on hit records, although he was a good trumpet player and understood music production. As vice president of marketing at Unicord (Korg USA’s predecessor), Kovins was key in bringing the Korg Polysix and Mono/Poly to the U.S. market. He later led the U.S. introduction of the legendary Korg M1 synth and helped bring the Triton, the Oasys, and many other products to these shores. But the real reason I bring up Kovins’s work is to point out his deep dedication to music education and his efforts to grow the music-technology industry.

Kovins supported music education with a passion. His interest preceded his work at Korg, but he started making a real impact when he became a driving force behind the creation of SoundTree, the educational division of Korg USA. SoundTree not only sells music technology to educators, but also sets up music labs, offers extensive technology training for teachers, and provides free lesson plans and other aids.

To help grow the overall market for music-technology products, Kovins cofounded the International Association of Electronic Keyboard Manufacturers (IAEKM), an organization that brought together a variety of influential companies in the music-technology field, not just keyboard manufacturers. IAEKM’s purpose is to encourage manufacturers to share information to better market music-technology products and to get more people to make music with electronics. Convincing competing companies to cooperate was hard work, but Kovins persisted.

Kovins then helped convince IAEKM’s members that a good way to get more people involved with making music was to reach out to the next generation by bringing music technology to the schools. Ten years ago, with backing from IAEKM and NAMM, he helped found the Technology Institute for Music Educators (TI:ME), a nonprofit organization dedicated to training music teachers in the use of technology. The Berklee College of Music recognized Kovins with its Golden Clef award for Lifetime Commitment to Music Education.

I met Kovins around 1990, at a Winter NAMM show. Later, when I started planning a music-technology magazine for teachers, he was one of the first people I approached for advice on the subject. Always a busy man, he repeatedly made time to discuss my ideas and offer suggestions. In 2003 the EM staff launched Music Education Technology magazine, which has been very well received by U.S. educators.

Mike always worked hard to make the industry better for all of us and to improve our children’s education, and without his encouragement and his company’s support, MET would not be as strong as it is. You can make a donation in his memory to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (, or if you are interested in music education, ask the folks at TI:ME ( how you can help.