- 01 May 07
This year, Lesley Kane, general manager with both Music Maker and MIDI (Musical Instrument Distribution Ireland), chalks up 20 years in the musical instruments industry. Jackie Hayden gatecrashes the celebrations to quiz Kane on her career to date.
Lesley Kane has always been involved in music in some shape or form, from playing viola as a child to her aspirations towards rock stardom in the ’80s, as a more than useful singer and guitarist with the band Echoes Of Pink Whispers.
The band even impressed the legendary Bill Graham in hotpress at the time, but, as dreams of fame and fortune receded, she turned attention to the technical end of the business, completing a Sound Wave Theory and Live Sound Production course.
But, as she recalls for Hot Press, “I still did the odd live gig, usually doing covers or a bit of jazz, but more for my soul than anything, while doing sound work at the weekends.” She worked in the Factory as a studio assistant and gained a wealth of practical experience working with some of Ireland’s top engineers, but left in 1987 to join the Music Maker team, then led by her good friend Gerry Forde.
“I started in the guitar department and after a year I took over the original Mary’s Abbey. The following year I was appointed guitar department manager. The ’80s was a very technical time to work with guitars. There were so many guitar heroes and so many guitars. It was a great place to work, I really loved it,” she enthuses.
But Kane was not impressed by the habit of Irish musicians travelling to London or New York to buy instruments. Although Music Maker always stocked an impressive range, she felt it wasn’t all it should be, so she took over as the company buyer in 1993/94 and became more discerning about the products they stocked.
In 1996 there was a management restructure, and Kane and Maeve Duane, who moved on in 2001, took over management of Music Maker retail and their distribution company MIDI. Although Music Maker has been at the forefront of the Irish musical instrument business for many years, MIDI is comparatively new, distributing Marshall, Pearl, Sabian and other key brands throughout the country, and Kane is now general manager of both companies.
The following year brought what to Kane was a major highlight of her career, an award from the world renowned Marshall equipment company. “We won our first international award in 1996. That was a real highlight, to realise that we could compete with the Australians and Americans and so on. The confidence gained from that really turbo-boosted our performance. Although the late ’90s brought the Celtic Tiger I believe our success was also due to persistence and the incredible musical culture that exists in Ireland,” she explains.
It would have been easier to allow UK distribution companies to dominate the Irish market, but the companies Music Maker dealt with had the foresight to give them full rein on the Irish market. That faith has been repaid many times over, as Music Maker have so far scooped 12 international awards. But which one is she most proud of?
“I’m really proud of the Jim Marshall Award which honored us as a global distributor in 2002," she says. It’s a nice feeling to see Ireland ranked above the largest world economies! Jim Marshall knows every market in the world, but he is also smart enough to realise that no company knows a market like their own. I have a lot of respect for that man. We also had top class guys working for us. I believe that Paul Lyttle, for example, is largely responsible for a lot of the keyboard and hi-tech success we enjoyed.”
Kane’s personal tastes are eclectic. “Currently I’m big into Corrine Bailey Rae and I’ve always liked singers like Ella Fitzgerald. But I’m really an ’80s kid at heart. Bands like The Clash, The Police and Queen are really big for me.”
The personable Kane has also met some of her own musical hero in a business context.
“I get a real buzz out of bringing such revered artists to Ireland as Frank Zappa’s drummer, Terry Bozzio, and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith,” she says. “These great artists don’t visit us to showcase their bands, but come as educators. It’s truly inspiring and a reminder of what our industry is really all about. I also get a great kick out of our own Irish endorsees. Each of them is world class in their field and I am very proud of them and the job they do for us.”
Indeed, the popularity of Music Maker on the home front is evidenced by the catalogue of musicians who have chosen to represent them, including Conor Guilfoyle, Ger Farrell, Simeon Smith, Rod Quinn, Ray McCann, Lloyd Byrne, Coz Noleon and many others.
Not that it’s always easy. Kane readily admits that the internet has been a mixed blessing for the Irish instrument business.
“It’s taken a little bit of the personal touch out of the business. It’s unfair that some people will buy instruments abroad on the internet but then expect their local dealers to fix it or find accessories for it. In that respect I was really delighted with HotPress’s Support Your Local Dealer campaign. It was a great success,” she reckons.
But she is astute enough to see that the internet has its upside too. “Yes, young music fans are now so much more knowledgeable about what’s available. They aren’t technophobic and it’s easier now for us to speak in our own language to them, whereas a few years ago that might have been treated with a little suspicion,” she concedes.
And she’s decidedly optimistic about the next 20 years. “We now have a massive warehouse and I see the business growing,” she says. “The fact that the Music Ireland event run every year by hotpress has been such a success really excites me. That event is here to stay and it’s been a great confidence boost for the home industry. But it’s a tough business, with a new stumbling block to trip over every day. But if I could turn the clock back there is very little I would change. I love what I do and who I deal with, including our own staff, our customers and our suppliers. You have to be passionate and you have to stay grounded. Yes it’s a business, but it’s still rock and roll and the day I forget how to wire a PA I think I’ll retire!”