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Piano Playing O’Neill Brothers Hitting the Right Keys
 

Irish American News

March 2005

By Cliff Carlson

 

The O’Neill Brothers, Tim and Ryan, are making a name for themselves in the music industry. The brothers have parlayed campus music parties into a full-fledged business that supports them both quite handsomely.


Ryan and Tim went to Notre Dame in the 1990’s. Tim graduated with a degree in marketing in 1994 and Ryan graduated in 1997. Once the brothers started playing on two pianos in concerts for students, the seeds of being in business for themselves were planted.


While still in school, Tim decided to go into business for himself and recorded his first CD in 1993 with his own funds. His father thought he was crazy; Tim believed he was on to something.


He created 1000 pieces and began selling them to friends, family, and throughout his hometown of New Prague, Minnesota. That Christmas season he sold over 400 CDs and realized his method was working. The following season he recorded another CD of just piano music.
Upon graduation in 1994, Tim started performing solo and selling CDs at the performances. He continued to play solo for a couple of years until Ryan graduated and they then began performing together.
Prior to starting up his music business though, Tim moved to Co. Clare, Ireland for three months and lived in Ennis. He and Ryan had been to Ireland several times and Tim wanted to get a feel of what the real Ireland was like. He went during the months of February through April, before the high tourist season, to capture the flavor of local Ireland. While there, He recorded another CD in the Limerick Concert Hall under the guidance of a famous piano player in Ireland, Michael O’Sullivan. He also looked up his family roots and visited Lord O’Neill in Antrim, at Shane O’Neill’s Castle just outside of Belfast city.


Back in the U.S., Tim didn’t let his college education get in the way. A couple of big national retailers had begun hiring piano players to perform in their stores and Tim jumped on it.


He contacted J.C. Penney stores and approached them with the idea of having player pianos in all of their stores with the brothers’ music keyed into them so they would play automatically. When the brothers couldn’t be in the stores playing in person, the music could be played at anytime during store hours. The brothers would place kiosks of their merchandise next to the pianos and everybody would make money. As a result, Tim was a finalist for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award in his home state of Minnesota.


J.C. Penney loved the added ambiance to their stores, and this marketing tool went on for over six years from Maui to the Bronx. CDs sold were in the hundreds of thousands. The pianos were supplied by local piano player representatives for a nominal rental fee. They benefited from the exposure in the high traffic Penney stores and everybody won.


Ryan joined Tim after he graduated from Notre Dame in 1997. The brothers perform all over the country at craft and trade shows. They have had some great random meetings, which have propelled their careers ahead. At one show, the music producer for “Sex in the City” heard them playing and decided she wanted to put some of their music on the show. Another show, another random meeting, and someone who knew George Bush Sr. suggested that the brothers perform for the former president’s Points of Light Foundation in New York City, which they did.


The O’Neill Brothers have reached a milestone in their careers that many performers never attain. Their latest CD hit number one on Billboard’s New Age Catalog chart and reached #30 on Billboards Pop Catalog chart, right up there with The Beatles, U2 and the like!
Recently they met a representative for QVC TV in Connecticut. The O’Neill Brothers will be on QVC TV on St. Patrick’s Day, along with The Irish Tenors. For performance times check their website at www.pianobrothers.com.


Three of the O’Neill Brothers’ CDs are Irish. The last one is called Here Come the Irish featuring half O’Neill Brothers music and half from Notre Dame alumni who are fine instrumentalists in their own right, having all won All-Ireland. They include, Sean Ryan on flute and uillean pipes, Gaelic Storms’ Steve Wehmeyer on bodhran, David James on hammer dulcimer, and John Kennedy on rhythm guitar.


With eighteen CDs under their belts, look for much more to come from the piano brothers, Tim and Ryan O’Neill. Whether you’re an Irish import store looking to place CDs in your store or a consumer looking for more information, visit www.pianobrothers.com or call 888-966-3455 or 952-758-9300.

 

 

 

 

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