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Moog Music, Inc. Business Information, Profile, and History

robert synthesizer company synthesizers

2004 E. Riverside Drive
Asheville, North Carolina 28804
U.S.A.

Company Perspectives:

Here at the beginning of the 21st century Moog Music is still produci ng the quality tools to create music that could not otherwise exist w ithout them, making instruments so unique that they represent a genre of their own: Moog Music. Perhaps back in 1954, Bob Moog and his fat her were only trying to make something cool, to create a sound that a s of yet was only in the realm of imagination, never dreaming how far their invention would take the Moog name. Whatever the original purp ose, there is no doubt that Bob Moog has made his mark, and that mode rn music has been forever changed for the better.

History of Moog Music, Inc.

Moog Music, Inc. produces electronic musical instruments and accessor ies. The firm's flagship product is the Minimoog Voyager synthesizer, a keyboard instrument that can produce a wide range of different sou nds. Other products include electronic instruments called theremins; Moogerfooger audio effects boxes; and the Moog PianoBar, a device tha t enables an acoustic piano to play and record a wide range of synthe sized sounds. Company founder Dr. Robert Moog died in 2005, and the c ompany is now headed by his business partner, Mike Adams.

Beginnings

Moog Music traces its origins to 1954, when 20-year-old Robert Moog ( rhymes with "vogue") formed the R.A. Moog Company in Flushing, Queens , New York to produce theremins, instruments that were played by mani pulating an electric field in the air above them. From a young age Mo og, whose father was an electronics hobbyist, had built radios and si mple musical instruments from kits, and in 1949, at the age of 14, he had built a theremin after reading an article on the subject in R adio News magazine. The instrument had been invented three decade s earlier by Russian Leon Theremin, and was used as much for music (a few classical pieces had been written for it) as for creating eerie audio effects in movies including The Day the Earth Stood Still and Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound.

To help earn money while he studied physics at Queens College, in 195 4 Moog and his father decided to sell theremins through the mail. The instrument had not been manufactured for a number of years, and the new company found a small market for them by placing ads in electroni cs magazines. A ready-to-assemble kit cost $59.95, and a pre-asse mbled unit was $87.95.

The late 1950s saw Moog study electrical engineering at Columbia Univ ersity in New York. He continued to sell theremins from his parents' basement, and by 1960 his offerings ranged from a $75 basic kit t o a $650 fully assembled professional model. In January 1961 he p ublished an article in Electronics World magazine on building a new transistorized theremin, which helped him sell more than 1,000 kits. During that year production moved to Trumansburg, New York, nea r the city of Ithaca, where he had begun attending Cornell University to earn a Ph.D. in engineering physics. While continuing to build an d sell theremins, Moog also experimented with making a battery-powere d amplifier, though this effort proved unsuccessful.

In the fall of 1963 Moog was invited to demonstrate his theremin at a music educators' convention in Rochester, New York, by Walter Sear, a composer and tuba player who was selling Moog's kits. One of the at tendees, teacher and experimental musician Herbert Deutsch, approache d him with the idea of creating a new kind of electronic instrument.

Creating the Moog Synthesizer in 1964

In the summer of 1964, six months after Moog's interest had been heig htened by a performance of electronic music in New York, the pair beg an working together at his home in Trumansburg. With Deutsch suggesti ng ideas for sounds, Moog built electronic circuits to create them. H is intent was to build the most useful tool possible for a musician, and he valued the input of an end-user such as Deutsch. Moog himself, though he had taken years of piano lessons as a child, considered hi mself a passable musician at best.

Within two weeks the basic idea for the synthesizer was established, and Moog began working to complete a prototype. His was not the first device to synthesize sound electronically; its predecessors ranged f rom Thaddeus Cahill's 1906 Telharmonium (which weighed 200 tons) to a room-sized instrument constructed in the 1950s by RCA in collaborati on with Columbia and Princeton Universities, which used holes punched in rolls of computer-readable paper to define sounds. Although it fi lled a table with black boxes sporting many knobs, patch cords, and s witches, Moog's invention (which at Deutsch's suggestion also incorpo rated a 3-octave, 44-note keyboard) was much smaller than its predecessors.

Moog's device passed the notes through voltage-controlled oscillators , amplifiers, and filters that could be adjusted to produce tones tha t ranged from an organ-like sound to others that were otherworldly. I t had several unique features including attack-delay-sustain-release envelopes that gave notes the ability to swell and fade, and its rela tively small size allowed it to be transported to public performances , something not feasible with previous synthesizers.

In October 1964 a primitive version was demonstrated at the Audio Eng ineering Society Convention in New York, which immediately resulted i n orders for instruments from Alwin Nikolais, a prominent New York da nce choreographer/composer, and Eric Sidey, who operated a studio for recording commercial "jingles." Over the next several years avant-ga rde musicians and recording studios would be the primary buyers of Mo og's synthesizers, which were considered esoteric devices far outside the realm of mainstream music.

These early models, each custom made, sold for between $2,000 and $10,000, depending on the degree of complexity desired. By the s ummer of 1965, when he completed his doctorate, Moog had a staff of s ix building synthesizers and theremins, which he also continued to ma ke. Orders came in only sporadically, however, and by 1967 he was clo se to giving up the business to take a job in the corporate world. Be fore throwing in the towel he decided to make one last push, and with his wife Shirleigh took a new version of the synthesizer to the Audi o Engineering Society Convention in Los Angeles, which helped generat e enough sales to keep the business afloat.

Moog's biggest boost would come the following year, when classical mu sician and composer Walter (later known as Wendy) Carlos released an album called Switched on Bach. The recording of some of Johann Sebastian Bach's most famous compositions with the unusual tonality of the Moog (done through multiple overdubs, because only one note co uld be played at a time) was a smash hit, selling more than one milli on copies and spawning dozens of copycats. Although some of the recor dings were serious attempts to use the capabilities of the new instru ment, many others (with such names as "The Electric Cow Goes Mooog" a nd "Switched On Santa") utilized it as a gimmick. Regardless, Moog wa s soon swamped with orders, and production of synthesizers jumped fro m 23 in 1967 to 49 in 1968 and 99 in 1969.

At this time the psychedelic music era was in full bloom, and rock mu sicians were beginning to discover the synthesizer as well. The Beach Boys had approached Robert Moog in 1966 to build a theremin soundali ke for concert performances of their hit "Good Vibrations" (which had been recorded using a similar-sounding instrument called an electro- theremin), and in the fall of 1967 Monkees drummer Mickey Dolenz beca me the first rock musician to buy a Moog synthesizer, which he used o n the group's fourth album. In 1968 the Rolling Stones and Byrds both purchased Moogs, and they were followed in 1969 by Jimi Hendrix, Sim on & Garfunkel, and The Beatles, who used one on their last recor ded album, Abbey Road, as well as for a George Harrison solo p roject called "Electronic Sound." By decade's end the R.A. Moog Co. h ad grown to employ 42 and had annual sales of $750,000.

Debut of the Minimoog in 1970

In 1970 the company introduced a much smaller synthesizer, the Minimo og. Weighing less than 50 pounds, it was mounted in an attractive har dwood cabinet and featured a flip-up effects panel above the keyboard . Although initial sales were promising, the inventor's lack of busin ess skills, aggressive new competitors including ARP, and an economic recession all combined to bring the firm close to bankruptcy.

To stay in business, in 1971 Robert Moog sold controlling interest in the company to investor Bill Waytena for the assumption of $250, 000 in debt, and the firm was merged into his muSonics, Inc. to form Moog muSonics, with its manufacturing operations relocated to the Buf falo suburb of Williamsville. In 1972, the company became known as Mo og Music, Inc.

The year 1973 saw Waytena sell control of Moog Music for several mill ion dollars to Norlin Industries, a conglomerate that was the largest producer of musical instruments in the United States via brands incl uding Gibson guitars and Lowery organs. Minority stakeholder Robert M oog would continue to serve as president of its Moog Music division.

During the early 1970s further refinements were made to the Minimoog and new variations were introduced, including the Micromoog and Polym oog. The latter, which debuted in 1977, was the first of the firm's s ynthesizers that could play more than one note at a time, and account ed for a third of the approximately $10 million Moog Music took i n during the year.

The disco era brought new uses for synthesizers, with such hits as Do nna Summer's 1977 "I Feel Love," featuring a throbbing Moog bass line . Other Moog users of the period included fusion jazz musicians Herbi e Hancock and Chick Corea; rhythm and blues artists James Brown, Stev ie Wonder, and Parliament/Funkadelic; and rock performers Emerson Lak e & Palmer, Yes, and Kraftwerk. Moogs also were starting to see u se on "new wave" hits by Gary Numan, Devo, and others, but the compan y was struggling to keep up with several dozen competitors, including makers of inexpensive digital synthesizers that stayed in tune bette r than their analog kin.

Robert Moog's Departure from the Firm in 1977

Other engineers were being assigned to design Moog's synthesizers by Norlin, and in 1977 the company's disillusioned founder sold his owne rship stake and left the firm. In 1983 Moog Music executives bought t he company from Norlin for $2.2 million, and under the name Moog Electronics made diminishing numbers of synthesizers while servicing older Moog instruments and performing contract manufacturing of produ cts including subway door openers and climate control systems. In 198 7 the company was purchased by electronics maker EJE Research, which quietly shut it down in 1993.

Meanwhile, in 1978 Robert Moog had moved from Buffalo to a remote are a outside Asheville, North Carolina, where he formed a new company, c alled Big Briar, to provide consulting services and make theremins an d other custom audio equipment. In 1984 he moved to Boston to work fu ll time for instrument maker Kurzweil Music Systems, but in 1989 he q uit and returned to Asheville to teach music at the University of Nor th Carolina.

In 1989 Moog met nonagenarian inventor Leon Theremin for the first ti me, and two years later he introduced a new theremin instrument, the Series 91 model. He quit teaching in 1992 to devote his full attentio n to Big Briar, and in 1996 added the Etherwave theremin, followed in 1998 by the Moogerfooger effects module. The latter unit incorporate d original Moog synthesizer technology and allowed musicians to plug in guitars or other instruments to alter their sounds. Moog also work ed with longtime associate David Van Koevering to create the Van Koev ering Interactive Piano, a keyboard instrument that incorporated a co mputer that could synthesize the sounds of more than 120 different in struments while creating a digital record of the performance.

By 1994 the Moog Music trademark had been inactive for enough time th at, according to U.S. law, it was up for grabs. Several individuals b egan seeking to use it, and a legal wrangle took shape. Robert Moog, immersed in a divorce, was at first unaware of the news, but when he found out he went to court to win it back. In 2000 he succeeded, and began laying plans to introduce a new Moog synthesizer, which would o ffer the sound of the Minimoog with select modern improvements. Origi nal examples of his synthesizers, in particular the Minimoog, had beg un increasing in value as a new generation of musicians sought their unique qualities.

Big Briar Becoming Moog Music and the Debut of the Voyager in 2002

In 2002 Big Briar changed its name to Moog Music, Inc., with new part ner and CEO Mike Adams running the business end. In the fall the comp any introduced the new Moog Voyager synthesizer. It was the first key board-based synthesizer Robert Moog had marketed under his own name s ince the 1970s (though in the United Kingdom, it was sold as "Voyager --by Bob Moog," as a Welsh entrepreneur had obtained rights to the Mo og trademark there).

The instrument combined the best features of the Minimoog with more r ecent technological advancements, but its sound remained totally anal og. Moog believed, as did many musicians, that digital synthesizers h ad a cold, "soulless" sound, and he preferred the warmth of analog te chnology. The new synthesizer resembled the Minimoog, with a hardwood cabinet and flip-up control panel, but it could make more sounds tha n the original model, and had 128 programmable presets to store speci fic ones for future use. Like its predecessor, it was able to play on ly one note at a time. Priced at nearly $3,200, it received rave reviews from industry publications.

All but two of the components of the new Voyager were sourced from th e United States, with Moog's small staff assembling a completed instr ument in approximately one-half hour's time. Seeking to improve manuf acturing efficiency, CEO Adams trained his employees in the use of De mand Flow Technology production, a manufacturing philosophy in which inventory of completed products was kept to a minimum and new orders were built and shipped out quickly. He also worked to improve the fin ancial aspects of the business, which under Robert Moog had been noto riously underdeveloped.

In the summer of 2003 the firm introduced the Moog PianoBar, a $1 ,500 device designed by fellow synthesizer pioneer Don Buchla. When a ttached to an acoustic piano, it could synthesize the sounds of more than 200 instruments or sound effects while making a digital record o f keystrokes for later playback or use with software that created mus ical notation. It was targeted to composers who wished to experiment with different sounds but preferred to use an acoustic piano, or solo performers who wanted to add layers of sound to the piano.

In 2004 the company introduced the Etherwave Pro, a $1,500 profes sional-grade theremin, and the MuRF, a new addition to the Moogerfoog er line. The year also saw numerous tributes to Robert Moog, includin g several concerts and a documentary film. In 2005 new variations on the Minimoog were introduced including a rack-mountable version and t he Minimoog Electric Blue, which featured a strikingly backlit front panel. The company's synthesizers were once again a hot item, with or ders coming from high-profile pop musicians hip-hopper Snoop Dogg and alternative rock band Wilco.

On August 21, 2005, Dr. Robert Moog died from brain cancer at the age of 71. Prior to his death he had begun working with Cyril Lance, a C ornell-educated physicist, who would take his place as senior design engineer. Business partner Mike Adams would continue to serve as Moog Music CEO.

More than 50 years after Robert Moog began selling theremins by mail, the revitalized Moog Music, Inc. was successfully manufacturing Mini moog Voyager synthesizers, Etherwave theremins, Moog PianoBars, and M oogerfooger effects boxes. Despite the recent death of its founder an d guiding light, the firm remained dedicated to serving musicians aro und the world with high-quality, innovative products.

Principal Competitors: Yamaha Corporation; Korg, Inc.; Roland Corporation; Casio Computer Co., Ltd.; E-MU Systems, Inc.; Analogia, Inc.; Clavia DMI; Alesis.

Chronology

  • Key Dates:
  • 1954: Robert Moog founds the R.A. Moog Company to sell theremi n kits.
  • 1964: Moog creates a keyboard-based electronic music synthesiz er.
  • 1968: The "Switched On Bach" album starts the Moog recording c raze and boosts sales.
  • 1970: The Minimoog portable synthesizer debuts.
  • 1971: Strapped for cash, Robert Moog sells control of the firm to an outside investor.
  • 1973: Norlin Industries buys the company, known as Moog Music, Inc.
  • 1978: Robert Moog founds Big Briar, Inc.
  • 1983: Moog Music is acquired by management, and the name is ch anged to Moog Electronics.
  • 1993: Moog Electronics ceases operations.
  • 1998: The Moogerfooger effects box is introduced.
  • 2002: After winning back its trademark, Big Briar becomes Moog Music, Inc.
  • 2002: A new Minimoog Voyager synthesizer is introduced.
  • 2003: The Moog PianoBar keyboard interface debuts.
  • 2005: Robert Moog dies at 71; the firm continues under the lea dership of Mike Adams.
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