Moog Music, Inc.
Moog Music, Inc.
2004 E. Riverside Drive
Asheville, North Carolina 28804
Telephone: (828) 251-0090
Toll Free: (800) 948-1990
Fax: (828) 254-6233
Web site: http://www.moogmusic.com
Incorporated: 1978 as Big Briar, Inc.
Sales: $3 million (2004 est.)
NAIC: 339992 Musical Instrument Manufacturing
Moog Music, Inc. produces electronic musical instruments and accessories. The firm's flagship product is the Minimoog Voyager synthesizer, a keyboard instrument that can produce a wide range of different sounds. Other products include electronic instruments called theremins; Moogerfooger audio effects boxes; and the Moog PianoBar, a device that enables an acoustic piano to play and record a wide range of synthesized sounds. Company founder Dr. Robert Moog died in 2005, and the company is now headed by his business partner, Mike Adams.
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 manipulating an electric field in the air above them. From a young age Moog, whose father was an electronics hobbyist, had built radios and simple 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 Radio News magazine. The instrument had been invented three decades 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 1954 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 electronics magazines. A ready-to-assemble kit cost $59.95, and a pre-assembled unit was $87.95.
The late 1950s saw Moog study electrical engineering at Columbia University in New York. He continued to sell theremins from his parents' basement, and by 1960 his offerings ranged from a $75 basic kit to a $650 fully assembled professional model. In January 1961 he published 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, near the city of Ithaca, where he had begun attending Cornell University to earn a Ph.D. in engineering physics. While continuing to build and sell theremins, Moog also experimented with making a battery-powered 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 attendees, teacher and experimental musician Herbert Deutsch, approached 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 heightened by a performance of electronic music in New York, the pair began working together at his home in Trumansburg. With Deutsch suggesting ideas for sounds, Moog built electronic circuits to create them. His 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 himself 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 from Thaddeus Cahill's 1906 Telharmonium (which weighed 200 tons) to a room-sized instrument constructed in the 1950s by RCA in collaboration with Columbia and Princeton Universities, which used holes punched in rolls of computer-readable paper to define sounds. Although it filled a table with black boxes sporting many knobs, patch cords, and switches, Moog's invention (which at Deutsch's suggestion also incorporated a 3 1/2-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 that ranged from an organ-like sound to others that were otherworldly. It had several unique features including attack-delay-sustain-release envelopes that gave notes the ability to swell and fade, and its relatively 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 Engineering Society Convention in New York, which immediately resulted in orders for instruments from Alwin Nikolais, a prominent New York dance choreographer/composer, and Eric Sidey, who operated a studio for recording commercial "jingles." Over the next several years avant-garde musicians and recording studios would be the primary buyers of Moog'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 summer of 1965, when he completed his doctorate, Moog had a staff of six building synthesizers and theremins, which he also continued to make. Orders came in only sporadically, however, and by 1967 he was close to giving up the business to take a job in the corporate world. Before 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 Audio Engineering Society Convention in Los Angeles, which helped generate enough sales to keep the business afloat.
Moog's biggest boost would come the following year, when classical musician 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 could be played at a time) was a smash hit, selling more than one million copies and spawning dozens of copycats. Although some of the recordings were serious attempts to use the capabilities of the new instrument, many others (with such names as "The Electric Cow Goes Mooog" and "Switched On Santa") utilized it as a gimmick. Regardless, Moog was soon swamped with orders, and production of synthesizers jumped from 23 in 1967 to 49 in 1968 and 99 in 1969.
At this time the psychedelic music era was in full bloom, and rock musicians were beginning to discover the synthesizer as well. The Beach Boys had approached Robert Moog in 1966 to build a theremin soundalike 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 became the first rock musician to buy a Moog synthesizer, which he used on the group's fourth album. In 1968 the Rolling Stones and Byrds both purchased Moogs, and they were followed in 1969 by Jimi Hendrix, Simon & Garfunkel, and The Beatles, who used one on their last recorded album, Abbey Road, as well as for a George Harrison solo project called "Electronic Sound." By decade's end the R.A. Moog Co. had 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 Minimoog. Weighing less than 50 pounds, it was mounted in an attractive hardwood cabinet and featured a flip-up effects panel above the keyboard. Although initial sales were promising, the inventor's lack of business 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 Buffalo suburb of Williamsville. In 1972, the company became known as Moog Music, Inc.
The year 1973 saw Waytena sell control of Moog Music for several million dollars to Norlin Industries, a conglomerate that was the largest producer of musical instruments in the United States via brands including Gibson guitars and Lowery organs. Minority stakeholder Robert Moog 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 Polymoog. The latter, which debuted in 1977, was the first of the firm's synthesizers that could play more than one note at a time, and accounted for a third of the approximately $10 million Moog Music took in during the year.
Here at the beginning of the 21st century Moog Music is still producing the quality tools to create music that could not otherwise exist without them, making instruments so unique that they represent a genre of their own: Moog Music. Perhaps back in 1954, Bob Moog and his father were only trying to make something cool, to create a sound that as of yet was only in the realm of imagination, never dreaming how far their invention would take the Moog name. Whatever the original purpose, there is no doubt that Bob Moog has made his mark, and that modern music has been forever changed for the better.
The disco era brought new uses for synthesizers, with such hits as Donna Summer's 1977 "I Feel Love," featuring a throbbing Moog bass line. Other Moog users of the period included fusion jazz musicians Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea; rhythm and blues artists James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and Parliament/Funkadelic; and rock performers Emerson Lake & Palmer, Yes, and Kraftwerk. Moogs also were starting to see use on "new wave" hits by Gary Numan, Devo, and others, but the company was struggling to keep up with several dozen competitors, including makers of inexpensive digital synthesizers that stayed in tune better 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 ownership stake and left the firm. In 1983 Moog Music executives bought the 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 products including subway door openers and climate control systems. In 1987 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 area outside Asheville, North Carolina, where he formed a new company, called Big Briar, to provide consulting services and make theremins and other custom audio equipment. In 1984 he moved to Boston to work full time for instrument maker Kurzweil Music Systems, but in 1989 he quit and returned to Asheville to teach music at the University of North Carolina.
In 1989 Moog met nonagenarian inventor Leon Theremin for the first time, and two years later he introduced a new theremin instrument, the Series 91 model. He quit teaching in 1992 to devote his full attention to Big Briar, and in 1996 added the Etherwave theremin, followed in 1998 by the Moogerfooger effects module. The latter unit incorporated original Moog synthesizer technology and allowed musicians to plug in guitars or other instruments to alter their sounds. Moog also worked with longtime associate David Van Koevering to create the Van Koevering Interactive Piano, a keyboard instrument that incorporated a computer that could synthesize the sounds of more than 120 different instruments while creating a digital record of the performance.
By 1994 the Moog Music trademark had been inactive for enough time that, according to U.S. law, it was up for grabs. Several individuals began 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 offer the sound of the Minimoog with select modern improvements. Original examples of his synthesizers, in particular the Minimoog, had begun 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 partner and CEO Mike Adams running the business end. In the fall the company introduced the new Moog Voyager synthesizer. It was the first keyboard-based synthesizer Robert Moog had marketed under his own name since the 1970s (though in the United Kingdom, it was sold as "Voyager—by Bob Moog," as a Welsh entrepreneur had obtained rights to the Moog trademark there).
The instrument combined the best features of the Minimoog with more recent technological advancements, but its sound remained totally analog. Moog believed, as did many musicians, that digital synthesizers had a cold, "soulless" sound, and he preferred the warmth of analog technology. The new synthesizer resembled the Minimoog, with a hardwood cabinet and flip-up control panel, but it could make more sounds than the original model, and had 128 programmable presets to store specific ones for future use. Like its predecessor, it was able to play only 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 the United States, with Moog's small staff assembling a completed instrument in approximately one-half hour's time. Seeking to improve manufacturing efficiency, CEO Adams trained his employees in the use of Demand 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 financial aspects of the business, which under Robert Moog had been notoriously underdeveloped.
In the summer of 2003 the firm introduced the Moog PianoBar, a $1,500 device designed by fellow synthesizer pioneer Don Buchla. When attached to an acoustic piano, it could synthesize the sounds of more than 200 instruments or sound effects while making a digital record of keystrokes for later playback or use with software that created musical 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.
- Robert Moog founds the R.A. Moog Company to sell theremin kits.
- Moog creates a keyboard-based electronic music synthesizer.
- The "Switched On Bach" album starts the Moog recording craze and boosts sales.
- The Minimoog portable synthesizer debuts.
- Strapped for cash, Robert Moog sells control of the firm to an outside investor.
- Norlin Industries buys the company, known as Moog Music, Inc.
- Robert Moog founds Big Briar, Inc.
- Moog Music is acquired by management, and the name is changed to Moog Electronics.
- Moog Electronics ceases operations.
- The Moogerfooger effects box is introduced.
- After winning back its trademark, Big Briar becomes Moog Music, Inc.
- A new Minimoog Voyager synthesizer is introduced.
- The Moog PianoBar keyboard interface debuts.
- Robert Moog dies at 71; the firm continues under the leadership of Mike Adams.
In 2004 the company introduced the Etherwave Pro, a $1,500 professional-grade theremin, and the MuRF, a new addition to the Moogerfooger line. The year also saw numerous tributes to Robert Moog, including several concerts and a documentary film. In 2005 new variations on the Minimoog were introduced including a rack-mountable version and the Minimoog Electric Blue, which featured a strikingly backlit front panel. The company's synthesizers were once again a hot item, with orders 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 Cornell-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 Minimoog Voyager synthesizers, Etherwave theremins, Moog PianoBars, and Moogerfooger effects boxes. Despite the recent death of its founder and guiding light, the firm remained dedicated to serving musicians around the world with high-quality, innovative products.
Yamaha Corporation; Korg, Inc.; Roland Corporation; Casio Computer Co., Ltd.; E-MU Systems, Inc.; Analogia, Inc.; Clavia DMI; Alesis.
Bernstein, David, "A Comeback for Another Classic Rocker: The Moog Synthesizer," The New York Times, September 29, 2004, p. E3.
Bledsoe, Wayne, "Robert Moog Flipped the Switch on Bach," Knoxville News-Sentinel, May 29, 1994, p. 3.
Cane, Alan, "Survey—Creative Business—Robert Moog," Financial Times, June 12, 2001.
Henahan, Donal, "Is Everybody Going to the Moog?," The New York Times, August 24, 1969, p. D15.
Horowitz, Joseph, "In the Moog for Electronic Music," The New York Times, January 28, 1979, p. L19.
Keenan, David, "Electric Dreams," Sunday Herald, February 24, 2002, p. 6.
Kozinn, Allan, "Robert Moog Dies at 71; Created a Synthesizer That Revolutionized Music," The New York Times, August 23, 2005, p. C16.
Luxenberg, Stan, "Norlin Seeks to Scale Up Profits," The New York Times, April 23, 1978, p. F1.
――――, "The Vicissitudes of the Moog," The New York Times, April 23, 1978, p. F4.
Miller, Nancy, "This Man Rocks," Entertainment Weekly, September 17, 2004, p. 32.
Myers, Paul, "Smells Like Moog Spirit," Globe and Mail, August 3, 1996, p. C1.
Pinch, Trevor, and Frank Trocco, Analog Days, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002.
Rideout, Ernie, "Fantastic Voyager—The Making of a Minimoog for the Millennium," Keyboard, May 1, 2003, p. 32.
Vail, Mark, Vintage Synthesizers, San Francisco: Miller Freeman, 2000.