While getting his doctorate in physics at Cornell University in 1963, Robert A. Moog (By the way "Moog" is pronounced with a long "o" sound like Rogue or Vogue, not like Fugue) earned money by selling do-it-yourself transistorized theremins. One of Moog's thereminists was Herbert Deutsch, a composer. Moog and Deutsch met in 1963 at a conference. This led to conversation about the need for new electronic instruments. In 1964, they spent weeks trying electronic circuitry. Moog had his very first prototype built in August 1964.
"When I set up shop in Trumansburg, New York, in the summer of 1963, I was finishing my Ph.D at Cornell and suffering vague notions of getting into the kit business. I had no concept of synthesizers or electronic music at all. It was just me and a couple of people in a storefront, designing a portable, battery-operated musical instrument amplifier kit -- which never did
go into production, because it was way overpriced. This is a lesson you learn when you go into
consumer electronics: The most important parameter of any product is price, because everything
is measured against price, just the same way that in music, everything is measured against time.
"All through the amplifier project, I was making theremins on a custom basis. I'd been doing that since I was 19 -- it was a hobby, the output of which
I could sell. My New York rep. Waiter Sear -- these
days [approx. 1992] Waiter makes Grade Z movies, but before he
made Grade Z movies he made porno movies, and
before he made porno movies he sold tubas and my
theremins -- invited me to come help him show
theremins to school teachers at the New York State
School Music Association convention, at the Concord Hotel. That was where I met Herb Deutsch.
"What I knew about electronic music at the end
of'63 was some vague knowledge that yes, at Columbia University there were some people who
had something called the Columbia-Princeton
Electronic Music Center, and yes, they gave concerts once in a while, and yes, I should probably
find out more. Herb was a music instructor at Hofstra who was doing his own experimental tape
"Herb and I kept in touch. More or less in my
spare time I built two voltage-controlled oscillators and two voltage-controlled amplifiers, and
some kind of controller that could turn the sounds
on and off and change the pitch and the rates of
modulation. It might have been a couple of doorbells. When Herb came up with his family -- he
parked them at a cabin in the state park while we
worked for three weeks -- he just flipped when he
heard what my breadboards could do. By the end
of that session and the one that followed, together
we had come up with the basics of a modular analog synthesizer.
"Mind you, neither of us had any idea where this was leading." ----Bob Moog*
The principle behind Moogs prototype is the use of "Voltage-Controlled Electronic Music Modules," (i.e. the use of controlled generators and controlled filters). This is fully explained in the paper "Voltage-Controlled Electronic Music Modules" (R.A. Moog, Journal of the Audio Engineering Society , Vol.13, No. 3, pp 200-206, July 1965). This allows the performer to create his own sounds by connecting modules with electric wires and by turning knobs.
"We went across the border to the University of
Toronto electronic music studio, which was, at
that time, headed by Myron Schaeffer. He flipped.
He was the first person from the electronic music
establishment to give us encouragement. Word
got around, and in September I got a call from
Jacqueline Harvey of the Audio Engineering Society (which was much smaller then than it is today). She called me up and said, 'We hear that
you people are doing something ... interesting...
up there.' To which I replied, 'Well, maybe.' She explained that she had an exhibit area to give
away at the forthcoming AES show, because CBS
had taken a booth but decided not to use it. Now,
I knew nothing about the AES. I knew nothing
about conventions in New York. I knew nothing
about the audio industry. I knew nothing about
buying and selling and taking orders. It was still
just a hobby. So I went down and set up these few
handmade modules on a little card table, and on
one side of me was Ampex, with their huge tape
recorders, and on the other side was 3M, and
across the way was Sculley.... I was really a
David among the Goliaths, and feeling very much
out of place. But Jimmy Seawright, who was a
technician at Columbia-Princeton Electronic
Music Center, came by and took a look and said
[choreographer/composer] "Alwin Nikolais
should see these." Later that day, Nikolais came
by and a most unexpected event happened: He
placed an order.
"We actually took two or three orders at the
show which kept us busy for about six months.
And that's how it began.
"It was part-time until the summer of 1965. We were working overtime on a custom job for John Cage -- by that time I had eight or
ten people working for me, but it was going badly
and we were behind schedule -- and at 9 pm the
phone rang. It was my thesis adviser. 'Moog,
whatever is not on my desk at 9 tomorrow morning is not going in your thesis.' That's how I finally
got my degree. I finished that night.
"Once that was out of the way, we were full-time.
But a business? From the point of view of competence, we were never a business. Never. We got
some of the elements in place, but none of the
controls or forecasting or planning that go with a
well-run business. We just never had it.
"We were always in the red. We had no capital.
None. Zero! And yet, we managed to keep
stumbling along." ----Bob Moog*
"Wendy Carlos was a student of Ussachevsky's at the Columbia-Princeton Center. We first met when we all went out
somewhere to have Chinese. By the time this became a business, Wendy was working as an engineer for Gotham Recording, one of the hip studios,
and on the side she was putting together her own
music system. She began ordering modules and of all sorts of critisisms. She really understood instinctively what I was doing right and wrong. The
fixed filter banks came from Wendy. Lots of other
things, too; I've lost track. It was always on the back
of an envelope, or over the telephone. Wendy had
already done a couple of Bach pieces, and she and
Rachel Elkind -- who was Goddard Lieherson's secretary at CBS -- decided an electronic music record
based on the works of Bach would be interesting.
"I found myself giving a paper at the 1968 AES
convention in NYC, on different ways of organizing electronic music studios. By that time we knew
about sequencers, we knew about computer control, multi-track tape recording, etc. At the end of
the talk I said to this fairly big audience, "As an example of multi-track electronic music studio composition technique, I would like to play an excerpt
of a record that's about to be released of some mu-
sic by Bach." It was the last movement of Wendy's
Brandenburg No. 3. I walked off the stage and went
to the back of the auditorium while people were
listening, and I could feel it in the air. They were
jumping out of their skins. These technical people
were involved in so much flim-flam, so much
shoddy, opportunistic stuff, and here was something that was just impeccably done and had obvious musical content and was totally innovative.
The tape got a standing ovation.
"CBS had no idea what they had in Switched-On
Bach. When it came out, they lumped it in at a studio press party for Terry Riley's In C and an
abysmal record called Rock and Other Four Letter
Words. Carlos was so pissed off, she refused to
come. So CBS, frantic to have some representa-
tion, asked me to demonstrate the synthesizer. I
remember there was a nice big bowl of joints on
top of the mixing console, and Terry Riley was
there in his white Jesus suit, up on a pedestal,
playing live on a Farfisa organ against a backup of
tape delays. Rock and Other Four Letter Words
went on to sell a few thousand records. In C sold a few tens of thousands. Switched-On Bach sold
over a million, and just keeps going on and on.
"Walter Sear had been beating a path up and
down Madison Avenue, selling modular systems to
commercial music producers who did work for ad
agencies. He had something like 40 customers by
1968. But when Switched-On Bach came out, the
shit hit the fan. All the record producers had to
have their Moog record for 1969. We got orders
from CBS, NBC, Elektra, a lot of other guys. And
these guys didn't want just 'one of this, and two of
that....' They said, 'Give me your biggest system,' and they expected to make money like Carlos did. I could play you some of these records. A
few of them still stand up. But mostly they were
cynical, inept, opportunistic things: throw together a group, lay down some strings and horns
and vocals, leave some space for a novelty melody
line from the synth. That was the scene in 69.
Moog records." ----Bob Moog*
Moog/Musonics and Moog Music
"At our peak, we were cranking out two or three modular systems a week, and had 42 employees. We were back-ordered all through 1969 and the first half of 1970.
"Right around then, three forces merged. The first was that the market became saturated. The guys who'd jumped on doing their Moog records hadn't had hits, so they'd dumped their synthesizers. The second was that now we had competition -- ARP -- and their product had the appeal of stable oscillators and no patch cords. The third thing was a general recession that forced music producers to cut back. Suddenly we went from having a quarter-million backlog to no backlog at all. We did have the Minimoog. We'd been getting requests from studio musicians asking us to pack all that stuff into a nice package they could cary to gigs with them, and we'd done that, but we had no way of selling it. Music stores didn't want to carry synthesizers.
"Zero sales, huge bills, lots of inventory, and no capital. I'd been looking for capital for quite a while, but that's another thing I was absolutely no good at. I could never inspire money people to invest in the company. So this guy Bill Waytena -- who specialized in buying distressed companies, then pumping them up and selling them -- took over the company. It cost him nothing exept his guarantee that our personally secured debts and our suppliers would be paid off: more than $250,000."
"Why was he interested? He saw a marketin oportunity. He'd actually hired a couple of engineers to design a synth called the Sonic V for a company of his called Musonics. He told me that it would be the next rage in adult toys, that all he had to do was advertise these things in Esquire and he'd sell 5,000 of them. [Waytena's own recollection is that he was aiming mainly at the educational market.] This wasn't entirely unreasonable: Back then poeple were going apeshit over things that made funny electronic sounds. Anyway, as soon as he put it out he saw he wasn't going to sell 5,000. He wasn't even going to sell 500, because he didn't have a name and he didn't have any product experience. So he bought R.A. Moog Inc., moved it to Buffalo, merged it with Musonics into a company called Moog/Musonics, eventually dropped the Musonics part -- and that left Moog Music.
"The building that we moved into had been a gelatin factory for the previous 100 years. Know how they make geletin? In one huge building, there was nothing but these concrete pits in the floor, pits six feet wide by ten feet long and six feet deep. They'd fill these pits with incredibly tough water buffalo hides (the leftovers, anyway, since between Indea and Buffalo the hides stopped in Brazil, where gears and other machine parts were stamped out of them, they were so tough) and these hides would soak in lye for a year. Then they'd steam-cook the stuff in an above-grond vat, with rollers mashing it to a pulp, filter the gelatin out, and dry it on trays inside a 60-foot long semi-circular ventilating tunnel, using huge fans. When the place was making gelatin, you could smell it ten miles away, and every kook and crazy in the area had a job there because you had to be nuts to work in a place like that. If you consider what Kurzweil Music looked like before Young Chang bought it, or even at what ARP Instruments looked like in the early '70s, by comparison Moog Music was a shithole. A smelly, damp, undomfortable, unattractive, unfinnished shithole that we worked in from March 1971 into 1974." ----Bob Moog*
The Dave Van Koevering Story
"Dave Van Koevering was born into a family of fundamentalist southern ministers, and he was an abosolute genius a entertaining people, at capturing their attention and enthusiasm. I met him when we was making a living by going around elementary schools and putting on assembies in which he'd demonstrate novelty instruments like the glass harmoniums and -- this is why we met -- modular synthesizers.
"Dave formed a partnership with a piano and organ businessman in St. Petersburg, Florida, and decided to sell Minimoogs. At that time there was no such thing as a synthesizer, or any instrument with knobs being sold in music stores. But Dave had a vision.
"He would take a Minimoog into a music store somewhere in central Florida and show it to the proprietor and salesmen, and almost invariably they'd throw him out. He'd then go up to the local Holiday or Ramada Inn and check out the bands. During the break he'd ask the keyboard player aside, show him the Minimoog -- the guy would flip -- and Dave would say, 'I'm going to arrange for you to have this thing.' The next morning he'd walk into the store he'd been kicked out of, musician in tow, and say, 'Here's your first customer, so now you'll have to place an order for two.' That is how the Minimoogs got to be carried in musical instrument stores. And it began in the absolute most unlikely place: central Florida.
"Van Koevering had a golden tongue and enormous hands that he used when he talked. He looked like a combination of [Kentuky Fried Chicken icon] Coloner Sanders and the Music Man. So we hired him as marketing manager. He stayed on board for a year and signed up a lot of European Moog distributers. But Waytena apparently felt that Van Koevering would not be perceived as an asset in selling the company off to a buyer, so Van Koevering didn't last long." ----Bob Moog*
The Satelite and the Norlin buyout
"Van Koevering determined that we ought to have a preset synthesizer, something equal to the ARP Pro-Soloist. I started in December 1971, with on draftsman who couldn't draw a straight line, not with all the tools in the world, and one designer who was equally inept. By June -- somehow -- we had a prototype called the Satellite. At the June 1973 NAMM trade show, it was demonstrated on top of a Wurlitzer organ, and every single organ manufacturer came and gawked and drooled over it. A hot product. But it wasn't in production. Waytena decided to sell the rights to make the Satellite, and at the end of the summer he landed a big fish. Want to hear astounding, appalling, unbelievable business numbers? The Thomas Organ company agreed to build Satellites into their organs for a royalty of $15 each. This product was supposed to retail for $500, which meant that the music store paid $300, which meant that manufacturers cost had to be less than $180 to be worthwhile, and out of that Waytena was soaking Thomas for $75. An unbelievably steep royalty. The usual rate is 5% of wholesale; this was at least 40%.
"Next year, on Moog Music's income and expense statement, there was an item marked Extraordinary Income -- $375,000. That was the royalty. Added to the rest of the income, and put against costs, it appeared on the bottom line as an extraordianry percentage of operating profit -- at least 25%. To a businessman, a company that produces 24-25% profit, is unbelievably lucrative. So Waytena took this balance sheet, this one peice of paper, and used it to sell Moog Music to Norlin. 'Twenty-five percent profit before taxes!' he reportedly told them. 'What else do you have that will produce like this?' Even more amazing, apparently no one at Norlin understood the extraordinary income for the one-time it was. [Waytena suggests that Moog Music's reputation for engineerin expertise may also have been an important asset.]
"I don't know exactly what Norlin paid for Moog: more than two million, less than ten." ----Bob Moog*
The Departure of Bob Moog
Waytena also had a clause in the contract keeping him to manage the company for 7 years. However after a year, he made it so difficult for Moog, they paid him off and sent him on his way.
"By the time Waytena left, Dave Luce was running engineering and Tom Gullo was running manufacturing. I had my own little research operation with Norlin.
"Tom Gullo was a capable guy wrestling with big problems. When Norlin took over, their marketin people decided to consolodate all Norlin manufacturing at the Moog facility, because Buffalo labor costs were cheap. On the basis of combined sales estimates, they sank $2.5 million into upgrades and equipment. But the estimates were wrong, and Tom Gullo was faced with financing this very large investment, so he went out and got subcontract assembly work. As the music business kept on stumbling -- Dave Luce's Polymoog got into production, but they needed 300 engineering changes -- Tom went more and more out of the company to keep the plant busy. By late 1970s, Moog Music was more subcontractor than manufacturer.
"So here was this entity with two people who had completely different personalities running the two sides. Dave Luce was a highly intelligent, technically trained person who gravitated toward complicated, sophisticated, tricky, convoluted things. Tom Gullo was a self-trained manufacturing man who gravitated toward simple, straightforward, easy-to-understand things. After I left in 1977, Norlin brought in a guy named Dave Bueschel, an EE [Electrical Engineer] with some management training, and he tried for a while but couln't integrate the two sides. When he left, the Norlin people, in their infinite wisdom, decided the right way to select the president of Moog Music was to hire an industrial psychiatrist and give intelligence tests to four people: Luce, Gullo, sales manager, Neil Smith, and marketing manager Herb Deutsch [who, incidentally, had been with Bob Moog from the start]. Dave, the MIT Ph.D. who liked complicated solutions to seemingly simple problems, won the contest and became president of Moog Music."
"What prompted me to leave? What prompted me to stay that long, more like it. I had a four-year employment contract I had to stick out in order to cash my stock in. I would have left before, if I could." ----Bob Moog*
* written by Bob Moog with Connor Freff Cochran, and excerpted with permission from the book Vintage Synthesizers by Mark Vail, copyright Miller Freeman, Inc.]