spacerMarketing The Electronic Synthesizer

New musical instruments that stand the test of time are rare. Innovations typically disappear after a few years of popularity. Even Benjamin Franklin fell victim with his Glass Armonica. Introduced in 1761, the instrument was popular during the 18th century before being mostly abandoned. One instrument that broke through and maintained popularity, and even helped shape new musical forms, is the electronic synthesizer. Bill Waytena had a major role in its success and some even credit him with saving it from extinction.

Invention of the Electronic Synthesizer

In 1970 while attending a music show in Rochester, New York, Bill sat mesmerized by the sounds coming out of a boxy electronic keyboard.  Eager to know more, Bill made it a point to introduce himself to Robert (“Bob”) Moog, Ph.D., a flamboyant musician, physicist inventor who demonstrated the musical keyboard that he created in his garage under the name of R.A. Moog, Inc. Bob’s expertise centered upon the intricate modulation of sound but he struggled to make his instrument a commercial success.

Bill’s business acumen proved to be exactly what would catapult this keyboard instrument into popularity.  Realizing the potential of this instrument, Bill determined that a fully integrated electronic synthesizer was the key to success. Moog’s early models were an unwieldy, messy system of components and patch cords that only an engineer could set up. Bill immediately began building a company, muSonics, to develop and create the fully integrated electronic synthesizer.

Initial sales for muSonics new electronic synthesizer, the Sonic V, were lackluster. Bill’s finely tuned skills as a businessman and marketer lead him to understand that he needed a name to help sell his new product. At the same time, Bob Moog’s company was struggling. Realizing the opportunity this presented, Bill purchased RA Moog, Inc. from Bob Moog and merged it with muSonics to create what eventually became Moog Music.    

Under Bill’s leadership Moog Music went forward offering a fully integrated synthesizer that was easy to transport and use. Like his invention of the radar detector, Bill displayed his savvy in product design. With a product that was accessible and usable for musicians, new life was given to the first electronic “wa-wa” sounds. The modulating keyboard created an “Instrument of Our Age” which had the “full capacity to give musical expression” an entirely new realm, accessible to all people. 

Bill Waytena didn’t invent the synthesizer—that credit rightfully belongs to Bob Moog. Bill’s innovation came from the realization that the product design and form factor were critical to success. Innovators aren’t necessarily the inventor.  Instead, like Steve Jobs, they succeed by making the product more user friendly and adaptable. Next time you hear the groovy sounds emanating from a synthesizer, think of Bill Waytena.

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