Friday, July 7, 2017

Roland TR-707 "Digital Dynamite" ad, Keyboard 1985

Roland TR-707 drum machine "Digital Dynamite" full page colour advertisement from page 50 in the May 1985 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Well, it seems like its only been a week or two since I celebrated 6/26 day by posting a TR-626 ad. That may be because it has only been a week or two.  :)

Coincidentally, it is 7/07 day and to date, this blog has been conspicuously absent of any mention of the TR-707. So, time for that to change.

I'm a big fan of the TR-707. The large LCD screen and the fact it has MIDI, DIN sync, trigger out AND tape sync are big pluses for me (well, not so much tape sync any more). The individual outputs and the great little mixer section make it very useful in live situations.

As you can see from the image of the advertisement, this lovely drum machine got swept up in Roland's "Roland Makes It Happen" marketing campaign. The distinctive neon light design style and tag line started to appear in Keyboard and other magazines back in the summer of 1984 beginning with their gorgeous dark blue Juno 106 "Synful" advertisement, and carried on well into the spring of 1986 until ads with a new "computer art" design replaced it - like that used in their TR-505 "Light Heavyweight" ad.

Other Roland ads to get the neon "We make it happen" treatment included the JX8p (green) and MPU-401 (baby blue). And of course, this yellow TR-707 ad. But the most memorable piece from this marketing campaign bunch has to be Roland's three-page-plus  MIDI-love-fest fold-out that appeared in the July 1984 issue (see right).

The ad itself got little play in Keyboard Magazine, making only two appearances - May and December 1985.  During this time period, Roland instead chose to give their JX8p and new MPS software (Music Processing System) ads its monthly page real estate. Kinda makes sense since the Magazine is called "Keyboard".

The ad copy, although a tad hard to read, includes a lot of useful information, including my favourite historical reference- the price! $595 ain't too shabby. The text also highlights the increasingly rare M-64C memory cartridge, and  Roland fortifies its importance by including a not insignificant sized photo.

But one of the most interesting and notable features of this ad and others in the series is the size of the Roland logo. Its quite small compared to the other design elements. Normally I'd be freaking out about something like that, but Roland had such a large presence in Keyboard and its products' evolution was so highly recognizable, that they could get away with it. Work in their favour even.

A nice position to be in!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Roland TR-626 "The drum machine with today's sounds, tomorrow's features and yesterday's price" ad, Electronic Musician 1988

Roland TR-626 "The drum machine with today's sounds, tomorrow's features and yesterday's price" colour advertisement from page 9 in the May 1988 issue of Electronic Musician.

Happy 6/26 day!

I guess it was kind of predictable that I would post a TR-626 advertisement on 6/26 day, especially after doing the same for the also misunderstood TR-505 on 5/05 day. But it makes sense since they have so much in common, not least of which is their extremely good looks. Sure, not everyone will agree with that statement, but I love those really clean lines and beige colour scheme. The TR-626 also has a similar programming style to the TR-505 - simple and easy to play with. Can't argue with that either.

But, unlike the TR-505, the 626 features eight individual outs to allow the user to separate some of the sounds out. And, speaking of sounds, it also came with a lot more of them - 30 to be exact, including three snares! In fact, sound wise, I'd almost say its more of a TR-707/727 hybrid. And did I mention those sounds are TUNABLE!?!? Sweeeeet.

Roland also took a different approach to the placement of this advertisement - choosing to not advertise the TR-626 in Keyboard Magazine at all - at least as far as I can tell anyways. Instead, Roland chose to push the TR-626 in magazines such as Musician and Electronic Musician. Quite a long run in EM in fact, running for five months from January to May, 1988.

So, what was Roland advertising in Keyboard instead during that time period? Large ads - sometimes three or four pages long - for their flagship D-50 synthesizer and S-50 sampler. I can't even find a Keyboard Report or spec sheet entry for the TR-626. It's like it didn't exist there. I gotta be wrong though, so I plan to keep checking.

The ad itself isn't too colourful, keeping to the colour scheme of the drum machine itself. And it includes a lot of text. I mean, *A LOT*. And because there is no visual cue of paragraph breaks, it makes it even harder to read. Just a huge wall of words.

Which is too bad, because there are a lot of good points being made throughout. I've mentioned the number of sounds, their tuning, etc above. But two other pieces of info really jump out if you do take the time to read it.

First is that Roland has included the price - $495! Not too shabby, and from a historical perspective its always great to see a price included.

Second, and maybe even more interesting, is that Roland makes reference to the fact this is the first drum machine with a memory card interface (I've bolded the important bits):

"But probably the most important performance feature is one you won't find anywhere else - and it's an idea that makes the TR-626 the first drum machine that's really usable in a live performance. We've added a Memory Card Interface..."

I'm assuming they are making a differentiation between a memory card and a memory cartridge, which drum machines like the TR-909, TR-707 and TR-727 featured. A card can definitely hold a lot more data!

Could this be the first drum machine to have a memory card interface?

I'll have to do more digging! But right now I'm gonna go play on my TR-626.

Don't forget to hug a 626 today!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Roland TR-505 "Light Heavyweight" ad, Keyboard 1986

Roland TR-505 drum machine "Light Heavyweight" colour advertisement from page 17 in the December 1986 issue of Keyboard magazine. Also appeared on page 9 in the March 1987 issue of Electronic Musician.

Well, it's Cinco De Mayo today, and I don't want to take anything away from that. But May 5 also has another name - 505 day!

Sure, its not as celebrated as 303, 808 or 909 day, but to me it's part of the XOX family and deserved a little recognition.

Hmmmm... not buying it, eh? Okay - I'll come clean. I have a personal soft spot for the 505. It wasn't the first drum machine I played on, but it was the first one I bought for myself. I spent hours programming the rhythm patterns to songs like Dreaming of Me and New Life by Depeche Mode into it, along with the bass and melody lines into the sequencer of my Casio CZ-5000.

Yup. That was me.

And I'm  not the only one who digs this machine. Although review sites will often give the 505 a relatively low rating when compared to its brothers and sisters, it only drives users like me to become even more fanatical about it.  For example, Vintage Synth Explorer only gives this adorable battery operated puppy two stars, but the user rating is a much higher 3.72 stars. Just look at some of the comments below the review. Yoiks!

The ad itself looks to only have appeared once in Keyboard Magazine and Electronic Musician. I suspect its rarity can be attributed to the fact that it was released after the Super JX and right before the D-50. Roland only had so much ad space to allot to a budget drum machine when sandwiched between those two heavyweights. Technically, the 505 also appeared in another set of Roland Family ads - I'll get to those later.

In fact, it was so far off the radar I don't think it even ever got a review in Keyboard. But, luckily, it did make it into Keyboard's Spec Sheet section back in June 1986.
"Roland Drum Machine. The TR-505 Rhythm Composer features 16 PCM drum sounds, including five Latin percussion sounds. The unit is MIDI-compatible and has a memory capacity of 48 programmable patterns, 48 preset patterns, and six tracks, storing a total of 423 bars. MIDI velocity controls dynamic response. A cassette interface in included. The TR-505 can be powered with batteries or AC. RolandCorp, US, 7200 Dominion Circle, Los Angeles, CA 90040-3647" 
I'm almost as fond of the advertisement as I am about the drum machine itself. Roland had been using this colour pallet for a number of earlier synths including the Super JX and Alpha Juno series ads. In particular, I love the low-res computer graphics that were becoming all the rage in the 80s, as MIDI and personal computers started becoming more common. Alas, this was to be the last ad to use the design style before the introductory advertisement for the D-50 took on a totally new 4-page look and feel.

The text of the ad makes me happy as well. Phrases like "Spunky new TR-505". "Thoroughly modern MIDI instrument". "Our new champ still has a few moves you haven't seen". "Scores an easy technical knockout". And its

Read the whole thing and tell me it doesn't make you happy.

As happy as I am right now on Cinco De Mayo!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Dave Smith Instruments Evolver ""Are You Evolving?/Now shipping!" ad, Keyboard 2002

Dave Smith Instruments Evolver "Are You Evolving?/Now shipping!" colour advertisement from page 129 in the classifieds section of the December 2002 issue of Keyboard magazine.

Finally! Evolvers are shipping!

I don't remember the exact date I ordered mine, but my invoice - yup, still got it! - says it was shipped on December 9, 2002. The same month this "Now Shipping" ad came out.  Boom!

Similar to the previous "Will you Evolve?" ad (right) that ran from September to November, this ad replaced it in the classified section of Keyboard magazine. DSI still wasn't ready to spend the cash for an half or full page ad yet.

But, this advertisement had evolved - pun intended! Specifically, Dave shelled out for another half inch of ad height to make it an even three inches.

The reason? To add some more text of course! Along with the original three bullet points from the previous ad (analog synthesis, stereo processing, and the sequencer), this new ad now also included:
  • Multiple Feedback Paths
  • Extensive Digital Processing
But to me, the really smart bit comes after all that:
"From the man who invented the first programmable polyphonic synths, MIDI, the first software synths, Prophet 5/T8/VS, Pro-One, Wavestation, etc."
As mentioned in the previous blog post, I suggested that DSI may have decided to spend less on advertising in these early days, relying instead on earned media garnered through the use of Dave's name and credentials. And quite a list of creds they are. It was a smart move and a smart way to save some money early on.

Moving on...

Its fun for me to see a new branch split off from the synthesizer tree of life and witness it's evolution over time (again - pun intended - it never gets old!!!). But, if you want to get technical, these early advertisements weren't the first time that regular readers of Keyboard Magazine would have heard of this new beast.

That happened... can you guess?

You bet! Exactly 15 years ago in Keyboard's April 2002 feature article on Winter NAMM 2002. Sure, technically, that meant the Evolver announcement actually came during Winter NAMM in January, but let's keep this exciting, shall we?

If you flip through the "New Gear @ NAMM 2002" article, you will find a photo of the Evolver, as well as a write-up, sandwiched between announcements for the new Clavia Nord Rack 3 and E-mu PK-6/XK-6/MK-6. The photo for the Evolver isn't that large - but its larger than the photo that was appearing in the classified ads and probably got a few more people excited about the idea of  "Mr Sequential Circuits" (Keyboard's words, not mine!) getting back in the biz:
"Dave Smith Instruments Evolver 
$395-$495, est.
Mr. Sequential Circuits is back with a new hybrid analog/digital monophonic synth module. The Evolver features two analog and two digital oscillators, with separate glide per oscillator, oscillator sync, and pulse width modulation, four delayed ADSR envelopes, four syncable LFOs, and dual tunable feedback loops. Delay, chorus and flange effects are also syncable to MIDI, as is the 16-step by 4-track analog-style sequencer. It's great to see Dave making hardware synths again."
Why yes, it is great to see Dave making hardware again.  :)

Historically, I really dig this little ditty for two main reasons - the first is pricing info. Or in this case, the range in estimated pricing. At NAMM in January, there was obviously still some question as to what the final price would be.

And the other thing I really dig historically about this ad? The intimacy between Keyboard Magazine and Dave Smith. That's some big time respect right there. And deservedly so. It all goes back to show how DSI made the right decision to name the company after himself, and to make Dave the face of the organization. Smart moves righ there.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Dave Smith Instruments Evolver "Will You Evolve?" ad, Keyboard 2002

Dave Smith Instruments Evolver "Will You Evolve?" colour advertisement on page 128 from the September 2002 issue of Keyboard magazine.

So recently, I happened to be doing some historical research for a totally different synthesizer company and came across some of Dave Smith Instruments early synth ads. I decided to file them away in the back of my mind (and my excel spreadsheet) to blog about later. Probably when the ads had aged another five years or so.

Then, just today (I'm writing this on April 4), Dave Smith Instruments announced on their Facebook page that this year marks it's 15th anniversary. As part of the celebrations, they are asking users to send in a photo of their first DSI instrument along with a short story. Now, I have a great DSI Evolver story, but I'm saving that ditty to send in to them to hopefully win some sweet DSI swag.

Anyways, now throw those two coincidences in with my recent and totally unrelated Sequential Circuits Prophet-15 April Fools Day post and it's looking like Fate is punching me in the face.

Why fight it?

And so here we have it. Dave Smith's FIRST advertisement in Keyboard Magazine under the DSI banner.


What a humble new beginning for such a synth giant. It's a small advertisement - that's for sure - measuring in at only 2.5" x 2.25". Understandably it doesn't have the room to say a lot about the Evolver.
  • Real analog synthesis
  • Stereo processing
  • 16 x 4 sequencer
The Evolver does a lot more, but the bullet points provide a good insight into what DSI probably thought would differentiate itself from other gear at the time and/or what users in 2002 would probably gravitate to.

And that tagline - "Synthesis with attitude" is perfect.  The Evolver has *tons* of attitude.

But to me, the most interesting thing about this ad was its location in Keyboard.

Unlike many of the Sequential Circuits advertisements that came before it, the Evolver wasn't being introduced to readers through a large two-page centrefold spread. This little guy was tucked into the classifieds section of Keyboard (see right). It's clear that precious marketing dollars weren't being spent on advertising in these early early days. And, it was probably the right move since from a PR perspective, his name alone would have opened a lot of doors and created some good exposure through earned media. Better to spend those dollars elsewhere like trade shows.

In fact, if I recall correctly, it wasn't these early ads that led me purchase an Evolver so early on. It was word of mouth as news of Dave Smith's return slowly spread across the Web.

Yup - his name sold me on that synth. Sure, it was also the features of the Evolver, but back in 2002 it felt like a big risk for me to buy a synth off a Web site from another country.

His name sealed that deal.  Grass roots all the way!

(and nope - I'm not being paid in any way to promote DSI's contest or anything else)