How did oldschool keyboardists afford so much gear?

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How did oldschool keyboardists afford so much gear?

Post by Bitexion » Sun Sep 28, 2014 3:39 pm

My reply in the Bolland "Domino Theory" thread became so long I decided to make a separate thread about it.
I'm referring to guys with gear lists like

1 Moog system 55
1 Moog IIIP
1 Polymoog Synthesizer
1 Minimoog
1 Micromoog
1 Taurus Pedal Synthesizer
1 Multimoog
1 Moog Liberation
1 Moog Satterlite
2 Oberheim Mini Sequencer CPS-2
1 Solina String Ensemble
1 Roland Compu Rhythm CR-78
1 EMS Pitch to Voltage Converter
1 Synton 20 Channel Vocoder Syntovox 221 I
1 Synton Envelope Generator (Custom Build) V

(used on a particular album)
You'd see the same kind of gear list with stadium rock bands.
I don't understand how these keyboardists back in the 70s/80s could afford a whole warehouse of expensive synths like that?

I mean, Moogs certainly werent cheap, and a system-55 alone could cost the same as a small house. How was it possible to keep gear lists like that and maintaining them all?

The guitarist has one or two fenders, whereas the keyboardist seems to be a rich dude owning gear 100 times more expensive?

This goes back to movies aswell, remember Fame? Where the synth guy who looks like a "surfer duuuuude" starts carrying in ARP2600, Oberheims and whatnot. Man, those synths cost as much as the whole school budget probably.

And when you're in a band, you share the income equally I assume, not let the keyboardist spend 10 times more than the drummer cos of MOOGS, MAN! The phenomenon is also made fun of in This is Spinal tap, with Nigel's whole room filled with guitars, one that's so special it can never be played

Was getting a record contract synonymous with "you can go cherry pick ANY gear you want for the rest of your life, we'll pay the expenses"?

I saw a documentary about The Eagles the other day, back when they were selling millions and millions of records in the 70s, they weren't getting their own bank accounts filled at all. It went to the pockets of managers and middle men mostly and "record label ghosts". The band were just along for the ride of expensive hotels and sold out stadium tours. It wasn't until the 90s that Don Henley took over the reigns of their brand, and got promptly sued by ex-members, a feud that still lasts to this day.
Last edited by Bitexion on Sun Sep 28, 2014 4:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: How did oldschool keyboardists afford so much gear?

Post by Alphacode » Sun Sep 28, 2014 4:00 pm

Well some of them had rich parents and got some money for gear from them , then they released a couple of singles or albums and put all the money towards more gear - ex: Jean Michel Jarre.

Think of it like this : if today you release an album and people start to see you as a raising star and your label is asking you for more, you have no children or mortgage, the next think you would do is to find that JP8,Ob-X and memorymoog on ebay , maybe some new modular systems, bang! you just spend 15 grand at least . Are you rich ? not really but you have stuff worth a lot of money...

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Re: How did oldschool keyboardists afford so much gear?

Post by Z » Sun Sep 28, 2014 4:01 pm

Advances from the record label.
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Re: How did oldschool keyboardists afford so much gear?

Post by Bitexion » Sun Sep 28, 2014 4:09 pm

And what would happen if your album bombed or never got made? You'd just get fired and sued by the record label for all the expensive gear you spent their money buying? Or had to return it?

I do realise that the record industry back then was "infinite money", but still. Synths were expensive items, and these guys had gear lists as long as my arm in most cases. It just baffles my mind.

I was in a small-ish band, we got a record contract signed, but noone were throwing money after us to spend in the nearest music instruments store. We released our first album and slipped back into obscurity.

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Re: How did oldschool keyboardists afford so much gear?

Post by Sweep » Mon Sep 29, 2014 12:37 am

1) Record company advances. Records sold in much larger quantities than is generally the case today, so more money could be invested.

2) Instruments sold from one musician to another.

A classic case of both of these would be Tangerine Dream's Moog modular, which was bought with an advance from Virgin and came second hand from the Rolling Stones, who'd bought it and didn't quite know what to do with it to justify the money.

3) Demonstration work for synth manufacturers. For example Tim Blake got the second of his two EMS Synthi As for doing demo work for EMS.

4) Endorsement deals for synth manufacturers. Gifts on the assumption that the instrument would be featured prominently, or the musician(s) would appear in adverts.
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Re: How did oldschool keyboardists afford so much gear?

Post by meatballfulton » Mon Sep 29, 2014 4:17 am

Some of the gear in that list wasn't all that expensive in the first place or might have been acquired used. In the USA you can write off equipment expenses on your taxes.

The vast majority of my gear was financed by playing gigs. I've never done music full time but at one point I was grossing about $400 a week just doing bar gigs, that's over $20,000 a year.
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Re: How did oldschool keyboardists afford so much gear?

Post by Virgule » Mon Sep 29, 2014 4:23 am

Here's a post I just pulled from a thread on VSE where a member of Men Without Hats gives some explanations:


''But to join in on how bands managed to pay for good gear back then, I'll tell you that MWH was started by Ivan and a friend of his, Jeremie Arrobas, from the private school that we were going to at the time, and his friend's father gave them $25,000 to go out and buy gear and that was $25k in around 1978-79!! Anyone who joined afterwards had to buy their own s**t, and one guy even took out a $5k loan to buy a Pro5...''


http://www.vintagesynth.com/forum/viewt ... =1&t=66304

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Re: How did oldschool keyboardists afford so much gear?

Post by Stab Frenzy » Mon Sep 29, 2014 5:05 am

Bitexion wrote:And what would happen if your album bombed or never got made? You'd just get fired and sued by the record label for all the expensive gear you spent their money buying? Or had to return it?
Same thing as what happened if you got a big advance and spent it in the studio and then the album flops; the label lost their money. The band would be in debt to the label sure, but if it was that band then the band would break up, the label lost their money and everybody went on about their business.

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Re: How did oldschool keyboardists afford so much gear?

Post by V301H » Mon Sep 29, 2014 5:21 am

I knew two guys who had been in the band Berlin in the late 70's/early 80's before they made it big. Of course, they kicked themselves later for quitting. One didn't get along with John Crawford and they begged the other guy to stay but he didn't think the band was going anywhere. Both worked in music stores and were able to get the latest $5-6K PolySynths at a discount as well as earn enough to make the monthly payments on their financed purchases. A Prophet 5 was the minimum requirement for potential membership in Berlin although one of my friends had an OBX-a which was also acceptable.
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Re: How did oldschool keyboardists afford so much gear?

Post by nvbrkr » Mon Sep 29, 2014 10:13 am

Ah, the days when you could still become wealthy by selling records and performing live.

Such a distant memory by now, seems like it never happened.

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Re: How did oldschool keyboardists afford so much gear?

Post by JayEm » Mon Sep 29, 2014 12:00 pm

i imagine some of those lists came about what was in the studio itself.
tubeway army was a punk band until numan found himself in front of a polymoog when they went to record.
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Re: How did oldschool keyboardists afford so much gear?

Post by ppg_wavecomputer » Mon Sep 29, 2014 12:56 pm

Z wrote:Advances from the record label.
At that time, money could be earned by making music -- and there were record companies which were selling music for money. And people were actually prepared to pay for that! Would you believe...

Klaus Schulze got an advance of 3,000 Deutschmarks for his "Cyborg" album which he ploughed into purchasing a used Revox A77 (he also paid 50 DM to each member of the orchestra that had played on "Irrlicht"). When he purchased Florian Fricke's Moog, he begged Metronome to pay him 70,000 DM in advance because he wouldn't be able to continue recording and producing music if he didn't have that instrument. He also was an endorser of Farfisa and Crumar which would gain him a couple of instruments for free (as long as he would make sure the instruments receive a good deal of public exposure).

Tangerine Dream found themselves in the position to afford a modular Moog only after they had cut their teeth with four radically experimental albums before they were signed by Virgin Records. The Moog they acquired had formerly been owned by Mick Jagger but ended up in the Berlin studio they were recording at -- originally, Chris Franke was to use the Moog with other artists who had no clue how to operate it, and when the advance payments from Virgin were about to come in, they could talk the studio into selling the Moog to TD.

Tomita bought a small modular Moog from the money he earned with producing commercials, and so did Jarre -- all the Korg PS-stuff featured prominently on his late 1970s promo shots were actually made available through endorsement deals with Korg. The members of Kraftwerk were from a rather wealthy background but they started in a rather humble fashion before they could afford their first synthesisers. Other people had the privilege of coming from a wealthy background so that the acquisition of a complete Roland 700 by the age of 21 would not have been completely out of the question.

I also know of two or three people who sold drugs to earn some cash to buy synthesisers and studio equipment with.

People like Johan Timman have always remained a mystery to me, though. He literally appeared out of the blue, produced one album ("Trip into the Body"), sporting half a million Dutch Guilders worth of Moog equipment -- and disapperared again.

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Re: How did oldschool keyboardists afford so much gear?

Post by Micke » Mon Sep 29, 2014 3:55 pm

There's a lenghty article on Johan Timman and his Moog's in the January 1980 issue of the dutch music magazine
Music Maker and I noticed that someone has posted scans of this article on this site:
http://www.synthforum.nl/forums/showthr ... 283&page=5 (scroll down to the bottom)

I don't understand much of what is said in this article but from the little I do understand it seems Mr. Timman
was working as a Moog demonstrator for the dutch importers and thus he was given a fixed discount on their
products (which to some extent explains how he could afford so much gear). Moreover, it seems he bought the
system 55 used (second hand), at a heavily reduced price.

Pics of Timman in his studio are posted here (scroll down to the middle of the page):
http://www.synthforum.nl/forums/showthr ... 283&page=3

It'd be nice if someone could translate this article into English.
"The (Yamaha) CS-80 is a step ahead in keyboard control, and a generation behind in digital control" -- Dan Wyman, Jan 1979

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Re: How did oldschool keyboardists afford so much gear?

Post by meatballfulton » Mon Sep 29, 2014 4:21 pm

Micke wrote:It'd be nice if someone could translate this article into English.
Here it is courtesy of Google Translate
I listened to Hatfield and the North at Rainbow. They were very wonderful and they made my heart a prisoner.

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Re: How did oldschool keyboardists afford so much gear?

Post by Micke » Mon Sep 29, 2014 4:47 pm

Maybe I should have been clearer, I meant that it would be nice to have an English translation of the Johan Timman article from the Music Maker magazine.
"The (Yamaha) CS-80 is a step ahead in keyboard control, and a generation behind in digital control" -- Dan Wyman, Jan 1979

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