Keyboard Magazine will cease to exist as a publication, after having been continuously published since 1975. And this isn’t just another “print is dead” footnote. Keyboard was the publication that defined commercial writing about electronic musical instruments. And whatever the logic behind the decision, the demise of Keyboard says something about the state of both publishing and electronic music production – and its absence will be felt.

Keyboard will be rolled into Electronic Musician, with only the EM name surviving. Gino Robair will continue as editor-in-chief of EM.

This is truly the end of an era – an era Keyboard itself began.

Originally, electronic musical instruments were the domain of electronics publications for hobbyists and similar enthusiast magazines. That’s how Bob Moog’s Theremin design came to appear in 1954 in something dubbed Radio and Television News. Keyboard wasn’t the first dedicated publication to cover the field of electronic musical instruments. The first publication of some significance was Electronic Music Review, a somewhat informal and wonky quarterly begun in the late 60s right in the R.A. Moog plant itself. That publication hosted articles by the likes of Stockhausen and Berio alongside Carlos and Moog – a reminder of how experimental early synthesizer use tended to be.

It’s almost hard to remember in the Internet-saturated age just how different the world in which the synthesizer came into being was. Academia had access to the cutting edge; hobbyist publications covered simple circuits. But there was nowhere for bleeding edge technology to come together with popular musical practice; nowhere where musicians and tech might easily overlap.

This is how Electronic Music Review announced its intentions back in 1967. (Source.)

This is how Electronic Music Review announced its intentions back in 1967. (Source.)

So just as it mattered that Moog eventually shipped the Minimoog with a keyboard, it was ground-breaking that Keyboard was, from the start, a commercial endeavor with widespread appeal. This was the first publication to go into real circulation, the first with glossy ads.

Minimoog, as seen in the September '79 issue. Just the Moog ad archive alone is something to see - and it's basically all from Keyboard/Contemporary Keyboard.

Minimoog, as seen in the September ’79 issue. Just the Moog ad archive alone is something to see – and it’s basically all from Keyboard/Contemporary Keyboard.

Oh yeah – the ads. Advertising isn’t something people outside of publishing tend to talk about, except when they’re annoyed. But do an image search online for vintage synths, and spot how many of the advertisements you’ll find are from Keyboard. Some of these are, quite frankly, beautiful. There are futuristic images of luscious keyboards floating in space; full-page and double-page spreads.

Keyboard was defined by advertising. It covered the expanded full-time staff, and made a platform where rock stars wanted to be featured. It filled the pages between articles with lust-inducing electronics shots. As much as people talk ad blockers and complain about editorial independence, how many of you reading this spent time pouring over every page of Keyboard – every editorial word, every ad, alike? This is the lifeblood that allowed Keyboard to rise above a simple manufacturer-made hobbyist publication with a few hundred readers, like the wondrous but obscure Electronic Music Review. And it was the lifeblood that virtually everyone who ever worked on the publication imagined would someday run out – and mean the end of the publication.

(What you now know as Electronic Musician had a similarly humble origin story to EMR – as Polyphony, published by PAiA Electronics. That’s why Keyboard, not EM, gets the credit in synthesizer history for originating the mainstream publication as a genre.)

I mention ads because I think only those who have worked in publishing know just how much this is an industry that’s about keeping the lights on and the business rolling. It’s a struggle. It’s doubly so in print, because print requires the outlay of capital to print the publication. And advertising payments in print don’t happen immediately, either – meaning the whole business endeavor begins with a significant cash flow challenge.

In print, you can add to that challenge corporate consolidation – both the distribution apparatus that gets publications into people’s hands (as at the newsstand at your airport), and the companies that publish the magazines.

I trust Gino Robair of all people to continue the heritage of Keyboard in EM. At the same time, it’s worth reflecting on the loss of a publication with a particular angle. That angle was right in the name – what was first less succinctly titled in 1975 Contemporary Keyboard.

keyboardcover

Keyboard was a magazine for keyboardists. The publication always had some challenges in popular tastes in that regard – the keyboard as an instrument tends to come in and out of bands. But in losing Keyboard, you risk losing everything that went with it – including those articles about keyboard technique and excerpts of sheet music.

And I think that’s significant in and of itself. The economics of music gear publishing tend to pull us away from technique generally, and from musical instrumental technique in particular. If we aren’t careful, the gear may push the artist right off the cover; “how to sound like…” takes place of how to play.

Keyboard was most awkward because of this mission, perhaps, but also most meaningful. Wendy Carlos could talk composition; Herbie Hancock could talk about playing. I wrote an obituary once for Andrew Hill.

The future of the keyboard, of course, is now as uncertain as that of Keyboard. And I know some people have eloquent arguments for why synthesizers shouldn’t necessarily be chained to keyboards as input devices – or, by extension, to musical genres that prefer those keyboards. But if you forget about the keys and think about the human hands that touch them, Keyboard at its best was about what those hands were doing, too.

There’s actually too much of Keyboard over these decades for this to be a proper obituary. For that, I’d turn to colleagues who spent a lot more time than I did at the publication.

What I will say is that CDM, and my career, likely wouldn’t exist without Keyboard. In addition to Chris Breen at Macworld, Ernie Rideout at Keyboard gave me my start and got me hooked on writing in this field. Stephen Fortner continued to be a great partner to work with on some tremendous stories, including the cover story that marked the Minimoog’s 40th anniversary. I got to know Jim Aikin, a veteran of Keyboard back to the 70s, who was the toughest and most important editor I ever had. Somehow, Jim put up with me through the 600-page Real World Digital Audio and saved it. (Now, bizarrely, people are reading it in its Polish translation – so Jim, you’ve helped with that, too, unwittingly.) And Francis Preve, who has been a particular inspiration to me and early on honed in on the modern state of electronic production for the publication, I met thanks to the magazine, too.

That’s my own history. Synthesizer history is also tied up in this publication, one in which Kate Bush was a cover, Wendy Carlos was a voice, and Bob Moog had a byline.

These fragile projects bring people together, in ways that are nearly impossible to predict or even describe. And yes, often someone out there is reading, and that leads people places too.

So, now things are changing. And to think that positive change is easy and inevitable, or indeed that change is ultimately positive, is incredibly naive.

Whether it’s Gino at EM, or any of our colleagues, or me, all of us in music technology face some real challenges and rapid changes. Audiences, technology, and the business of publishing are all changing at tremendous speed, and all present major uncertainties looking forward.

We have to navigate those waters in order to keep telling stories about music.

And I think it’s very important that we not lose what Keyboard has represented. We need connections to musical practice and technique. We need, I believe, keyboard players. And we should even think about the power of those ads over the years, because commercial publications are, for all their flaws, what enable writers to follow their passion and readers to hear their words.

Through that weird alchemy of revenue and editorial, we have to find some way to make sure we can share stories of how humans and technology come together to make music.

Keyboard may be gone. But I hope what it accomplished can continue in new places.

Any Keyboard writers and editors wanting to help make a history, I’d love to chat. The good thing about the Internet is, content can exist separately from time – and some things can seem to live, if only in illusory fashion, forever.

A side note / plug — one slice of history I got to edit is Keyboard Magazine presents the Evolution of Electronic Dance Music. In it, you’ll see that Keyboard could prove its independence from advertisers – there’s an extended discussion of the early bugs in the MPC. And you’ll watch as music evolves alongside the magazine. But that’s only one tiny microcosm.

  • Vaihe

    R.I.P.
    I used to buy Keyboard in 90’s. There wasn’t too many mags about synths back then. Good interviews too. And synth programming articles. I hope i still have the issue from -96 that had Korg Prophecy programming tutorial.

    I hope they put all issues as pdf’s as free downloads. It’s a sheme when magazines die that all issues get buried with them. Just look what Tape Op does. Best studio gear reviews and for free!

    • Vaihe

      And where to get that Moog poster as printable file?

  • gyberspace

    Thanks for this article. I have been reading Keyboard since the early 80’s in part because of the focus on playing and technology.

  • itchy

    now that “keyboard” is being eaten up by this other publication i really hope they do it justice to curate and archive to digital format . no need to just let it disappear like it was never there. digital curation could even make a few bucks for a legacy catalog 1 dollar for every year or something.

    • Unfortunately, NewBay don’t even have archives of it in digital form — everything is scattered in different formats. That has actually made even these book compilations a pretty big archival effort. I was literally re-keying entire articles in some cases, or doing manual corrections.

  • Amanda Whiting

    Keyboard is personal to me too, for many of the same names you mentioned — Ernie, Stephen, Francis, Jim, and you Peter Kirn — these are the people I’ve been blessed to call my colleagues for the past 10 years, and Keyboard tied these smart creative people all together. I hope there will be a Keyboard Magazine 2.0 on the internet somewhere, though I’ve always felt CDM has been the best bridge I’ve seen. Looking forward to seeing what comes next!

  • Gesslr Gesslr

    I subscribed to keyboard’s paper mag for almost 20 years. Still have a subscription to the digital edition. But honestly, it has not been my “go to” publication for years now. The likes of SOS or FM or CM or MT (the weakest of that bunch) gets opened and read a lot more frequently. The biggest reason is that it became, to me, a magazine focused on “old guys” and prog rock with a smattering of jazz every so often. As an old guy, former prog rock enthusiast (among other genres), the articles just weren’t that interesting to me. The review sections were anemic, the production articles anemic. I’m sad to see it go, but I am not shocked.

  • Yeah, replied to another request for this below.

    It’s total chaos. I’m not sure there’s even a *paper* archive entirely in one location, even at NewBay — and that’s really the best you’re going to get. Digital archives start some time in the late 90s, I think (maybe even later…) … and those aren’t always in the best condition, until more recent issues.

    I mean, one reason for this is, there was never a digital archiving effort and you can imagine how often workflows and technologies have changed since 1975.

    • Sad about Keyboard, it had a fantastic run.

      We have a digital archiving effort of UK-based electronic music magazines going on at muzines.co.uk (Electronics & Music Maker, Music Technology, Sound On Sound and more) for exactly this reason – to preserve and archive this kind of content before it’s lost.

      While I don’t plan on tackling US publications at this time (we have more than enough to do with the UK stuff), and rights issues are always complicated, this stuff will hopefully get archived in time, by *someone* – in the meantime, don’t throw away the paper copies.

  • Mark

    I was a charter subscriber to Contemporary Keyboard in 1975, and have been a subscriber ever since. I have the complete set, some of which have been autographed by the subjects of the cover interview. While sad to see it go, it’s obvious that in the past 10 years or so, that it was only a matter of time before this happened. When a magazine drops from 150-200 pages to 50 or so, and the classifieds section essentially disappears, as well as a lot of other advertising, then the base needed to for it to be sustainable is certainly going as well.

  • MR D

    When I was a kid this magazine is all I had. Pages and pages of ads for things I could never ever afford. And the photos of artists with racks and racks of stuff worth more than my house.
    This magazine made me dream about stuff.
    The irony is now that I can afford the racks and racks of stuff, my $800 computers does so much more.

  • Scot Lang

    It would be interesting to look at PDFs of back issues, but it doesn’t seem like that is available. Surely they have digitized everything. Yet no links on the website.

  • Peter Giles

    I think it’s important to note that, while the print version of Keyboard is gone, the publication continues to live online at http://www.keyboardmag.com. Jon Regen is the new online editor, and he is very enthusiastic about keeping the magic alive. Personally, I am saddened by the end of the print version–I have issues dating back to the beginning when Jim Crockett and Dominic Milano were editors–but I am heartened by the fact that I can still enjoy news about keyboards and the artists who play them online.