Just as musicians have day jobs, so companies in the music industry often have activities outside the field, writes Martin Russ.
Just as musicians have day jobs, so companies in the music industry often have activities outside the field.
Many musicians have 'day jobs'. The bass player could be an accountant, the keyboard player might be a company director, and the guitarist might play the stock exchange as well as his axe. But this doubling up is not confined to just musicians; many of the companies that you associate with the music business have other roles, often in completely different industries. Diversification is a very good way of surviving the ups and downs of life in a harsh and unpredictable way.
Roland are an excellent example. You may know them for their synthesizers, samplers, drum machines and hardware sequencers, but their venture into the world of computers under the name Amdek about 10 years ago has turned into Roland Digital one of the leading manufacturers of computer plotters. In case you thought that plotting graphs and charts has very little to do with musical instruments, consider the way that computers talk to plotters. Computers use a serial data link and a variety of specialised graphics control languages which have a small set of commands which cause the plotter to do specific things — which sounds very similar to the way that MIDI works. I am not sure if it is the same company, but my (very old) Rotel hi-fi amplifier says that it was made by Roland Electronics of Tokyo, Japan!
Yamaha are an even better example of how a company that we know for hi-tech music products actually have a much more diverse range of interests. Apart from the hi-tech (and low tech 'fun') musical instruments, they also make more traditional instruments like guitars, pianos and drums, as well as brass and orchestral instruments and percussion. Yamaha also make computers and specialised chips for modems and other computer-oriented uses, as well as the sound chip you find in every Atari ST, and some of the LCD displays that you find in portable computers. For sports use they make tennis rackets, golf clubs and hi-tech bows for archery. In the construction industry they make baths, sinks and toilets, doors and windows. In the home itself don't forget Yamaha hi-fi, speakers, headphones, microphones, cassette decks, CD, CDV, CDI and DAT players, as well as a large number of custom chips for use in digital audio products. As well as motorbikes and mopeds, they also make lawn-mowers (I have one!) and outboard motors for speedboats. Apparently they have even been approached to make the engines for Ford's next series of executive cars, and currently make engines for the Brabham Formula 1 team.
Rather than having a large spread of products over many fields, 'vertical integration' puts all your eggs in one basket — so you have to be very sure of your abilities when you make everything yourself. Peavey are an excellent example of this philosophy: having established themselves solidly in the amplifier and PA markets over the years, they also make guitars and have started an impressive push into the hi-tech audio world with an array of digital signal processors, the DPM3 synthesizer, and some interesting sampling ideas.
Kurzweil may be famous for sophisticated sampling technology, but their origins and alter-egos were in the field of speech recognition, with a variety of speech controlled products, including prototype 'speakwriters' — typewriters that you talk to! This hi-tech image is a fascinating contrast to the recent acquisition of the musical instrument part of the business by Young Chang, a traditional piano making company.
Perhaps the most unlikely example of working in a field outside of your own home territory has to be Granada Television, who make What the Papers Say — for the BBC! There are many other examples of companies with a diverse and varied product portfolio — it is often a wise and prudent course of action in a turbulent world. Perhaps the next time you see a familiar name on a product that you would not immediately associate it with, you will be more intrigued than astonished.
Opinion by Martin Russ
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