In 1975, Paia started publishing a user newsletter to help customers get more out of their Paia gear after the purchase. After a lot of brainstorming by all of us, I came up with the name Polyphony, which means "many voices" in musical terms. At the time, all the synth manufacturers were trying various technologies to get more than one note at a time (polyphony) out of control voltage keyboard systems. And I also liked the "many voices" moniker as a representation of a newsletter allowing multiple users to share information with each other. These days we would just start a new yahoogroup or website. But, user newsletters were the way back then.
Initially we published on a quarterly basis, as this was a part time endeavor along with all our regular tasks at Paia. Publication format was 1/2-sheet booklets, as that had been the Paia instruction manual format for years. It was easy to lay out, and easy to print and bind, and they had all the necessary equipment to do the job in-house.
Subject matter never seemed to be far from hand. We had a constant stream of customers sending us patch charts, details of modifications they were making, and of course, all the questions we were receiving by phone and mail from users. I had been saving such submissions, thinking they could be added to future revisions of instruction manuals and such. The first issues all derived from that material.
By the end of '76, we realized that many of the first generation electronic music magazines and newsletters had already folded, and that there was a need throughout the industry for a generalized magazine to deal with synthesis technology, user information, interfacing machines across manufacturer boundaries, and the evolution and use of small multi-track home studios based on the multi-track recorders of the day. So, John approached me as to my interest in stepping aside from Paia, and we founded Polyphony Publishing Company as a separate business entity.
At the same time as the business reorg, we stepped up publication to a bi-monthly schedule, since I would now be working full time on the publishing company. We also increased publication size to a full format 8X11 format. We also had plans from the outset for books, albums, and distribution of related materials from other artists and sources. More about some of those later.
To support the publication schedule, expanded format, and outside services (covers were printed outside, and now bulk mailing services would be needed), we incorporated advertising from anyone including other synth manufacturers. This proved to be a challenging hurdle to overcome, since everyone in the industry knew the history of the publication. There still tended to be cover shots using Paia gear, and lots of Paia ads inside.
To help promote the cause of Polyphony, I started scheduling trips to each coast at least once a year. Trips to the northeast were frequently based on AES conventions in NYC. I would hit the Manhattan publishing companies, area recording studios, Eventide, and so on. On some of these trips, I would spend time with Larry Fast, Wendy Carlos, and Craig Anderton if he happened to be visiting his folks around there. Then I would usually run up to Boston and confer with the folks at Arp, Boston School of Electronic Music (BSEM), Ron Rivera, and Aries up in Salem. I always really enjoyed the BSEM folks, and usually stayed with one of their instructors when I was in town. They were a great fun crowd, and just had tons of toys to play with. ;-)
Trips to the west coast would frequently be based around the NAMM show in Anaheim. Those trips would include a sweep through SoCal to see the folks at Oberheim (Tom, Russ Jones (I think) in marketing, and Will Alexander in tech support), Roland, Teac, Yamaha, and many others in the area. I would also always stop at Synapse and spend some time with Doug Lynner and crew. That was another very fun crowd. Then I would trek up to the Bay Area and visit Dave Smith at Sequential, Dave Rossum at E-Mu, Dominic and the gang at Keyboard magazine, 360 Systems, Gentle Electric, Dave Tarnowski at A/DA in Berkeley, and others. I would always hit Serge and Darryl at Serge Systems too ... one year in Hollywood, and later in the Haight in SFO. Craig Anderton lived in the bay area at the time, so I always spent several days with him while I was there. We always had fun playing in the studio, and swapping stories about what was in development on our benches at the time, and what we were working on.
The visits with the manufacturers were to make sure they understood we wanted editorial material about their products as well. I was usually able to meet with my equivalents at the companies ... Will Alexander at Oberheim, Phil Dodds at Arp, and so on. So I could encourage them to refer their customers who have article submissions or patches. The meetings with other magazines were meant to generate good will between us, and eliminate the feeling of competition. Keyboard was much more generalized keyboard and artist coverage. Synapse was much more oriented towards artist interviews, live performance, and philosophical discussions about the artform. Electronotes was mostly being read by designers from the manufacturers, and collegiate engineering and math types. So, we all felt that we could all survive compatibly. And we all supported each other by cross-advertising with each other.
The PR trips seemed to work, as we began seeing more and more advertising from the other manufacturers. The bond to Paia was slowly dissolving. I strove to seek out construction and modification articles that weren't specific to Paia products or technologies. I wrote an article about modifying a MiniMoog. We got construction articles from John Blacet for his products. I reviewed albums from artists who didn't have a speck of Paia gear. Uphill all the way, but the Polyphony concept was growing, and being accepted.
In this first year of full format publication, and shortly after we moved into the new facility on Wilshire, John made the decision to get a bigger and faster printing press. The new machine could do 11X17 sheets, and at a much higher throughput than the old press. Now we could bring the printing back in-house for the guts of the magazine. We had moved to 2-color printing and glossy cover stock when we went to the large format. But now that we were able to bring the page printing back inside, we were able to bump our covers to 4-color printing, which started to give the magazine a much more commercial appeal. We also started to get ad sales from other synth manufacturers for the inside and back covers after we went 4-color. Sequential Circuits and Octave were both taking covers on a regular basis.
Also during this time, we stopped manually typing up articles and columnar material, and we bought one of the first decent S-100 bus computer systems designed for word processing. John and I had been watching these machines evolve over the previous couple years when we were exhibiting at the east and west coast computer festivals. There was still a lot of overhead involved in using those machines ... they were far from anything like WYSIWYG. But it allowed us to do fully justified columns, and global changes to column widths, and variable fonts (by changing the type heads in the printer!!). We were still 7 years away from Macs! tehe
I was busy learning all about black & white 35mm photography. Linda was an ace at all that, and actually gave me her old 35mm body when she upgraded. I had it cleaned up, got a couple lenses and filters, and a tripod. Before you knew it, I was in the magazine photography business now. I took all the shots of albums for the review columns, pics of instruments for the modification articles, and even a few of the cover shots.
It became quite a feat to get the issue compiled and out the door in 2 months time. And, of course, it just started all over again as soon as it was mailed.
... lots more to talk about here ...
I am putting scans of all the Polyphony issues, as well as The Source, in the Archives here.