Monday, October 10, 2011

Fairlight Instruments Pty Ltd "Regional Distributor Opportunities" ad, Keyboard 1981

Fairlight Instruments Pty Ltd "Regional Distributor Opportunities" 1/2-page vertical advertisement from the bottom right corner of page 57 in Keyboard Magazine July 1981.

This rather early Fairlight Instruments ad really helps define a certain time period in sampling history. And provides some good historical reference info to boot.

Only a year and a bit before this advertisement appeared, Fairlight had displayed their CMI at the May 1980 Audio Engineering Society convention where a pre-sampler E-mu contingent was able to see the Fairlight live in action. Another instrument with sampled sounds, Roger Linn's LM-1 drum machine, was also in attendance and didn't go unnoticed by E-mu.

Conventions like AES and NAMM must have really been influential to start-ups - I know they were for me. I was lucky enough to attend Siggraph for what I like to call the "decadent decade" between 1996-2005, and I can tell you that there is *nothing* as inspiring as conventions and trade shows.  And it must have been inspiring to E-mu, because in less than a year the company had developed a potential sampling competitor for the Fairlight, had come out with this pre-NAMM advertisement to promote it's introduction, and had demo'd the new Emulator at the February 1981 NAMM show in Anaheim. Not too shabby for E-mu.

But even after the NAMM show, Emulator sales slowed eventually due to certain restrictions of the instrument. Meanwhile, according to this advertisement, by mid-1981 "over 60 CMIs [were] aleady in use by musicians, composers, home and professional recording studios, music colleges, universities and film studios". Not a bad user-base to start.  Fairlight still had a good sized head-start.

I know, I know - comparing Fairlight to the Emulator may not be a fair apples-to-apples comparison. Still, the writing was on the wall - the cost of sampling was crawling slowly towards the masses. Fairlight must have know it was just a matter of time before E-mu and other new competitors tightened up their technology.

And it wasn't just competitors that was going to be a problem for Fairlight. The physical size of the US is a problem as well. According to Fairlight's co-founder Kim Ryrie in Mark Vail's book "Vintage Synthesizers", The U.K., Germany and Japan were the biggest markets for the CMI, but the company "always found the U.S. a very expensive place to sell into and support, because it's so physically large." A strategy that included regional distributors that could expand "marketing, installation and back-up" to such a large area makes sense to try and minimize this issue.

Fairlight didn't want just anyone to distribute and market the CMI on their behalf. If you thought the price of admission to club Fairlight was high for musicians - $25,000+ for early CMIs - the price for the privilege to be a qualified regional distributor was even higher at $40,000. Now that's how you keep out the riff-raff.

And it looked like Fairlight wasn't going to leave a distribution partner to the wolves once they forked over the 40 G's. Distributors would be supplied with "demonstration equipment, spares and maintenance kit, marketing manual, brochure and literature stock, word processing facilities for marketing and news releases, video tapes, demonstration cassettes and a detailed promotion and support program".

When I look at that paragraph of marketing supplies, it immediately becomes a checklist.   :)

Time to eat more left-overs from my Canadian Thanksgiving dinner.

End note: This ad is almost totally devoid of design. It's like it has all been sucked into that frickin' cool Fairlight Instruments logo. I likey!

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