Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Twelve Tone Systems Cakewalk sequencer "IBM Owners!!!" advertisement, Electronic Musician 1987

Twelve Tone Systems' Cakewalk sequencer "IBM Owners!!!" 1/6-page black and white advertisement from the top-right corner of page 57 the April 1987 issue of Electronic Musician.

Before I begin - full disclosure: I've been a Cakewalk user for a *long* time. Not since the beginning (my first sequencer was Master Tracks Pro for the Apple IIe), but my bestie began with Cakewalk for DOS and so I had witnessed it in action in some of its earliest incarnations.

Update: Cakewalk's second ad has been posted! And now the third ad!

Its hard to believe Cakewalk has been around for 30 years. And even harder to believe that the end may be near as Gibson announced on November 17, 2017 that it was "ceasing active development and production of Cakewalk branded products".

There's a lot of rumor and speculation surrounding this announcement, but I'm not gonna get into that here. What I wanted to do was take a little walk down memory lane and revisit some of Cakewalk's early days through a few blog posts. So, yup - this won't be the last you'll hear about Cakewalk.

Anyways, back to this ad in particular - because it doesn't get much earlier than this - what is probably one of the earliest, if not THE EARLIEST, advertisement for Cakewalk.

According to Wikipedia, the first version of Cakewalk appeared in 1987. To track down early ads I first looked through latter half of 1986 and the first half of 1987 issues of Keyboard Magazine. But couldn't find a thing. I then set my sights on roughly the same time period of Electronic Musician and sure enough found what I believe to be Cakewalk's very first advertisement in the April 1987 issue. The ad looks to have ran for three three consecutive months until June 1987.

Most new companies don't have a lot of advertising dollars to spend, so it kinda makes sense that if a start-up like Twelve Tone Systems had to choose between Keyboard and Electronic Musician, they would go with the magazine more focused on software.

The ad itself isn't much to look at - its only 1/6th of a page in size. But it says enough to peak the interest of any musician reading the mag that happened to have a Microsoft DOS machine around at the time. 256 tracks with global and event view editing was impressive software at the time. And almost as importantly, they included context-sensitive help for the many musicians that were just starting down that computer sequencer journey.

One other interesting piece of info from the ad that jumped out at me was: "Unique Aural Editing(TM) lets your ears get involved". After some brief research, I learned that what that was referring to was how edit regions could be marked by ear (I guess while the sequencer is running?) and then further refined using event filtering. I enjoy companies that come up with interesting buzzwords for things.

And of course, most importantly - we got the price! $150.00! That's about $325 in today's dollars. Not too shabby.

Some really good early history of Cakewalk is available in a 2007 CDM interview with Cakewalk founder Greg Hendershott by Peter Kirn. The interview marked the 20th anniversary for Cakewalk, and Peter Kirn was obviously a fan.  The interview gives us plenty of history on Cakewalk, parts of which I believe reference this advertisement in particular.

According to the article, Greg had written the initial program and made the decision to place a small ad to see if he could sell a few copies to other people.
"So I kind of procrastinated, and thought maybe I could try taking out a small ad and selling a few copies. And I did, and amazingly four or five people saw the ad and called up and ordered. And that was enough to pay for the ad and do another one."
In regards to the name Cakewalk, Greg ended up choosing a word that was simple to spell and suggested ease of use.
"Right before I placed the ad, literally two days before the deadline, I had picked another name for the program, and I found out it had been used by other software. I think it was something like Opus. So I had this little dictionary of music terms, and I saw Cakewalk." 
So dig finding advertising references like that. Great stuff.

The interview is filled with tons of great Cakewalk history - how he came about the name Twelve Tone Systems, why the company name was changed to Cakewalk, thoughts on early DOS sequencer competitors like Voyetra, and Greg's philosophy on making his software affordable and free of  copy-protection.

If you are a Cakewalk junkie and electronic music history buff... go read it. Now!

Happy reading!

Update: Cakewalk's second ad has been posted! The saga continues!

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