Working Wonders: Keyboard Workstations Offer Significant Opportunities to Musicians – and to Retailers…

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • Roundtable
• Created: October 6, 2017

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Keyboard workstations are powerful “all in one” units that combine a keyboard (shocking!), sound module, and music sequencer.

First developed in the 1970s, workstations are immensely powerful music-making tools that afford composers and producers the ability to create electronic music with little to no other gear necessary.

In an age of increasing home recording and more and more independently released songs and albums, these units are absolutely essential to many professionals, semi-pros, and hobbyists.

MMR recently spoke with representatives from three of the biggest names in keyboard workstations to get their take on the evolution of these highly versatile instrument/computer/machine combos, the methods that successful retailers employ to effectively target end-users, and what’s on the horizon for this technology.

How long has your brand been designing and selling keyboard workstations?

Ben Harrison: Almost 30 years. From a synth workstation perspective, the V-50 and SY-77 were launched in 1989. From an Arranger/Digital Workstation perspective, Yamaha considers the first to be the PSR-4000, which launched in 1995. Prior to this, Yamaha designed and sold portable keyboards with similar functionality, but didn’t really consider them workstations.


Nick Kwas: Korg has been designing and selling workstations since we came out with the first workstation ever: the M1 in 1988. We sold that product all the way up until 1994 and it was a long time before someone else came along and shared that space. Of course, our workstations have gotten quite a bit more powerful since then. Our current offering is Kronos, widely renowned as the most powerful synthesizer of all time, Krome, and our recently announced Kross2, an upgrade from our very successful and highly portable and

affordable Kross.

Duane McDonald: Roland has been involved in music creation and workstations for decades. You can make an argument that it started with the MC-8 Micro Composer back

in 1977, which was a sequencer that used CV/ Gate to control other devices. Roland’s first keyboard workstation was the D-20 in 1988, followed by the W-30 in 1989, which added sampling capability.

What do you consider to have been some of the “milestone” instruments in this market segment?

NK: M1 of course, for creating the concept of the “workstation” in the first place, Triton, for bringing that technology into the new millennium, and Kronos, our current flagship, which encompasses features that the original M1 developers could only dream of.

DM: I would start with the Fairlight CMI and Synclavier as the original inspiration for the keyboard-based music workstation. They were out of reach for the average musician, but that changed with products such as the W-30 and Korg M1 in the late 80s. The biggest ‘milestone’ was probably not a product at all, but rather the introduction of the MIDI standard in 1983 by Dave Smith and Ikutaro Kakehashi. MIDI, combined with the MPU-401 computer MIDI interface in 1984, brought music creation to the personal computer, where it thrives today.

BH: The original MOTIF became the most popular workstation of all time, and the series that followed maintained this popularity. From the flagship MOTIF and mid-range MOXF series, these instruments created the soundtrack to the last decade and a half. In the Digital Workstation world, Tyros is where Yamaha focused a lot of R&D, and the technologies

developed for that series Tyros through Tyros5, has trickled down into several other Yamaha keyboard series. The latest milestone instrument is the highly-anticipated

Genos digital workstation that launches in October 2017. Genos takes off where Tyros ends and continues in the tradition of being the technology leader for several Yamaha keyboard lines.

What’s currently your brand’s top-selling keyboard workstation?

DM: Our best-selling workstations are in our FA-Series. They are designed to streamline the creative process by giving users thousands of sounds, powerful effects processing, and a sequencing section that lets you create music easily, whether you’re using the onboard sequencer or a computer. They also connect to a computer directly via USB and even come with a DAW control button for easy setup with the most popular DAW software. There are three versions: a 61-note synth action keyboard (FA-06), a 76- note synth action keyboard (FA-07), and an 88-note weighted hammer action keyboard (FA-08).

BH: The MOXF8 is currently the top selling Yamaha keyboard workstation.

NK: Kronos, now in its third generation, finds its way onto stages with huge artists all over the world, and is as comfortable and versatile in a stadium as it is in any user’s home or professional studio.

Who purchases these units – experience level, age, income, et cetera?

NK: I typically don’t use the word “typical” to describe any customer, especially when talking about attaching a customer to a certain type of product. We prefer to look at each customer as a unique individual, and develop products that can suit the most needs of the most end users. The customer changes dramatically when looking at the product entry/feature set as well. Our Kross tends to show up more on stages as a powerful and portable performance product, Krome has found a home at the helm of many home studios, and Kronos – with its USB MIDI and Audio capabilities along with sheer number of sounds, effects, and features – has enjoyed success as a top-notch performance keyboard in the hands of a whole host of famous touring keyboardists, in studios at all levels, and working harmoniously with DAWbased rigs as well.

BH: Typical synth-focused workstation end users are in their 40s, they’re in professional occupations like IT, or tech industries. They like to play on the weekends, or in a church setting or are home hobbyists. Typical arranger/digital workstation end users are in their 50s, and enjoy playing for themselves or entertaining friends or social groups performing favorite songs. Interestingly, songwriters in the 30s also gravitate to these instruments for the speed at which documenting original ideas can occur.

DM: Workstation keyboards are not really considered entry level, so the typical customer has experience with other keyboards before they make a purchase like this. Workstations are very popular with touring professionals and as the centerpiece of production studios.

Have you noticed any particular marketing or display strategies on the parts of dealers who do particularly well with keyboard workstations?

BH: For digital workstations like Genos or Tyros, connecting the specifically designed stereo speaker accessories always helps. For music production synthesizers, connecting to professional studio monitors in stereo creates the appropriate image for the target customers. Yamaha has developed lots of expansion content, available from, that helps dealers attract customers looking for specific genres or types of music. Of course, dealers who are well-trained and know the products well and are able to give excellent demonstrations always do particularly well.

DM: Workstations are usually packed with lots of features, which is great, but the downside is that they can be intimidating. Good marketing and POP displays cut through all that and effectively show the customer how they can do one or two things they want to do. If a customer feels they can master those things easily, they are much more willing to explore the in-depth features.

NK: The person who really invests into understanding the technology and champions it. It’s like walking into any showroom in any market; you want the sales associate who can tell you everything you want to know about a product, can show you how to get around on it, and will support the sale. Online, video that explains the product and some of the deeper features (based on user request) go a long way. We strive to create harmony between our in-store presence through retailers, and through the web content that we continually grow and improve.

Lastly, are there any significant recent or ongoing trends in the realm of keyboard workstations that you’ve been noticing?

DM: I think workstations have really been in a refining stage for quite some time. They sound better than ever and are packed with great feature sets. The trend seems to be polishing an already evolved instrument to levels we couldn’t imagine back in the ‘80s.

NK: People have increasingly come to understand that Workstations aren’t just for songwriting. Since they come with a very rich feature set, it is becoming more commonplace to see them being used as performance synths and not with the sequencer that defines them. That goes for world tours as well. Kronos and Krome have found their way onto the live key rigs of some of today’s hottest artists’ stages, national broadcast live television, and into some of the most dynamic, high profile worship environments as well.

BH: People like workstations because they are self-contained and they can quickly get into the zone of making music without needing to interface with computers or external gear. Workstation technology continues to develop supporting this basic notion, making ease of use and accessibility of features a top priority.

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