Moog Music layoffs provoke dismay in synth community

Several reports have confirmed steep layoffs this week at Moog Music’s Asheville, NC headquarters, shortly following an acquisition by InMusic (parent of Akai, Numark, Alesis, and others). Even in a tough year, these cuts are uniquely significant, as they strike at the brand story of the single best-known name in synths.

And yes, first and foremost, to all our friends at the company now and who worked there at the past, friends of Bob Moog over the years, we’re thinking of you.

It’s not simply that these are layoffs, but that the cuts appear to be part of a move to take Moog manufacturing out of its North Carolina HQ. As you’ve likely already seen, reaction from the electronic music community has been swift, widespread shock and disappointment. Comments on social media ranged from prominent veteran music journalists to Moog users to folks like Eric Persing.

Moog is a unique brand, because of both its history and its recognition. Even lay audiences will often take Moog to be synonymous with “synthesizer” – something no other synth make can claim in the same singular way. But the cuts to synthesizer production in Asheville carry a particular weight, because the modern Moog Music has made its US manufacturing such an integral part of the brand’s story. It’s akin to Steinway in New York and Germany to a lot of musicians. Moog has in the past years made showcasing the factory and its workers as part of the pitch for Moog as a premium product. That’s ranged from including assembly-line photos with product releases to video tours of the factory and events. Their employees were frequently the face of the company.

This is largely speculative. There’s still no official information on the layoffs; Moog and InMusic are not commenting publicly. The most reliable source at the moment is reporting by Joel Burgess for the Asheville Citizen Times – though I’d caution it can be tough to get a complete, accurate picture in these kinds of situations. (None of the sources are named in this story.) The reporting there points to around 30 layoffs, a significant share of the US workforce, which is consistent with some online posts.

World-renowned instrument maker Moog slashes jobs at Asheville manufacturing center

(It is important to note, as the Asheville Citizen Times does, that the Bob Moog Foundation is entirely independent from Moog Music. That enterprise has always been a special one when it comes to preserving Bob Moog’s legacy, beyond just the current Moog brand.)

Ironically, Moog only just last month posted a video touting their US factory assembly:

Moog employees had tried unsuccessfully to unionize many of these jobs. The employee ownership model the company had also championed ended with the InMusic acquisition; employees were bought out of their shares.

Online posts from people in the city all seem to point to significant cuts in Asheville, especially in production. One source suggests that the cuts target production of products like DFAM and Mother-32, though not necessarily higher-end products. That could mean that some higher-end synths like the Grandmother, Matriarch, and Minimoog Model D could remain in US production, at least for now.

I can’t recall who mentioned this, but someone compared the Gibson / Epiphone divide – Gibson manufacturing remained in the US, with a premium price to match, whereas Epiphone was offshored and made into a budget brand. That’s not to say US production necessarily equates to higher quality, but then that was the story Moog had been telling its own customers – hence the challenge. (You could also look at some of the differentiation at Roland and BOSS, which has gone through some changes over the years – see the recent higher-end BOSS brands, for one.)

In another case of poor timing around this move, Moog’s parent InMusic just took out an ad warning about the sale of New Zealand-based DJ maker Serato to Pioneer DJ (AlphaTheta Corporation). InMusic getting testy about having to go up against Pioneer DJ and Serato in a single company makes sense, but it’s unclear to me what action that ad is meant to promote, and it now seems ill-timed with InMusic cutting jobs at Moog at roughly the same time.

InMusic protest Serato sale to Pioneer DJ in New Zealand newspaper advert [MusicTech]

As Synthtopia observes, Moog had warned in 2018 that it would be adversely impacted by the cost of tariffs on Chinese goods. Without financials, it’s tough to say what element landed Moog Music in their current situation; sources at the company point to internal challenges and debt. It’s a safe bet that Moog was also hit by industry-wide headwinds around COVID-19, which has produced unpredictable component availability, logistics headaches, and big swings in customer demand – on top of all the damage and loss from the virus itself. And then there’s the not-incidental factor of low-cost competition cloning or approximating Moog-branded products – which you can easily check on any retailer by listing synths and sorting by popularity.

This year news like this has been fairly frequent; the Moog cuts arrive in the same week that we learned Modal Electronics had declared insolvency.

Our thoughts are with the folks who lost jobs and those still at the company dealing with these changes.

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