Electronic artist

RIP Dave Smith, the godfather of MIDI

Music technologist, inventor and synthesizer creator Dave Smith passed away on May 31, 2022. His innovations will continue to shape music for years to come.

by Michael Gallant from the record creators blog

You may not know Dave Smith’s name, but you’ve certainly heard echoes of his work. It’s safe to say that rock, pop, electronic music, hip hop, R&B and so many other current genres wouldn’t exist as we know them without his contributions.

Dave was a brilliant genius who developed the Prophet family of synthesizers in the late 1970s; they are the first fully programmable synths that allow keyboard players to play multiple notes at the same time. The revolutionary Prophet-5 was used on Michael Jackson Thriller, of Madonna like a virgin, by Pierre-Gabriel So, movie soundtracks including The Terminator and blade runner, and so many other emblematic projects.

Perhaps most importantly, Dave worked with fellow music technology engineer Ikutaro Kakehashi to pioneer Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) – which, if you’re not familiar with, is the fundamental digital protocol that enables electronic instruments and software to communicate with each other. softly and powerfully.

The impact of MIDI on popular music

It’s hard to overstate how profoundly MIDI shapes the making of popular music. Every radio hit that uses virtual instrument sounds, every track programmed via Apple Logic or Ableton Live, the biggest dance floor mega-hits sequenced for propulsive impact – all are fundamentally built on the technology that Smith helped create.

Mario J McNulty is a Grammy Award-winning producer and engineer who has worked with David Bowie and Lou Reed. Here’s what he had to say about Dave’s impact on decades of popular music:

Dave Smith’s contributions, in more than one singular way, completely altered the sound of records, and his impact continues to this day. I can’t even imagine what life would be like without that Prophet sound in the most legendary music of all time. Dave’s work with MIDI changed music production forever. He was a genius.

New York producer and engineer Josh Giunta, who recently won a Grammy Award for his work with Taylor Eigsti, also affirmed the impact of Dave’s innovations:

MIDI is so essential and ubiquitous in modern production that many of us find it hard to imagine making music without it. MIDI was such a fork in the road. Its foundation allowed the construction of castles on it.

A prolific inventor of music

Dave was a mainstay in the music tech community and a mainstay at the National Association of Music Merchants conventions, where I had the privilege of meeting him for the first time. Even when I was just beginning my youth career Keyboard magazine writer, I remember him showing me the same warmth, kindness, and respect he shared with industry veterans he’d known for decades.

My old Keyboard The magazine’s editor, Ernie Rideout, shared a rich history with Dave and remembered him as follows:

Dave Smith was as much a part of the early days of Keyboard magazine like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Keith Emerson. He brought the Model 800 sequencer, one of the first products he ever made, to show off founding editors Tom Darter and Dominic Milano. Subsequently, Tom and Dominic each purchased a Prophet-5 when Dave introduced this legendary synthesizer in 1978. Almost every artist I interviewed forKeyboard seemed to have a Sequential Circuits instrument in their rig.

When Dave planned to make hardware synths again in 2002, he approached me to ask if we would be interested in covering his new instruments. Although I had been privileged to hang out with Dave many times before – I was always in awe of his intellect, but equally impressed by his warmth, humor and humanity – I was humbled, floored and excited. all at once time. He was one of music’s most prolific inventors, whose products made the world of modern music production possible, and he wanted to talk to me.

Without Dave’s many contributions to music, it’s unlikely there would have even been a Keyboard the magazine’s editorial team to join.

The next time you sequence a drum groove, play on a software synthesizer, listen to music with electronic production, or hear the inescapable sound of the Prophet, take a moment to remember Dave and the creative gifts he gave us. all brought. To learn more about his legacy, visit www.sequential.com/about.

rock rewind

Michael Gallant is a musician, writer and entrepreneur living in New York. His first album for the Steinway & Sons label, rock rewind, features solo piano reimaginings of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and Facebook.com/GallantMusic.