|In the beginning there was just the music|
KEYFAX NewMedia was founded in the UK in 1994 to produce and market the company’s original concept of ‘MIDI Samples,’ released under the brand name “Twiddly.Bits.”
It had long been the contention of founder Julian Colbeck, who had pursued twin careers of professional keyboard player and music technology pundit writing for most of the world’s music technology magazines, that most ‘MIDI music’ sounded terrible.
But maybe the culprit wasn’t MIDI in itself so much as the way MIDI data was being generated (typically, at the time, everything was being played from a keyboard). There were, however, plenty of other options from MIDI guitars, to MIDI drum pads, to MIDI wind instruments; even MIDI accordions.
Up until now these so-named ‘alternate MIDI Controllers’ had only been employed so that guitarists could play piano, or drummers bash out violin sounds. And for the most part that sounded terrible too because it was the wrong type of controller playing the wrong type of part.
The initial experiment started when Colbeck was asked to review a particularly dismal collection of Standard MIDI File song collections for the British music newspaper Sounds.
The material’s chronic lack of authentic instrumental articulation (much less flair) prompted Colbeck to ask his then fellow ABWH/Yes sideman Milton MacDonald to record some basic guitar parts on a Roland MIDI guitar in order to see if adding one or two guitarist-played parts would improve these flat and lifeless compositions.
The effect was instant and truly electrifying. Even the addition of a single riff or line into a song transformed people’s impression of the song as whole. What had previously seemed 100% ‘programmed’ now felt like something musicians had been involved in.
With leading British programmer Dave Spiers in tow Keyfax then began work on producing an experimental series of MIDI recordings over a range of instruments, from bass, to drums, to sax, to see if a collection of short, musician-played ‘MIDI samples’ might both enliven a whole range of MIDI sequences, and also act as a construction set out of which users could construct complete pieces of music from scratch.
Indeed it could, and did. Twiddly.Bits General Instruments was released in 1994 and within a few months had grabbed the attention of the world’s music press and sequencing cognoscenti alike.
Gate Effects , a collection of rhythmic templates in MIDI that replicated the famous studio trick, was devised soon after (a world first, and much copied since), and after that came Electric and Acoustic Guitar (drawing on Colbeck’s then collaborations with Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett), and Drums & Percussion (similarly, enticing cohort Bill Bruford into the fray).
Over the next three years many more Twiddly.Bits libraries were produced to growing critical and public acclaim and indeed new libraries continue to be produced to this day.
Phat and happy
By the late 1990s, music software including software synths were grabbing all the headlines, but Colbeck, as a hands-on player, felt that the physical side of music-making was now being drastically overlooked and so came up with the idea of producing a ‘hands-on’ controller box that simply transmitted MIDI control data, enabling people to control both hardware or software synths in real time.
Phat.Boy was introduced at the Winter NAMM show in January 1998 and caused an immediate sensation. Over the next two years Phat.Boy established and then defined the market for MIDI controllers, becoming a household word in the then burgeoning laptop DJ / producer / remix scene.
The Yamaha connection
In 2000 Keyfax launched its first series of native instrument beat collections, for the Yamaha RM1x, an association that led to preliminary work (including content licensing) on the forthcoming Motif range of synthesizer workstations.
Motif was launched in Summer 2001 and Keyfax designed and produced a dedicated website, Motifator.com, to introduce the technology and associated products and possibilities to the general public.
Motifator.com quickly established itself not only as a powerful entity for the Yamaha Motif, but also became a blueprint for other instrument and technology sites providing clear and concise product support on a human scale and with a human, ‘community’ dimension.
In 2003 Yamaha Corporation of Japan appointed another Keyfax site, mLANcentral, as the centralized global resource for the disbursement of mLAN information, and subsequently several other product sites have been produced including SNninety (for Yamaha S90) AWinspire (for AW series of Digital Audio Recorders), 01xRay (for 01x mLAN Mixing Studio), DTXPERIENCE (DTX Series Digital Drum Kits), and ArrangerWorkstation (Tyros and PSR ranges).
In 2004 Keyfax produced its first artist website, AlanParsonsMusic.com, for the legendary artist and producer Alan Parsons. In addition to being the official site for information, the site also handles sales of AP back catalog and merchandise.
Most recently, in 2005 Keyfax launched SteinbergUsers.com for the Cubase/Nuendo, WaveLab and Steinberg Plug-in owners.
All Keyfax product sites contain a high level of customer support using web, video, and databasing technologies, and feature secure, full service e-commerce stores that currently ship more than 300 products worldwide.
Julian Colbeck had written and presented several popular videos back in the early 1990s, including Analogue Heaven, and the entire “Getting The Most Out Of” series. Keyfax then revisited the video medium in 2001 with Get Motifated, a complete 2-hour introduction to the Yamaha Motif presented on video and DVD.
Get Motifated became one of the best selling instructional DVDs of all time, also winning a coveted Videographers Award. In 2002/3 Keyfax went on to produce two further advanced user DVD guides to Motif, and a 3-hour DVD for the Motif ES.
In 2004 Keyfax produced The 01Xperience, a full length, 5-language DVD for the Yamaha 01x, and, at the end of the year, Exploring Sound Reinforcement, a 2-hour, six language magnus opus on PA’s and accompanying products that is currently featured on the home page of Yamaha.com.
In 2005 Keyfax edited and produced the concert DVD Alan Parsons Live In Madrid, a master class on the Yamaha S90 (S90 Under Control), and more than 50 web videos, ranging from instructional feature-guides to artist interviews.
Ringing off the hook
Keyfax partnered with synthesizer guru Dave Bristow in 2002 to produce premium quality ringtones under the name of KeyRingTones.
KeyRingTones is initially specializing in SMAF (Synthetic Mobile Application Format) taking advantage both of Bristow’s world-renown skill with FM synthesis, the chipset on which SMAF is based, and the massive library of catchy, ‘hooky’ MIDI recordings that Keyfax has amassed over almost 10 years.
KeyRingtones is now supplying ringtones and system sounds for Yamaha Japan, NEC, plus for a number of hand-held products developed by leading reference design house IXI.
With a team of composers ranging from classical to cutting edge dance, KeyRingTones aims to establish itself as a leading provider of original / non copyright ringtones for direct download.
The current idiom
Keyfax employs a highly skilled staff (view current team) at its offices and studios in Santa Cruz California, and also works with a number of specialist programmers and musicians around the world from Buenos Aires, to Quebec.
In 2005 Yamaha appointed Keyfax as sole distributor of its recently-acquired Steinberg product upgrades in USA. Based around a custom owner-verification system designed by Keyfax, SteinbergUpgrades.com currently fulfills all upgrades throughout the product range from individual users using Cubase and GrooveAgent to multi-site film studios and music colleges running Nuendo.
Current projects include two new Twiddly.Bits libraries (Latin Spice and Hot Salsa!), a major new DVD project, and a complete revision of the company’s content media delivery process.
What makes the company unique is that almost everyone, in additional to being a web designer, accountant, shipping manager, videographer, or code writer, is also a musician. Whether it is in product design, pricing, delivery, or support, Keyfax understands the needs of musicians because active musicians work in every department of the company.
To better reflect its diverse skills and operations Keyfax incorporated as KEYFAX NewMedia in April of 2005.