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Indian E-music – The right mix of Indian Vibes… » 2018 » June » 04


ROLI funded by Sony, Onkyo; is it time for the Walkman of music making?

Delivered... Peter Kirn | Scene | Mon 4 Jun 2018 5:35 pm

ROLI, makers of the Seaboard and Blocks, keep adding to their funding. But new investments by Sony and Onkyo say a lot about betting on a future of music that’s centered on creation, not just consumption.

We entered this century with people thinking mostly about music as a more or less passive thing. But as a business, consumption is just not as bright as it once was. There’s no new recording format – so, sorry Men in Black, no more jokes about hold on to their existing phones. (That shift seems even to be reaching Apple.) Spotify and Apple Music and their ilk haven’t delivered big profits, either, obviously. And in sectors like electronic dance music, we’ve watched the vision of brand synergy and an EDM empire at SFX Entertainment meet the reality of flat festival sales. What cured things at Beatport, meanwhile, in the wake of SFX mismanagement? Refocusing on serious DJs and the core business.

What does seem to be a vast horizon, then, is actually making music. You know – the thing the whole world’s population was already doing before the music industry convinced them to listen to round discs of other people doing it for them, or tune in electromagnetic frequencies that could be translated to other people playing.

All this makes the ongoing investment in ROLI really interesting.

The London-based manufacturer of alternative instruments and mobile music making gadgets is now up past US$50 million in investment. That includes a $27m Series B in 2016, and investments from venture capital but also Universal Music Group.

ROLI’s lineup of products has grown from more expensive flagship controller instruments to a modular line of mobile products that matches with software and services.

There are no public numbers shared for Onkyo or Sony, but it’s really the fact of those makers entering the fray that matters. They’re both Japanese giants known for their role in consumer products for listening to music. Onkyo today remains a major audio brand; they’re also the owner of the home entertainment side of Pioneer. (The bits of Pioneer catering to DJs and car owners lie elsewhere, but the home entertainment brand is still significant.) The Onkyo investment has also recently closed, says ROLI.

And then there’s the Sony Innovation Fund (SIF). Focused on the northern world – USA, EU, Israel, and Japan – Sony’s fund was created in 2016 to invest on companies from seed to middle stage development. That ranges everything from biometrics to VR to drones, so it’s not just about music and media by any means.

In addition to funding, SIF says they work with the companies they fund on strategy, that they build relationships with Sony and its partners, and therefore grant access to some of Sony’s global reach and expertise. There are parallels here to the investment we saw recently in Berlin’s Native Instruments. Sony is betting on music creation and could help connect ROLI to a global consumer market. German EMH Partners who funded NI are betting on music creation and could help connect to a global market for services. Get it? (They have to deliver on that promise, of course.)

We’re also getting into bigger financial figures than music creation investment has seen before; NI got a whopping 50 million Euros, in an industry where we still think it’s pretty cool to go to check out something one person has literally made in their bedroom that you solder together and bolt into a rack with a screwdriver.

Okay, so that’s money and strategy – but what’s the actual business here?

Well, ROLI do have a compelling software/hardware play. The Blocks line give users of computers and mobile devices a convenient, expressive, wireless interface to music creation. There’s software to match – ROLI make a mobile app, a desktop synth, and perhaps most significantly the JUCE framework on which a lot of modern music making software is built. ROLI are also pushing ideas like the Songmaker Kit, hoping musicians will take their line of wireless controllers on the go.

The Blocks line – like the Songmaker Kit here – encourages musicians to take their music creation on the go.

But lots of makers have interesting music products. If we’re really imagining a wider population of music consumers buying this gear, it’s going to require both inventing clever new things, and then moving those things through the channel into musicians’ hands. Your smartphone manufacturer or consumer headphones do that already, but musical instruments move through much more antiquated, fragmented retail outlets. (Uh… that’s a fancy way of saying the unfriendly guys hanging in the corner of your local music store picking at a guitar may not necessarily be able to sell new users on the instrument of the future.)

ROLI already made a bold move into getting in front of new customers with a massive Apple Store retail partnership, followed by other channels (including consumer-oriented stores and shops like Guitar Center). Now it’s a question of whether they can keep moving.

ROLI released some statements to CDM on the idea of the investment, and confirm that global sales reach is a big part of the story. “We’re now selling our hardware and software in over 30 countries,” says founder and CEO Roland Lamb. Now they want to go further, he says. “We want to reach a whole world of music makers and provide them the tools they need to be creative, and we’re getting much closer through our investments​ from SIF, [Chief Creative Officer] Pharrell [Williams], and Onkyo,” he says.

And Lamb compares his products to the iconic Sony Walkman:

I’ve always admired Sony. A Sony Walkman was one of the first music products I ever owned. I took it on my first trip to Japan as a teenager. It was a magical way to bring my musical world with me everywhere that I went. What ROLI is doing with BLOCKS is very similar to what Sony did with the Walkman, but in our case we’ve made a music creation device that you can take with you anywhere. It’s pioneering a new, liberating way of making music, just like Sony pioneered the modern revolution of music listening which hundreds of millions of people benefit from today.

Yes there’s money, but as I described the SIF operation, there’s additional support, Lamb says:

They really engage with startups. They provide an entrée to the Sony world and its networks and expertise. We hope to collaborate with Sony as much as possible in ways that build unique value for our customers. Without going into the details of the deal, this is certainly a significant investment and relationship for us.

But maybe most interesting, the funds themselves may support new products. While I admire the Blocks, and the Seaboard interface is certainly innovative, I think it’s still important to note that these are just controllers. The Walkman was a standalone product; Blocks is useless without a laptop or smartphone or tablet. And that’s assuming you believe this is really the shape of what music making will look like, amidst a lot of competing ideas and untapped possibility.

“We’re developing new music-making tools across hardware and software,” says Lamb. He says the funding will accelerate development and “positions us to continue focusing on innovative research and development as we scale.”

In other words, this gives them room to focus on inventing new stuff even as they try to get their products to a broader audience.

Also interesting: you might doubt the Songmaker Kit, at 600 bucks, would sell well versus just buying one or two of the individual modules to save money. But you’d be wrong. ROLI tells CDM it’s the best-selling product they make.

The Songwriter’s Kit has become ROLI’s best-selling product, the company says.

So there’s a certain business genius to dividing products into modules, then selling the consumers those modules as … a predefined set. Wait, maybe I shouldn’t tell you that, but should find some really complicated name for it, and then sell my services as a highly-paid consultant. (I dub it the “Modular Acquisition Product Consumer Chain.” Call me.)

But whether you personally like the ROLI line or not, consider this: ROLI are both proving the power of the future of electronic musical instruments on a larger scale, and creating a platform for the rest of the electronic music ecosystem in the process. Blocks can easily be a gateway into other mobile apps, desktop software, and other hardware. ROLI also show that some ideas that would have seem like crazy, far-fetched one-off inventions just recently can appeal to everyday consumers if they’re given adequate market support and channel distribution. People seem to like crazy and futuristic things. (Heck, it may be that average consumers like those things more than some of the more conservative folks you’ll see trolling forums and adding wooden endcaps to their synths.)

And investors are taking notice. There are some real, big bets emerging that say the future of music creation will be bright. For those trained on the recent Silicon Valley model, where some venture capital looks for quick, easy returns or fast exits, it’s also safe to say that some of this may be looking further into the future, not just into what’s selling this month.

But if you believe that creation is the essence of music making, if you think everyone should have access to self expression through music, and you see creation as the future, I think there’s real reason to be encouraged by investment in ROLI.

What we’ll need to watch, meanwhile, is whether larger funds and expertise at ROLI and Native Instruments translate into products and services that work for musicians. That’ll take time. But, hey, I was trained as a musicologist, which deals with this on a timeframe of centuries. I’ll wait. Back to making music to fill the time.

The post ROLI funded by Sony, Onkyo; is it time for the Walkman of music making? appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Geoffrey Starks to be Nominated as New FCC Commissioner

Delivered... David Oxenford | Scene | Mon 4 Jun 2018 4:19 pm

Geoffrey Starks, currently an Assistant Chief in the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, will, according to multiple reports released last week, be nominated to fill the FCC Commissioner’s seat currently held by Mignon Clyburn. Commissioner Clyburn, as we wrote here, has announced that she will be stepping down. She has already ceased participating in FCC meetings and on most other Commission decisions. If nominated as expected and confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Starks will be the second Democratic Commissioner, joining Jessica Rosenworcel. His term will run until 2022. Senate consideration of his nomination is likely to be paired with an extension of the term of Commissioner Carr, the most recent Republican to join the FCC, coming on board last year (see our article here). If both are approved, the FCC will continue with a 3-2 Republican majority as is usual during the administration of a Republican president.

Mr. Starks does not have a public history of direct involvement with broadcast issues, though presumably his position in the Enforcement Bureau gives him some exposure to those issues. Prior to his service at the FCC, he worked with the Department of Justice, as an attorney in a big DC law firm and clerked for a US Court of Appeals judge. With the Commission likely to be dealing with numerous important broadcast issues in the coming year, we will be watching to see how his positions on these issues develop.

Born In Flamez’s 10-Track Guide To The Golden Age Of UK Grime

Delivered... By Born In Flamez | Scene | Mon 4 Jun 2018 2:01 pm

Grime is having something of a moment right now. It first came across our radar when we heard DJ Stingray and Mumdance’s incredible Rinse FM b2b mix, which paired the Motor City electro of the former with the avant-garde instrumental grime of the latter. The pairing worked so well that we found ourselves wanting to dive into the history of the genre to understand more. The only thing is that the genre is so large that we didn’t really know where to start.

Fortunately, Berlin-based transhumanist artist, CTM Festival curator and occasional Telekom Electronic contributor Born in Flamez is something of a specialist. They reached out to us to provide us with 10 essential tracks from before 2005. That period in the early oughts marks the very beginning of grime’s development. 

[Read more: London-based producer Slackk’s guide to the new wave of grime]

“I think I heard my first grime tracks in the summer of 2004. A buddy brought some really shitty MP3s burnt onto a CD from a trip to London. It was mostly Ruff Squad and some Nasty Crew and a lot of Wiley.

I was hooked immediately. I believe Grime was my first big musical crush. I had found my sound. I started digging really heavily and found some of these treasures only years after they had been released. So here are my favorites from the early years of grime.”

Musical Mob, “Pulse X” (Musical Mob Royale, 2002)

“This to me is THE classical grime track. I love that minimal structure, and the badass sound of the production is pure gold.”

Lady Sovereign, “Cha Ching (Cheque 1 2)” (Casual Records, 2004)

“I think the first track of Lady Sovereign I had heard was actually something called ‘Tango’, a battle song she had created with producer Medasyn. She wasn’t even 16 yet but spat double time like no one else. ‘Cha Ching became an early fave—that dope snare and that badass bass paired with her feminist humor.”

Dizzee Rascal, Boy In Da Corner (XL Recordings, 2003)

“Still a mindblowingly fresh example of minimal production—Youngsta really outdid himself here. I bought the double vinyl of this record only recently cause it felt like one of the very few things I needed to have on PVC.”

Wiley, “Eskimo” (Wiley Kat Records, 2002)

“‘Eskimo’ is the definitive grime riddim. It was one of the standout tracks on the first grime MP3 collection I owned. Based around that hollow bass sound that would become Wiley’s trademark and, like ‘Pulse X’, inform tons of later producers, it blew the door open for grime production to be whatever it wanted, while also creating its own micro-genre.”

Lethal Bizzle, “Pow! (Forward)” (Relentless Records, 2004)

“OMG POW! I believe this was grime’s biggest hit at the time—maybe of all time. Way before Skepta won a mercury. It charted at #11, and did so with absolutely zero compromise: there’s no pop hook, just Lethal B shouting ‘pow,’ and all the his buddies—some of the best MCs of that time—featuring on 8 bars each.”

Wiley, “Wot Do You Call It?” (XL Recordings, 2004)

“’Wot Do You Call It?’ was maybe Grime’s earliest hymn. There wasn’t a name for the genre yet. So before grime became grime, it had many names. Wiley tried to establish Eskibeat which later became his own personal grime sub-genre.”

Shystie, “I Luv You (Dizzee Rascal Reply” (Network Music, 2003)

“Shystie murdering Dizzee Rascal’s lyrics, and the beat is pure gold.”

Jammer, “Murkle Man” (Jahmektheworld, 2005)

“Jammer’s hoarse voice and flow are the punk of grime. He’s the most unnoticed member of [grime collective/record label] BBK but my absolute favorite. Even though JME gets points for being vegan and his ‘Poomplex might actually be my number two all-time favorite grime track, Jammer is my favorite BBK.”

Ruff Sqwad, “Pied Piper (Skepta Remix)” (Ruff Sqwad, 2004)

“Ruff Sqwad gets all the points for being there first. ‘Pied Piper’ was one of the first grime tracks I ever heard. Skepta’s remix makes it more garage-y and shows off the scale of his production skills in 2004 already.”

No Lay, “Unorthodox Daughter” (2006)

“This would be on the top of my list if it was actually from 2003 or 2004. But as it’s a bit of cheating to add a track from 2006 to this list, I’m putting it at the end. I think I first heard the Kingdom remix of this song. Listening to the original now, I have to say this might be my all-time favorite grime track.”

Read more: Hear HDMirror’s futuristic hardcore set from CTM festival’s gabber party

The post Born In Flamez’s 10-Track Guide To The Golden Age Of UK Grime appeared first on Telekom Electronic Beats.

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