Roland: Looking to The Future
2022 marks the 50th anniversary of Roland, one of the most iconic music technology companies in the world. With thousands of legendary and great-sounding products including synthesisers, rhythm machines, effect processors, electronic drum kits, and software, the company has given us some of the most recognizable sounds in music history. In fact, entire genres of music would be totally different if it weren’t for Roland and perhaps, some might not even exist. From Michael Jackson and Phil Collins to Rush, Coldplay, and Portishead, Roland has influenced and inspired artists over the last five decades.
To celebrate this great achievement, we sat down with Jim Stout, Head of Content Development at Roland Cloud. Jim has had a long career as a sound designer, music producer, sample, and synth programmer. He has created popular sound packs for Hollywood Edge and Sounds Ideas and started his career with Roland handling the demonstration for the V-Synth at NAMM. We got tangled up talking about synths, Roland’s philosophy, the future of the company, and getting started in the music industry for almost 2 hours! It was a great conversation that we’ve distilled in this article for you to enjoy.
Sounds From the Past
Roland Corporation was founded in Osaka, Japan in 1972. The company began by building rhythm boxes—early versions of drum machines designed to provide rhythmic backing for organ players. In 1973, Roland released the first Japanese mass-produced synthesizer, the SH-1000, and so began its influence on pop music around the world, appearing on albums by Blondie, Vangelis, and the Human League.
If you want to dive into Roland’s history and find out how much of their products you have been listening to over the last 50 years, start by visiting their interactive product timeline. This resource, together with the vast amount of information available online, makes it easy to find out what equipment and instruments are on your favourite records and learn exactly how they sound.
Talking with Jim Stout about this, he recalled how difficult it was back in the day when the information was not that easily available. You had to combine experiences by reading through magazines, visiting music stores, and listening to broadcasts from clubs to learn what was making the sound that you loved from your favourite songs. But, regardless of the decade, when we put all the pieces together, Roland has always been a big part of the equation.
Jim shared with us that one of the reasons for Roland’s success is the culture and the people behind it. They are all musicians, sound designers, or music lovers. From the sales department to the engineers, they simply make and sell instruments they would want to have—useful and inspiring.
There are so many legendary products in Roland’s history that it is difficult to choose just one as their main breakthroughs. From the CR-78, the Space Echo, and Dimension D, through the TR-808, TR-909, and the JUNO and JUPITER lines, they’ve all had a big impact on music. However, if there is something that these products have in common, it’s probably the fact they were at the forefront of the industry at the time, leading the way. In some cases, they perhaps arrived too early, and artists rediscovered them years later like happened with the TR-909 or the TB-303.
“The things that we’re making now are really just the culmination of so many years of work and embracing the history of Roland and its vital role on pop music.” Jim Stout
Nowadays, never forgetting their core business making electronic instruments but following their continuous vision into the future, Roland has been focusing more on audio and video streaming products and especially on Roland Cloud, a cloud-based suite of high-resolution instruments, connected services and software for modern music creators and producers.
Jim, as Head of Content Development at Roland Cloud, explained that for Roland it has been a natural evolution to turn and move their products into software. Products like the D-50 synthesiser, with the very first LA (Linear Arithmetic) synthesis engine, show that Roland has been working in the digital realm for a long time and probably does it better than anybody in the music industry. They are translating their hardware into software, which allows producers, artists, and sound designers to move quickly through projects and be more productive in fast-paced industries like audio and music.
For Jim, the future is all about accessibility. Making instruments and tools available for everyone to try and use. Synths and electronic instruments can be very expensive, and back in the day, it was very hard to get one’s hands on some of them. Now, with platforms and resources like Roland Cloud, anyone can use a JUNO-106 in their productions and take advantage of Roland’s iconic sounds.
A Piece of Advice
Finally, we asked Jim to share his personal recommendations for anyone starting their journey in the music or audio business. His answers were clear and direct. Stay true to yourself, learn your craft, and be accountable.
“Don’t just do it because you think it sounds cool. If it’s what you want to do, do it because it inspires you, do it because you love it.” Jim Stout
It is very easy when you start working in any industry to fall into a routine and even lose a bit of yourself on the way. That is why it is important to try to stay true to oneself and remember to do things because you truly want to. It doesn’t matter if your motivation or drive changes through time. Just make sure that you regularly check if you are still happy and motivated and make any adjustment required.
“Learn your craft. Try to really understand how these things work and always know that you are never gonna stop learning.” Jim Stout
As Einstein once said, “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” Learning a craft is a path that will never stop. You can learn something new every day, even in the least expected places. That’s why it is important to stay humble, listen, and consider every occasion, collaboration, or work the chance to expand your knowledge beyond your limits.
“Am I the best movie sound designer? No. But the one thing I do is deliver products on time.” Jim Stout
In businesses that move as fast as the music or film industries, being accountable for the job is as important as how good your work is. Sometimes even more. Delivering projects on time, covering deadlines, and responding to clients when needed will make you trustworthy and lead you to the next gig.
Roland synths and Roland Cloud are an integrated part of the synthesis and sound design lectures for our Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering. If you are interested in learning more, head to our course page or get in touch to find out about studying with us.
We want to thank Jim Stout for his time and knowledge and Jared Selter, Director of Education Programs at Roland Cloud, for making this article possible and alumnus Carlos Bricio for his research and writing.