Sony Corp.’s venture capital arm is backing Roli, the maker of digital musical instruments like the Seaboard that have attracted stars including Wu-Tang Clan rapper RZA and Canadian artist Grimes.
Chief Executive Officer Roland Lamb described the funding from the Sony Innovation Fund (SIF) as a “significant investment and relationship for us,” although he declined to disclose the financial terms of the deal. Sony won’t take a seat on the board.
The fund will introduce Roli to contacts at Sony, the Japanese consumer electronics and entertainment giant, that could help it expand sales globally, particularly in Asia, Lamb said. “We hope to collaborate with Sony as much as possible.”
It will also help Roli invest in further research and development. “We are developing new music-making tools across hardware and software,” he said.
Roli also recently got an investment from Japan’s Onkyo Corp., known for premium audio speakers and its Pioneer brand of home entertainment systems. The terms of the investment from Onkyo weren’t disclosed.
Roli, which Lamb founded in 2009, produces a range of electronic music-making hardware and software, including Lightpad Blocks, simple box-like devices that can be used to create and play complex digital compositions in conjunction with a mobile phone app, and the Seaboard line of digital keyboards.
The company’s keyboards have silicon keys that let players bend pitch and modulate tone in new ways. The instruments have been widely adopted by professional musicians: RZA told New York Magazine in January that he can’t live without the Roli Seaboard Rise 49 Midi Controller.
Roli’s full-size keyboards come with five-figure price tags. With the Lightpad Block, which sold for less than $200 when first introduced in 2016, and the Seaboard Block, which debuted last year and retails for $300, the company has been pushing into more mass market music-making hardware.
“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,” Lamb said.
Roli has received more than $50 million in venture capital funding to date from firms that include the Foundry Group, Universal Music Group, Balderton Capital, BGF Ventures, and Horizon Ventures. Last year, music industry celebrity Pharrell Williams invested in Roli and was appointed as the company’s chief creative officer.