top of page
  • Writer's pictureEric Doades

Tectonic Shifts in Music Making with Paul McCabe of Roland

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

This week, Dmitri Vietze sits down with Roland’s Vice President of Global Customer Experience, Paul McCabe.

Hear stories from Paul’s own musical journey and the tarp-covered object that started it all. Find out how a life-threatening experience and a medical breakthrough shaped Roland’s origin story in Japan. Get Paul’s insights on music tech’s influence on musical history—and how AI could be a positive influence on music creation. How can the rise of new technologies aid and continue human experience and creation? Take a trip into music’s past to see how it can influence the future in this week's episode.

Looking for Rock Paper Scanner, the newsletter of music tech news curated by the Rock Paper Scissors PR team? Subscribe here to get it in your inbox every Friday!

Join the Music Tectonics team and top music innovators by the beach for the best music tech event of the year:

Listen to the full episode here on this page, or wherever you pod your favorite casts.

Listen wherever you pod your casts:

Listen on your favorite podcasting platform!

Episode Transcript

0:00:00 - Robot

You're listening to Music Tectonics.

0:00:10 - Dmitri Vietze

Welcome back to Music Tectonics, where we go beneath the surface of music and tech. I'm your host, Dmitri Vietze. I'm also the founder and CEO of Rock Paper Scissors, a PR firm that specializes in music, tech and innovation, and ever since I launched this podcast in 2019, I've found myself looking out for the music innovation, seismologists and cosmologists, the people who understand the music industry deeply but also have an ear to the ground and an eye to the stars. The humble soothsayers who only speak when asked. My PR firm, rock Paper Scissors, is my graduate degree in business, and Music Tectonics is my postgraduate fellowship.

In the future of music, our guests are my instructors, and when I stumble onto one willing to share 45 minutes with me, I feel blessed. Today's guest is exactly one of those. Paul McCabe is the vice president of Global Experience at Roland Corporation. Yes that Roland. Paul's been with Roland for a few decades, but his story today will bring you from a hidden musical instrument that changed his life to the life-threatening experience of Roland's founder in Japan. You'll hear how Music Tech changes the course of musical history and why Paul thinks AI is not only not a threat to the music industry, but the gateway for more human creation and ever before. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did. Welcome to the show, Paul.

0:01:31 - Paul McCabe

Thanks very much. A pleasure to be here.

0:01:33 - Dmitri

We always see great presence from you at NAMM and obviously everyone knows the name Roland. But I'm curious, this is a cool title you have: Global Customer Experience. What exactly is it that you do at Roland, Paul?

0:01:46 - Paul

Yeah, titles are always fun, aren't they? Especially when you're working in global organizations. So, global customer experience. The department that I lead is positioned within R&D In Roland. We call it the innovation group, and so we work very closely with the business units that plan, design and build our products, our platforms, our services, and for them we work to bring customer insights, market perspective, trend perspective, into their realm, to influence their the product planning and product development, and, at the same time, to the larger company outside of product development, we're working to continuously build a stronger sense and a stronger view of the context within which the company operates. And, running parallel to that we're, you know, with that understanding of the customer in hand, we're working to continuously improve the experience that customers have after they purchase a Roland, BOSS, V-MODA, and soon, a DW—Drum Workshop—product.

0:03:01 - Dmitri

That's awesome. You sit at a really cool intersection between the kind of the community of users and the internal team, it sounds like.

0:03:11 - Paul

Very much so. Yeah, I've done many different things in Roland over a long period of time. I've been working in musical instruments for nearly 40 years in music technology with Roland for 30, 31 of those years, and then working globally with Roland for more than seven years, based in Los Angeles. So certainly, from the Roland perspective, I've seen a lot. I've seen a lot of change, a lot of evolution. But also from the industrial perspective and just the global music making perspective, I've had the good fortune you stay around long enough, you see a lot of things, and so I've seen a lot of things.

0:03:50 - Dmitri

I love it. You're the perfect guest for the Music Tectonics podcast. Hey, Paul, let's dive in. How would you describe the state of the musical instrument industry right now?

0:04:00 - Paul

Yeah, it's a great first question and I think probably what I would do first is just clarify that. You know, often when people depending on their relationship with musical instruments in the music industry often what that question comes up there's either kind of a stated or an implied connection with the larger music industry, and while there's obvious interdependencies and indeed musical instruments in the music industry have been in a symbiotic relationship since the beginning of time, there's also some really important differences as well. And so I think you know, without having been said, looking at the musical instrument industry overall, we've seen the industry globally, has seen pretty consistent growth for many, many years now, not triple digit growth, but consistent year over year growth with a few minor inflection points. But then when we, the world, entered lockdown in 2020, for many of us, certainly at Roland, we experienced near explosive growth in many areas of our business as people either turned to or returned to music making as a pastime. That was certainly in the case of electronic instruments and personal digital, often silent experiences. It was kind of the perfect pursuit for a world that was in lockdown.

And so through 2020, 2021, I think overall the industry experienced some tremendous growth.

Certainly Roland did. We were very well positioned, in a really unfortunate circumstance, to work to make people's lives better through the products and services that we build and provide. But what we've seen recently, I think, is, as the world has emerged from the crystal estate, as we've come out of lockdown and I don't think I'm really saying anything that any of your listeners aren't aware of but just to put it in context, I think we're all wanting to kind of stretch our wings again and, you know, be out of doors and be into experiences that were robbed from us for a couple of years, and so that doesn't mean that there's been a massive negative impact on the musical instrument business, but we're not in that really explosive growth phase that we were in during the pandemic and we're just trying to find the water's trying to find its level again coming out of the pandemic. Overall, the mid and long term projections are fantastic for many, many reasons which we could talk about, but right now it's a little bit of a moment of confusion, I would say.

0:06:44 - Dmitri

Interesting. A curiosity of what's going to happen next.

0:06:47 - Paul

Well, yeah, and you know, what is that level state? What is the balance between experience and being out of the home and kind of the cocooning world that we lived in for the better part of almost three years?

Connectivity Innovations

0:07:03 - Dmitri

Yeah, it's interesting to see different people have different reactions to it too. Some people are like, “I love my cocoon,” or they moved away to some new place and they're doing a whole lifestyle change, whatever. And other people like, “I can't wait to get out, I'm living my life like I've never lived it before the pandemic” and all of that probably has an impact on music making. But you know, another thing that happened during the pandemic was a lot of innovation was tested out. There were a lot of new use cases, a lot of new circumstances, whether it's the need for live streaming and remote events and certainly how that affected all kinds of organizations to metaverse experiences and mixed reality and a lot of other innovations. It just kind of coincidentally happened around the same time as we saw the real emergence of TikTok. Over the last few years, what innovations do you see emerging that are changing the musical instrument field now?

0:07:59 - Paul

Yeah, well, I think your your lead in kind of touched on a few of them that I think are really important from our perspective Overall connectivity connectivity between musicians, connectivity between the instruments that they use and other instruments, which has existed for a while, but also connectivity between instruments and music making devices and the cloud and cloud based services. Thank you, you know. Global collaboration, connectivity between musicians from different places and different musical disciplines, where distance is no longer a limiting factor. I think that's important. Being a little bit more specific to technology, things like wireless technology you know anybody who is or has been a musician. You always are a musician if you've stepped in once. But if you've had been a musician, you just know how painful cables and cable management in your lives are, and whether you're actually playing an instrument or you're in front of house or wherever you are, you know cables is just everybody's shoulders go down when you think about the cable things up and hiding cables and managing cables and maintaining them and putting them away. So the kind of the, the, the presence of wireless technology, and whether that's Bluetooth connectivity or Wi-Fi connectivity or other low latency digital wireless technologies, I think that's going to, you know, in some cases it's going to have more of a of an impact of convenience and simplifying, but I do think that that, when we think about what wireless might mean to recording and production and performance, I think it's likely to have some some more significant impacts over time as well.

Continuing with connectivity, one of my roles is I'm on the executive board of the MIDI Association, who are the custodians, along with an organization called AMEI in Japan, of the MIDI protocol.

And, for those that aren't aware, MIDI is musical instrument digital interface.

It's been in existence, as of earlier this year, for 40 years and it's what connects instruments to each other and to computers and to other devices and production tools and even video equipment. And for years the MIDI Association and AMEI have been working on the next step for this protocol: expanding the capacity, expanding the expressivity that can be conveyed across MIDI, expanding the applications that MIDI can impact and also simplifying connectivity between different devices through bidirectional communication. And we're just on the cusp of MIDI starting MIDI 2.0 starting to appear in commercial products and applications. All of the major operating systems, including Mac OS very soon, Windows, through a fantastic open source project Android and Chrome OS, all already support MIDI 2.0 and an operating system level, and so I think soon we're going to see more devices. And then, of course, the big, the big looming presence of machine learning, generative AI and natural language processing as a front end to all of that, I think, stands to have a profound impact on creation, artistic creation in general, but also music.

Machine Learning for Music Making

0:11:38 - Dmitri

Wow, I think it's great to have somebody like you who has both this multi decade experience to watch this evolution, to have this key role with the MIDI Association and really understand what's happening there, but also just this top level view. And so just in a couple of minutes you mentioned new wireless capabilities, MIDI 2.0 and its ability to take on more capacity and be more expressive, and obviously the AI machine learning world, which we're hearing about on the software side quite a bit too. So of those innovations, is there anything that stands out that maybe you know a novice instrument player might want to know about? Maybe they haven't heard yet. What's going to, what we're going to see emerge? What form factors or experiences will people who play music first start to see as a result of the types of, of the types of innovations you just mentioned?

0:12:30 - Paul

Well, yeah, I mean, I think machine learning, generative AI, natural language processing, in the grand scheme of things, I think that that those, those kind of seen as a suite of disruptive technologies, stands to have the greatest kind of widest impact on on creative experiences and music making, but, of course, for many different reasons. Now, thinking specifically of the novice and one of your past guests, Tatiana Cirisano, from MIDiA Research, has written some great, some great insights on this as well. But one of the realities that we face with music making and this is a role and this is everybody is that I think, in Tadiana's words, you have to necessarily go through a period of being bad before you can be good at anything. And with natural language processing and generative AI potentially being positioned at that kind of front end of a creative experience where the need to have an intimate knowledge of the process of music making no-transcript, you know, in some cases is no longer a barrier because, rather than focusing on the process and the steps of the process, you can, you could, skip right ahead to the outcome. What is the outcome I want? And, as long as I can Describe this or, you know, in generative AI terms, if I can engineer prompts that can properly articulate what it is that I'm after from a musical perspective, then generative AI can be that shortcut to get us at least Part of the way there, and that's, that's an that that will be an extraordinary Change, because what it does is it creates a path to music making for, you know, really anybody, which hasn't existed before.

But that's not to say that, you know, for lack of a better term, traditional music making and music production is going to be completely eliminated, and I think, I think, across to, you know, photography, where you know, I've got, I've got kids and I've got two daughters that Discovered a love of photography Through Instagram and so they were led to this shortcut outcome, you know, by experiencing, you know, simple application of filters and whatnot, and AI and machine learning, without being aware of it in the Instagram world, and then said, you know, I think I want to know more about how this is done and I want to be more involved in the process, and I think I would really enjoy that and that would be a new opportunity for us to have, rather than always starting with people that are at the very beginning of the journey and Doing everything that we can to kind of soften that slope and make it more enjoyable more immediately, to now actually work back from the outcome and say, okay, well, you, you created something that is uniquely yours in partnership with generative AI.

Now, let's, you know, let's invite you to actually become more part of that process and and and enjoy what it actually means to be Right involved in that Performance and the creation of all of that, all of that music that you, you took the shortcut to in the first.

Power of Vinyl, Hands-on Experience

0:15:50 - Dmitri

So you're really saying it's like a gateway for people who may not. They may not have. I mean, as a as a Very amateur musician who's been playing music for decades myself, it can be very frustrating to start a new instrument and not feel like you can get anything that sounds like what you heard on On the radio or on Spotify or YouTube or whatever, and so you want that, you want that satisfaction having something done. But then, once you've done it and you say, oh, I do have a musical ability or I am creative, or something You're saying that could just be the beginning. You might actually want to touch it.

I have a 14 year old who's doing black and white photography in a dark room, printing. You know, oh and and, and. They love the ability to touch things and they love the science and they love feeling like there's that more direct impact. So I totally, I can totally relate to what you're saying, with your kids as well. And it's interesting from your perspective, somebody that's deeply involved in the musical instrument world, to see that AI could do the same for that. And in fact it reminds me of this, this return to vinyl from a consumer experience, from the listener experience. People want to touch it, they want to smell it, they want to pick it up, they want to show it to somebody and they want to have the little scratchy sound and they want to have a collection that they identify with. There's just so much about that experience that's just different than Streaming, so it's interesting to hear you saying that about the musical instrument world too.

0:17:17 - Paul

Well, that's a great example that you use. And just a little vignette from my own life. One of my Instagram daughters, who she's now branded as I don't know that she'll appreciate that. One of my Instagram daughters who's she's a bit of a kind of a person out of time. She's an ageless kid, she just likes Elvis Presley and, but she also loves Instagram and connectivity through mobile devices.

Anyway, during the pandemic Christmas, she wanted to get a little turntable, one of these little integrated little portable turntables, and I'll be the first to say that I was really trying to convince her out of it. I just kept saying to my wife, “She just doesn't understand how inconvenient this is, what this is going to be.” You know, in the world she's grown up really only knowing streaming for the most part. She didn't even live with compact discs and so just, it's going to be such a, I think, a letdown for her to realize just how impractical listening on vinyl is. But I did eventually give in and Christmas morning we're in our home and I helped her to set up this little turntable.

And then she brought out—we'd moved from Canada six or seven years ago, this bin of vinyls that continued to follow me. I just couldn't let it go. So she brought out this record and I remember the record. It was John Williams soundtrack to the first Superman movie, which I'll love forever. And she says, dad, can we listen to this? And I said, okay, I don't know what kind of shape the vinyl’s in. And we put it on. And as soon as I picked up the tone arm and started to lower it, before I even heard a note, I started to cry. And then, when I put the vinyl on, I just I'm getting emotional now just thinking about it. It was such a powerful moment of reconnection.

0:19:09 - Dmitri

To what weird.

0:19:10 - Paul

It's a weird mid-based music listening and actually just engaging and bringing that music to life in such a simple way. But how profoundly powerful that was and and so now get back to back to subject your first question. You know we had me talking about how people are more focused on experience and then, you know, later we started talking about now We've got a chance to skip ahead to the outcome. That's where we see this kind of nexus of opportunity is okay. Well on in this part of your life you're all about experience and doing things and hands-on and kind of celebrating being free from Pandemic and over here. You know you've got this newfound fascination with music making and so how can we bring these two together and inspire you to kind of explore the process of it a little bit more?

0:19:55 - Dmitri

Wow, well, we've got to take a quick break, but when we come back I want to dig in a little bit deeper. You talked about being connected to your user customer base and Internally, so you have to think about these things. I'd love to talk a little bit more. We'll be right back.

Future Music Making With Roland

Okay, we're back and, Paul, I had so much fun right before the break. What great stories you were sharing about your experience with your own kids and vinyl and so forth, and also the parallel world of how that, how the, the digitization of everything may eventually lead people back to using musical instruments. Now you're at this interesting crossroads with Roland, with a musical instrument company. As a company, how do you guys think about the fact that people can go into some web-based or app-based thing and put in prompts and At least think that they're making some songs, some rudimentary songs or melodies or things like that? How? How do you guys integrate what that's going to look like in the future in what Roland becomes as an instrument company?

0:21:58 - Paul

Well, yeah, and that's the 64 billion dollar question, isn't it? It's you know what it, what is the convergence of these two and these, these two Realms, and what are the opportunities they present? And I think you know, first of all, from the perspective of Roland, we've been very non-discriminatory with what we label as music making and music creativity, and so you know, first, I think you know the it's incumbent upon us to recognize that, whether you're making music by Plugging physical instruments to some recording apparatus and doing multi-track recordings and then going into a production, post-production and mixing and mastering process, before you know what you've created reaches anybody, or you're on your mobile device, tapping away at an app and and Interacting with prompts to create something, they're they're both legitimate, they're both creating something that didn't exist before, the, the pathways To the, the outcome, are very, very different, but I think we have to celebrate that and recognize that and then put the hand out and say you know how about? Would you be interested in taking another step on that path? You know, that must have been so enjoyable, and now you like an Instagram photo. There's something that exists in the world that didn't exist before. You took those steps, and there really can be so much joy that comes from becoming more physically engaged In that process and and and and history shows how important music and music making and music celebration is to, to, to music and culture, or, sorry, to culture, and, just yeah, the environment that we live in. And so, you know, take that step with us. But then we have to think about what that bridge looks like, practically speaking. We have to think about what that bridge looks like and I think, just take a step back. I think you know whether you're Roland or whether you're another manufacturer, whether you make software or whatever, and you want to invite people into music making.

We all have to recognize that there are common pain points that we face. They're all perception. It's the perception of music making by those that aren't involved in music making. And and to the, the uninitiated, music making, first of all, is seen as something that requires a special gift. You either have the talent, you have the gift, or you don't.

And and we've all been in those conversations that maybe we've been initiating conversation where we're saying, oh, don't ask me to sing, I'm not a singer, I could never sing, I don't, I don't, that's not my thing, I'll be over here, you know, playing golf. I'm not. I'm not a singer, but that's, that's a, that's a very real pain point. Music making is seen as something that demands a lot of time, right, the 10,000 hours of mastery and whether we're thinking about it exactly in those terms Doesn't matter. It's you know. I think we've all grown up with that innate knowledge that music is just one of those things that we're going to suck at for a long time Music making before we get to a point where we're proud of anything that we're doing, let alone ready to share that with with somebody else, not to mention mastering cable management.

0:25:16 - Dmitri

Oh, cable man back.

0:25:18 - Paul

Absolutely back to the cable management Thank you for that connection Connection but it's also seen as being somewhat of a luxury that the music making, to those that are outside of the music making experiences the scene is being a relatively expensive pastime because there's investments in the instruments and and the accessories for instruments, there's investments in lessons, you know, which are seen as, as you know, in many cases to be expensive and and and so that's that's another pain point.

And then finally, for companies like Roland, where our focus is music technology, I think to those that are sitting outside looking in on music technology, music technology is seen as somewhat confounding, really sophisticated, you know, I can. I can barely get joy out of my mobile phone on a daily basis. Don't ask me to operate a synthesizer or an electronic drum kit. And the reason why I kind of lay all those out and just have those be commonly understood is that when we look to disruptive technologies, foundational technologies like generative AI, there's a possibility that generative AI can actually be applied to each one of the. We've already talked about how it can be applied to the perception that you have to be bad before you can be, you can be good. But looking at each one of those pain points. I think it may have a role to play in being a bit more of an enabler in our space.

0:26:46 - Dmitri

Nice. So, as that happens, as technology, new technologies emerge and new creators emerge, I'm curious are you seeing any new styles or new scenes or new genres or even sounds that are emerging as we see this evolution of technology? I mean, I know it's happening, but I'm curious from your seat, are there any that stand out that you sort of see as, oh, that's happening because of this shift that happened in the industry? You know, I can't wait to see what happens with MIDI 2.0. You know, but I'm curious, is there anything that comes to mind for you along those lines?

0:27:22 - Paul

Well it's. It really is a wonderful question and it actually speaks very close to the heart of our brand, because Roland's been in the good fortune of being one of those cultural drivers and contributors over over the 5051 years of our history. And I think about, like the TR-Rate 08 rhythm composer, that certainly wasn't designed to inspire the genres of hip hop and influence R&B and and electronica as it has. But if you look at the course of history and you look at the number of songs that have been written that quote the 808 in the lyrics and cite its influence and its value to music making, you know there's an example of an instrument profoundly influencing music and music genres and subgenres the TB-303 bass line acid, acid, house and all of the sub genres that spawn off of that, you know came largely as a result of this, this little tiny, pocket sized synthesizer that was actually designed to replace a bass player for little performing solo and duo wax and holiday ends around the world.

0:28:36 - Dmitri


0:28:37 - Paul

And suddenly Richie Houghton and others get ahold of it and we have new music styles emerging, and and so, you know, I appreciate the fact that you recognize that connection between the technology and music. I mean we can go back to the, to the, to the classical era and the great composers, and how musical instrument designers and builders were trying to keep up with the vision of the great composers, as they wanted pianos that played below an 88 note scale for Wagner and other other composers like that, and they had new yeah, new sounds in their head that they needed instruments to to inspire. And then you had the reverse happening once these instruments existed, they started to inspire new works, and that's that symbiotic relationship. So I, you know, I'm a fan of so much music. I wouldn't want to kind of narrow in on, you know, one specific genre. You know what I, what I do think that we see is acoustic sounds becoming more integrated with, you know, clearly, electronic sounds, and they're becoming something new in between, and whether that's in soundtrack music or hip hop and R&B, I think that's important, but one that I'm one trend that I'm kind of on the sidelines, you know, wanting to see how this might blossom though, is with music making through the technology becoming more accessible to more people around the world, including people living in developing countries. I think we're already seeing this. I don't think I'm being prophetic with this, but I'd love, I want to.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this expands, but how regional folk music starts to become much more present in global pop music, because now people living in these regions that are intimately familiar with their local folk music have a path to having kind of new music heard on a global scale, and whether that's because they've got an app on their mobile phone, like Roland's Zenbeats app, that they can now make music on a mobile device that blends their folk music with electronics and hip hop and R&B and techno and whatnot and then becomes something new.

Or whether it just gives them the ability to record and then share something very local and very quaint and very folky with a much larger audience. I'm really looking forward to that. I think about artists that have been pioneers in this. I think about Peter Gabriel, an act that I've loved for years as deep forest out of Belgium, who did just that. They went. You know, every album reflects a new local folk culture that's kind of brought to life in a modern electronic realm. So that's one of the things, personally, that I'm really looking forward to.

0:31:35 - Dmitri

Nice. Yeah, yeah, it's funny as you're talking.

I know this doesn't make sense, but this is Music Tectonics.

We talk about creativity and innovation and tech and the business side of it as well, but it brings to mind this. One of my favorite business books is Good to Great by Jim Collins, which talks about what makes companies great over a long period we're talking hundreds of years instead of you know a handful of years and he talks about technology as an accelerator.

And it's so interesting thinking about your application of what will technology do for local folk music forms. And in a way, technology in this context is not just an accelerator but it's a bridge. Even the genres that you mentioned, the hip hop and electronic music in a way, that's a bridge from one part of the world to another part of world and these folk melodies can ride the technology and those electronic genres into other parts of the world, which will be super interesting to see. And you know it's part of this long, long, centuries long process of the shrinking of the planet too, which is, I think, another great source of innovation. You know, it's not just the technology but it's the combination of different sets of cultural values, musical values, musical aesthetics and so forth, so I love that you brought that into the mix.

Mr. K's Journey and Roland's Origins

0:32:46 - Paul

Well, and you mentioned Good to Great, I should, I should mention and up to you as to whether this is something we explore in this context, but there is a really interesting, very meaningful connection between Jim Collins and Good to Great and Roland. Oh, really, I'd love to share with you..

0:33:01 - Dmitri

I want to hear it! What is it?

0:33:03 - Paul

All right.

All right. So Roland was founded by Ikutaro Kakehashi in 1972. And prior to founding Roland, Mr. K established a company called Ace Tone which created the Rhythm Ace drum machine and some other really interesting products. Before that Mr. K started Hammond organ in Japan Wow. But then before that, he was working. He had—a I'll skip a couple of parts, but let's say he was working. He owned an appliance and watch repair shop in Osaka.

And Mr. K in post war Japan he got really ill and he actually spent three years in a hospital in Japan. He had a problem with his lungs and during that time in the hospital, he taught himself things like how to build a television. And he built a television when there were only a few in Japan. NHK was the national broadcaster, and he would have the staff from the hospital kind of gather around his bed for the evening broadcast of the NHK news on this kind of home built television but kind of running parallel to that in America. And this was the story that Jim told in the Good to Great series. He used Merck, the pharmaceutical company, as one of his 10 X companies and Merck had reached a point. And this would have been, I guess in the 50s, where they had actually developed a medication that could cure an illness on a global scale, but they failed to commercialize it.

They were at this point of decision, and I guess these pharmaceutical companies would have to make decisions around the IP where they would either shelve it and hope that conditions would change in the future and they would bring this thing back to life and try and commercialize it they would sell it off at a loss to another company and just cut their losses or, in Merck's case, the board decided that there's a global need, and our mission as a company, our vision, is to prolong the life of human beings, the healthy, productive life of human beings.

I don't remember exactly their mission statement. so in any case, the board essentially decided to give it away and one of the first recipients of this medication was Japan. The drug was Streptomycin, the cure for tuberculosis. Mr. K was one of the first recipients in Japan.


Holy Cow!


He was out of the hospital about 30 days later after starting his treatment on this drug from Merck. So good to great if Merck hadn't made that decision to stay true to their vision and purpose, there’s a really good chance that Roland wouldn't even exist today. So I had the chance to tell that story back to Jim Collins’ team, and he was just blown away by it.

0:36:09 - Dmitri

Oh, that's awesome. More convergences. Well, that's great.

You know we're going to take another quick break and when we come back, we heard a little bit about Roland's origins, and I'd like to hear a little bit about yours, Paul. We'll be right back.

Okay, we're back and this has been such a fun conversation, going on down all sorts of side turns, and I'm really loving it. But, Paul, we haven't asked you how did you get into the industry?

From the Band Room to Global Marketing to Customer Experience

0:37:38 - Paul

So I think, perhaps like many—not all, but many—I was a musician in school. I played trumpet, I want to say about 1977, ‘78. I discovered this, this kind of a storage room in the music department, where we used to put the band's chairs. We'd have to stack them in this room when the choirs came in, but there was always this shelf that had stuff kind of covered up under this tarp. And so one day I decided to. . .


Don't lift the tarp!


I lifted the tarp! I did, I lifted the tarp and such began my journey. So under the tarp was a TEAC 3440 open reel four-track recorder and a Roland complete System 100 synthesizer. So it had the base unit, the expander, the sequencer, the analog sequencer, the mixer, with the reverb on it. It was all there and nobody was using it.

I had really kind of gotten into bands like Devo, Kraftwerk, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, early Depeche Mode, Blancmange, Thomas Dolby, bands like this. I was starting to listen and I thought, wow, I plugged it in and nobody was there to teach me. I started to figure out how to use this. So a Roland synthesizer was kind of my first step in, and from there I made the decision that I wanted to be a rock star and I wanted to be Jeff Downs from Asia, or Rick Wakeman from Yes, or Tony Banks from Genesis. And so I went to music college, studied a combination of performance, arranging and orchestration. I had to leave before graduation because I needed to get out into the work world and I had an opportunity to get a part time job. It was in the stock market. No disrespect to anybody working in the fields of finance and investments, but it was not for me, definitely not for me.

I was playing in an original band at the time and we were rehearsing in downtown Vancouver, where I grew up in British Columbia, and I would wait at a local music store in downtown Vancouver for other members of the band to get off of work, and then we would go and rehearse. And this was four nights a week. And one day I was in the music store and one of the staff came up and said “You're here all the time, man. You know more about this gear than we do. Why don't you just work here? I'm leaving, why don't you work here? I'll put in a good word.” It never occurred to me and I thought about it for about an hour and I came back, and said “How do I do this?” And long story short, I was hired to work in a music store.

I spent about seven years working in two great music stores, Long & McQuade and Tom Lee Music in Vancouver. But I always had Roland on my heart and was given an opportunity to come and work as a product specialist for Roland in Canada, and this would have been 1992. And so once I was in Roland, I knew I'd found my, I'd found my career and I said, “I just want to keep learning, I'll say yes to any opportunity I'm given, even if I don't know how to do it. I'll just trust that I can figure it out.” And I went from being a product specialist, I moved into marketing and product management. Somehow, I was given the opportunity to be the chief operating officer of the company, and then I spent almost 10 years as the president and CEO of our Canadian company, which was amazing, and I learned a lot.

I went through the Lehman Brothers crisis. My first day on the job was January 1st of 2009, right in the wake of the Lehman Brothers crisis. So I had to suddenly learn how to do things like protect balance sheets and liquidate inventory and, you know, manage expenses.


Not what you were thinking about when you were waiting for your band members to rehearse!


No, it’s one of those twisty-turny journeys that you couldn't have pre-articulated. From there, Roland was a publicly traded company. We were taken private in about 2013. And then part of the goal of taking the company private was to bring a larger sense and a presence of globalization into the organization. And so, looking at my background in product and customer and storytelling and technology, I was asked to come and be a part of building the company's first global marketing organization, and that brought me to Los Angeles. And then I was asked to kind of parlay that experience into building a customer experience and a user experience organization. And here I am today.

0:42:31 - Dmitri

Nice, Wow. Well, it's so interesting when you look back to see the thread is so present the whole time. You didn't know it in the early days, but it started to emerge and it's super cool to see. Well, we only have a couple minutes left and maybe we should just ask a little bit about this marketing side, this community building side. What are the best ways to market new instruments today, and how do you build community with Roland customers? Just to give us a little bit of that tactical industry side before we close out for the day.

0:43:02 - Paul

Sure, well, you know, I'll start with community, because that's obviously near and dear to the work that we do and customer experience. I think that one of the things that we've recognized is that, of course, community takes many different shapes and forms, but from our perspective, one of the important distinctions is communities that we own versus communities that we participate in. And you know, if I were to choose to lean into one over the other, I would be leaning into the communities that we participate in as a responsible, contributing citizen of that community, where those communities have formed around shared interests, and whether those are shared interest around an instrument or music style or a location or some interesting combination of all of these things and more, I think. Roland, finding pathways into these communities, building trust and contributing as a valuable member with a unique perspective, is a real, sincere connection and a very authentic connection with fans of our brand and people that maybe aren't even really aware of our brand. That is uniquely powerful. It's not to say that there isn't place for own communities, because I think that there are, but I think that increasingly, owned communities probably are more valuable around very, very, very definable problems to solve, and you know, for example, I think about communities that can form around a single post in a forum where people are discussing the best way to do something or to solve something, and that's community as well, and I think you know brands hosting that kind of conversation and facilitating that kind of conversation. There's definitely a place for that as well.

In terms of marketing, where to start on that one? Just real quickly, if you're connected with your customers, if you're connected with fans of your brand sincerely and authentically and they know it that it's sincere and authentic and the solutions, the products, the services, the applications that you're bringing to life are either a direct outcome from recognizing an opportunity or a problem to solve in the communities that you're in with these fans, or they're inspired by things that you've heard and now you can innovate. When that is your path to market, marketing becomes largely inconsequential. It's really more about building awareness that this thing now exists, that you've recognized there's a need for or an opportunity for in creative communities, and now it's really about building awareness as opposed to persuading people that they should try this thing. It sounded really grand when I said it!

0:46:03 - Dmitri

Well, you know, it ties in well with your career trajectory too, having been in marketing and now in this customer experience piece, and going from one country to national to global. All shows the same sort of virtuous cycle, like if you build stuff that your community wants, or that you think they'll respond well to, you just have to communicate to it. So that becomes the marketing. And I think what you're saying is, it's really more of an ongoing conversation. Somehow product development has to fit into that conversation as well.

0:46:44 - Paul

For sure, and I certainly wouldn't want to suggest that we've arrived anywhere on that. We see that entire journey as very much a continuum, and we're committed to improvements. We will make mistakes from time to time, but we'll always try and fall forward from those. But yeah, it's very much a continuum of building relationships with the community and then serving them in the ways that we uniquely can as Roland.

0:47:06 - Dmitri

Amazing. This has been Dmitri Vietze with Paul McCabe, the VP of Global Customer Experience at Roland Corporation. Oh, Paul, this has been such a great conversation. Thanks so much for joining me on Music Tectonics.

0:47:18 - Paul

Thank you, I've really enjoyed it.

Music Tectonics at NAMM 2023

Let us know what you think! Tweet @MusicTectonics, find us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, or connect with podcast host Dmitri Vietze on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

The Music Tectonics podcast goes beneath the surface of the music industry to explore how technology is changing the way business gets done. Weekly episodes include interviews with music tech movers & shakers, deep dives into seismic shifts, and more.


bottom of page