Music startup Roli adds Pharrell Williams as Chief Creative Officer

Music startup Roli adds Pharrell Williams as Chief Creative Officer

October 26, 2017   03:06 pm

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If you were trying to recruit a celebrity to give your ambitious young music tech company a higher profile, it is hard to imagine a much better choice than Pharrell Williams, best known for his hit song Happy. 

So all credit to Roland Lamb - founder of Roli - for his coup in persuading the artist to appear with him on stage last night at the Hackney Empire and riff for 40 minutes about creativity.

I first came across Roli four years ago under a railway arch in east London, where a small team was working away on an innovative new musical instrument called the Seaboard, a sort of spongy-keyed piano.

Although it cost about £8,000, the Seaboard was a success, with endorsements from the likes of the great Stevie Wonder helping the marketing.

Since then, Roli has expanded into much more affordable music technology products such as Blocks, a modular system that combines a physical interface with an app to encourage you to get creative.

Roli has expanded over the years into the neighbouring railway arches, as well as offices in Los Angeles and New York, and now it has a new chief creative officer.

Yes, that was the point of last night’s event - to break the news that Pharrell Williams is on the team.

The new hire has even invested in the company, though Roli said one report describing him as “co-owner” was wide of the mark.

Now cynics will point to the rather dismal track record of celebrities getting involved in tech businesses. It was not too long after Alicia Keys was made “global creative director” of BlackBerry that it became apparent that she was tweeting from an iPhone rather than one of her temporary employer’s devices.

But Roland Lamb, a cerebral figure with a Harvard degree in classical Chinese, told me this would be different, with Pharrell having a real influence on the company’s development. He said he’d met the star after “reaching out” to him during a trip to Los Angeles.

“When we met it felt like we were on the same page,” he says, explaining that they had a common interest in making music more accessible, particularly to children.

And, indeed, on stage Pharrell talked eloquently about the waste of talent for many from a background similar to his, who had not been given the same opportunities.

Roland Lamb says his new chief creative officer is already coming up with ideas for new products. So let’s hope that this is one celebrity endorser with sticking power - though I’m a bit disappointed that Pharrell left the stage without even caressing the keys of the Seaboard sitting there awaiting his attention.

- BBC Tech 

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