How has the evolution of music production technology influenced creativity?


How has the evolution of music production technology influenced creativity?


An interview with Joe Sparacio, Global Web Manager at Roland Corporation.

Joe Foxton from our team has interviewed Joe Sparacio from Roland Corporation to help us answer this question.

Joe Sparacio, Global Web Manager at Roland Corporation.

Joe Sparacio, Global Web Manager at Roland Corporation.

Tell us about yourself. Where were you born? Where do you live? Who lives with you?

I was born in 1973 in Norwalk, Connecticut, but moved to California in 1974 when I was just 18 months old, so I consider myself a native ;) I currently live in Orange Country, CA, with my wife of 23 years and two children, 16 and 18 years old.

What’s your background in music?

I started playing the piano at the age of six. By middle school, I was so sick of piano lessons, I wanted nothing to do with music. I took a two-year hiatus, then discovered guitar my freshman year of high school. I played guitar in a couple of high school bands, jamming at school events, talent shows, and local parties — nothing serious, just garage bands. By my junior year, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in music, and I started looking into getting a music degree.

My grades in high school weren’t that great, so I ended up going to Saddleback Community College for a couple of years, where I earned an AA in Music. During this time my younger brother played the drums, so I started practicing a lot on his kit. I formed a cover band with a couple of other guitar-playing friends (I played the drums), and we started gigging at local bars and clubs. Again, nothing serious, just for fun and free beer.

I worked my butt off and got straight As and Dean’s List at Saddleback and was accepted into the music program at UC Berkeley. Moving to the Bay Area was one of the most important and profound moves of my life, exposing me (and my future wife) to super-diverse music, food, art, and culture that you simply don’t find in Orange County. It was life-changing, to say the least.

Studer 2" 24-track

Studer 2" 24-track.

During my time at Cal, I worked at a local music shop called Studio Resource Center. I taught guitar, bass, and drums, and also interned in the in-house recording studio. My boss Frank had a cutting-edge analogue/digital hybrid studio, so I learned how to work a Studer 2” 24-track at the same time I was learning an early version of Pro Tools. He also had a love for old analogue synths, and he owned several vintage Roland JUNOs and JUPITERs. I remember he would back up and recover JUNO-106 patches via cassette tape!

The legendary Roland Juno 106 and Jupiter 8
legendary Roland Juno 106 and Jupiter 8

The legendary Roland Juno 106 and Jupiter 8.

The Juno 106 patch backup tape

The Juno 106 patch backup tape.

I received a BA in Music Composition from UC Berkeley in 1995 and moved back to Long Beach, CA, where my then fiancé was finishing her degree in Social Work at CSULB. My goal was to find something in commercial music: scoring movies, video games, writing jingles, etc. I started taking extension courses at UCLA, but quickly realized I knew more than most of the extension professors and breaking into the industry was just about as hard as becoming a rock star. To pay the bills, I ended up getting a job at Guitar Center South Bay selling pro audio and recording equipment. During my time with GC, I worked at three different locations, including Fountain Valley, and eventually the flagship Hollywood store as sales manager.

How did you get involved in Roland?

While working at Guitar Center Fountain Valley, I met Brian Hooper, my Roland rep. He was the best of the best, always stopping by the store to make sure my crew were trained, the gear was hooked up and demo-ready, and even help customers. It was the late ’90s, and Roland had just released its VS (Virtual Studio) line of portable, all-in-one digital recording systems. I quickly became an expert (certified by Roland in 1997) and sold a bunch of VS-880 and VS-1680 units over the following years. One day I got a call from Brian, and he told me about an opening for a hard disk recording product specialist. I jumped at the opportunity to get the hell out of retail and work for one of the most innovative music technology companies in the world. I got hired on May 8, 2000, and I’ve worked for Roland ever since.

The Roland Virtual Studio 880

The Roland Virtual Studio 880.

How did that evolve into running the Web department?

During my days as a product specialist, we formed a regional training team and would go around to all the local music stores to train the crew and help merchandise. The team had a direct impact on sales in the region, so we expanded to the Greater Los Angeles area, but we were still only reaching a fraction of our dealers. We assembled a similar team on the East Coast, but reach was still an issue.

Macromedia Director 4.0

Macromedia Director 4.0.

This was the early 2000s, and the internet was becoming more ubiquitous. New software such as Macromedia’s Director and Authorware made it easy to assemble online learning material. We pivoted and started focusing on expanding our training reach via online courses. Roland University and BOSS FastTrack were born, and we started a new “media development” department within Roland. Soon, Macromedia Flash took over as the go-to tool to create rich, interactive web experiences, and I started to learn ActionScript, Flash’s ECMAScript-based language. I was certified as a Flash MX developer in 2004 and again by Adobe (who acquired Macromedia) in 2008.

We started producing so much web content, including training material, videos, interactive demos, Knowledge Base articles, etc., that we were merged into the marketing department and started to expand our web-based responsibilities. I went from lead interactive developer to online marketing manager and webmaster, managing local Roland U.S. web properties and internal systems. We started doing way more dev work, including building a custom web CMS, an internal call centre app, and an embeddable media player that dealers could use to stream our videos and audio demos on their own websites. And this was before YouTube was even a thing!

Roland U.S. began to set the bar and define the possibilities for internal web design and development. We still worked with outside agencies on larger projects, but day-to-day content production and web development were primarily internal. I soon started working with other international colleagues on large-scale web projects, site redesigns, and globalization efforts. I had the honour of visiting Japan (Hamamatsu and Tokyo offices) in 2011, 2014, and 2015 for global web planning meetings.

First Roland Tokyo Office

First Roland Tokyo Office.

In 2014, when Roland delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange via MBO, things started changing very rapidly. Roland’s founder, Ikutaro Kakehashi, had recently left the company, and a new management team was in place. We started to use the term “One Roland” to describe our efforts to consolidate systems/resources and achieve brand consistency across all regions and business units. The web was one of the first departments to feel the impact of this globalization.

From 2015 to 2018 we made huge leaps forward, including:

  • Working with the GROUND agency in Japan on a global rebrand and website redesign

  • Moving to a single domain, consolidating over 30 separate Roland websites to

  • Migrating dozens of disconnected CMS systems to one global instance of Kentico CMS

  • Localizing all web content in 18+ languages

  • Forming a global marketing division

What has been your most exciting moment at Roland?

There have been many, but if I had to pick one moment, it has to be when we went live with the 2015 redesign. We had been working on the redesign for over eight months and decided to coordinate the launch with the first day of the 2015 NAMM Show (National Association of Music Merchants), an international music products trade show in Anaheim, CA. After pulling an all-nighter to make sure everything was deployed on time, I remember walking into our tradeshow booth to thunderous applause and high-fives from the entire team. It was an amazing moment.

NAMM Show 2015

NAMM Show 2015.

What have been some of the biggest challenges with your work at Roland?

Keeping everyone connected. I manage a distributed team across two countries and several time zones. Even before Covid, two of the developers were full-time remote, so we’ve been using Zoom, Skype, and Teams for years. But there’s no substitute for true face-to-face interaction. In the past, we’ve held “web summits” in Los Angeles or London where we would fly the whole team in and spend some quality time together, both in and out of the office. I look forward to doing that again in the near future.

What are the biggest challenges of running a global web property? How did you overcome them? Any big learnings from these challenges?

The biggest challenge for me and my team is trying to balance local business needs with global vision and strategy. It’s hard to please everyone. Managing expectations and knowing when to compromise is extremely important. At the end of the day, revenue matters, but as we’ve shifted to more of a marketing-led company, getting buy-in from all stakeholders can be challenging. Oh, and localization — I had no idea how much time, resources, and budget goes into creating a fully localized website. We now have an entire translation team!

How have the morphing music genre & production trends changed your job? Eg. Do you need to speak differently to rock people vs hip hop vs dance music people?

For sure. You can’t speak to a piano teacher the same way you’d speak to a mobile DJ, hip-hop producer, or beatmaker. As we’ve shifted from more traditional instruments like piano, organ, accordion, and drums, to more production-focused instruments and software synthesizers, we’ve had to tailor our messaging and customer experiences accordingly. For instance, we still maintain a phone support hotline for our key piano dealers since many of their clientele prefer to communicate that way, whereas the younger, more tech-savvy customers are using live chat and email support via the website.

The Roland brand is legendary. What are you (and the company) doing to make sure Roland keeps its legendary title?

We’re embracing our legacy, which is a relatively new thing for Roland. There’s an entire generation of musicians that may recognize that 808 kick sound, but probably know nothing of the company or story behind it. We have such a huge opportunity to tell the origin stories of these genre-defining instruments. In the past couple of years, we’ve created dedicated web experiences for what we call the “X0X” suite of instruments: TR-808, TR-909, TB-303, and SP-404. We celebrate the sound and culture of each through social media and live events on the corresponding calendar day (e.g., August 8 for TR-808March 3 for TB-303). They have become a kind of cultural holiday within the community. And Google loves it! These pages rank high organically and allow Roland to control the messaging.

The multi-genre-defining Roland 808 Drum Machine

The multi-genre-defining Roland 808 Drum Machine.

The Roland 303 — the source of the “acid” sound

The Roland 303 — the source of the “acid” sound.

What did your production rig look like…

College years, early-1990s:

As a graduation present from Saddleback, my dad built me a custom x486 Windows 3.1 PC. It had a whopping 4 MB of RAM (which I doubled to 8 MB for $350) and a 210 MB hard drive. I saved up for my first synth (Roland JV-30) and MIDI interface (Roland MPU-401). I also purchased an early version of Cakewalk that you had to load from floppy disk, and Band in a Box for practicing backing tracks. When I started scoring music, I added Finale to my software arsenal. That rig served me well through college.

A typical x486 Windows 3.1 PC

A typical x486 Windows 3.1 PC.

Roland MPU-401 MIDI Interface

Roland MPU-401 MIDI Interface.

The mid-1990s:

My first home studio in Long Beach was ADAT-based. The PCs of the time weren’t fast enough to do multi-track digital recording unless you spent a small fortune. I had the original Alesis ADAT and an analogue 16-channel inline mixer. I started investing in mics and preamps because that was the only way to warm up the harsh 16-bit A/D converters. I used lots of external effects, including reverb, multi-effects, compression, etc., as plug-in effects were still CPU intensive and cost-prohibitive. At that time, I still mixed everything to DAT tape but used the computer for 2-track editing and mastering. CD burners were a novelty and cost $600+ and blank CD-Rs were $10–15 each!

Alesis ADAT

Alesis ADAT.

Most of what I recorded at that time was more linear, guitar-oriented music. I often recorded live bands and mixed and mastered the performances back in the studio. I still did some MIDI sequencing, but typically only for drum parts and building loops. ReBirth, Reason, and Acid Pro were becoming popular and changing the way entry-level producers could create electronic music. I dabbled but wasn’t much of a fan.

Reason Production Software (Early Version)

Reason Production Software (Early Version).

The early 2000s

Just after starting for Roland, we had this massive employee sale. The discounts were deep, so I picked up an XV-5080 sound module and a bunch of expansion cards. I also got a VS-2480, the flagship 24-track digital recorder and mixer, that became the centrepiece of my production studio. Being surrounded by electronic musicians at Roland drastically impacted my musical tastes and production style. Having literally thousands of new sounds sparked a prolific period of writing and experimentation. From lush orchestral scores to lo-fi beats, to hard house, I was eager to explore and emulate the writing and production styles of many new genres. The XV-5080 had an “R-BUS” port, which allowed eight discrete assignable outputs to connect digitally to the mixer and computer. It was a perfect fusion of hardware and software, and I’d made the jump to an all-digital workflow.

Roland XV-5080 Sound Module

Roland XV-5080 Sound Module.

Roland VS-2480 flagship 24-track digital recorder and mixer

Roland VS-2480 flagship 24-track digital recorder and mixer.

It was also at this time I bought my first Mac, a 2001 G4 with the very first version of OSX “Cheetah” installed. Digidesign released the Digi 001 (aka poor man’s Pro Tools), an 8x8 interface that worked with Pro Tools LE, and I used that as my primary recording/sequencing software for many years. Digi 001 was a “host-based” solution which was only possible because of the faster computers of the day.

Digidesign Digi 001

Digidesign Digi 001.

Apple OSX Cheetah

Apple OSX Cheetah.


After having two kids and downsizing the studio, I’m mostly “in the box” now. I’m spoiled with a Roland Cloud Ultimate subscription that gives me access to over 50 virtual instruments and hundreds of patches, patterns, and sound expansions. I now use Ableton Live 11 with a Roland A-300PRO as a MIDI controller, and Roland MX-1 as a mixer/audio interface. The studio is literally three cables: USB from A-300PRO to Mac, USB from MX-1 to Mac, line out to studio monitors. Gone are the days of patch bays, tangled cables, and messy desks. The only piece of hardware I still use regularly is the Roland Boutique SE-02, a small analogue mono-synth collab with Studio Electronics. It’s one of the only pure analogue synths Roland has made since the ’80s!

The Roland MX-1 digital mixer and audio interface.

The Roland MX-1 digital mixer and audio interface.

What are the biggest evolutions you’ve seen in music production over the last 20 years?

The rise of expressive virtual instruments and plugin effects, combined with powerful yet affordable computers and new tactile input devices/controllers, has made the biggest impact on music production. There were a few breakthrough products and technologies along the way that disrupted the status quo, like Elastic Audio (or REX files), AutoTune’s graphical editor, Celemony Melodyne’s MIDI-like audio manipulation, Serato’s Digital Vinyl System, and uber-realistic hardware effects emulations, to name a few. But each of those advancements has done two things: put more power into the hands of more producers and sparked a new wave of creativity.

The notorious and powerful AutoTune graphical editor

The notorious and powerful AutoTune graphical editor.

Has the democratization of music production tech made music better, or worse? How?

Heh, I wonder how Billy Eilish would answer that question. She produced a GRAMMY Award-winning album in her bedroom! In all seriousness, I think it’s a double-edged sword. I’m all in favour of making technology accessible to the masses, but I’ve also noticed a decline in production quality across some genres. I think it’s more noticeable in more jam-centric music like rock and jazz where you need the big studio dynamic to capture the live, real-time interactions and synergy between multiple musicians. That doesn’t happen in a bedroom. But for me, and the thousands of other amateurs/semi-pro producers out there, it’s made music better, simply by allowing more ideas to come to fruition.

A closely related, and perhaps more significant topic, is the democratization of music distribution. Unlike physical media, digital downloads, and now streaming services have enabled musicians and producers everywhere to publish their own catalogues and bypass the traditional “record deal” paradigm. My son even has a couple of piano tracks on Apple Music and Spotify.

What do you think about the analogue gear trend? Does analogue music sound better?

Analogue warmth is a glorious thing. Whether it comes from tape saturation, an overdriven vacuum tube, or vintage analogue components, very few will argue that analogue just sounds better. Analog gear, on the other hand, is a different beast. So many gear junkies lust for analogue synths and drum machines without realizing the quirks and idiosyncrasies of true analogue instruments. Because the components were not manufactured to exacting standards and were often sourced from different suppliers, it wasn’t uncommon to have two of the same synth or drum machine sound dramatically different. Heat, humidity, phase of the moon (kidding) all made these instruments very temperamental. But it’s this very thing that also makes them so sought after, even today.

Back to the question of the analogue gear trend — I don’t think it’s necessarily a trend, but we have seen a recent spattering of analogue offerings from the likes of Korg, Arturia, Elektron, and Behringer. But predating this trend, Moog, Novation, Dave Smith, and Sequential (among others) have been producing analogue instruments consistently for many years/decades. It’s just a very niche market.

Roland has taken a different approach to analogue with its ACB (Analog Circuit Behavior) technology found in the AIRA line, Boutique modules, and Legendary software synths. Rather than try and source old, expensive, hard-to-find analogue components, the engineers at Roland decided to model them, down to the transistor and diode level, to recreate the analogue sound without the fuss or price tag. That’s not to say we don’t make analogue gear. The SE-02 Boutique and entire SYSTEM-500 line is pure analogue, and the JD-XA and JD-Xi synths both have analogue voices.

The Roland Boutique range of compact synths and drum machines.

The Roland Boutique range of compact synths and drum machines.

What trends do you see in music production/gear in the immediate future, say the next 1–3 years?

I’m seeing a lot of small, modular and very “playable” production tools making their way into portable rigs and production studios everywhere. A few years back, the Teenage Engineering OP1 turned heads with its compact and playful layout. Korg released the Volca series, and Roland released its Boutique line. And more recently, Roland reintroduced its legendary GROOVEBOX to a new generation of producers and beatmakers.

Other companies, such as Ableton, Novation, Arturia, and Native Instruments have pushed the envelope with tactile pad-based controllers. It’s rare I walk into a modern production studio without seeing a Push or Launchpad on the desk next to the MIDI controller keyboard.

I think this trend of small, affordable, specialized production tools will continue into the foreseeable future. At NAMM 2021, Roland debuted its VERSELAB MV-1, an all-in-one production tool to help you capture, refine, and finish your ideas — quickly

The Roland Verselab MV-1 complete studio-in-a-box

The Roland Verselab MV-1 complete studio-in-a-box.

What is the future of music production?

Wireless will be big. We’ve already seen MIDI evolve from using 5-pin DIN cables (traditional MIDI “cables”) to MIDI over USB, and more recently MIDI over Bluetooth and WiFi. The tech is finally catching up, and the latency times are so low they are virtually unnoticeable.

And this will lead to more connectivity. More connectivity between remote locations, as we’ve seen during the pandemic with apps like Facebook’s Collab. More connectivity between instruments, devices, and computers as the “Internet of Things” continues to evolve. And more connectivity between inspiration, idea, and final output.

Facebook Collab

I also see input devices evolving over time. Each generation of controller and sequencing engine has brought fundamental changes to production styles, influencing and even defining certain genres of music. From the step sequencers in old analogue synths and the 16-button “TR” strip for drum programming to piano roll editors and pitch/mod wheels to the Roli Seaboard and Ableton Push. As input devices evolve, so does the way we compose and perform music.

The Roli Seaboard soft, subtonal keyboard

The Roli Seaboard soft, subtonal keyboard.

The Ableton Push

The Ableton Push designed specifically for power-use of the Ableton production software.

And hybrid drumming will become mainstream. It’s rare to watch a pop/rock band and not see an OCTAPAD or SPD-SX next to the drum kit. Combining acoustic and electronic drum sounds to layer, expand, and enhance traditional sounds will continue to rise in popularity and allow drummers to play a more important role in the band.



Make a prediction… by 2030, we will see more/less…

More vocal processing and manipulation, less AutoTune. More electronic guitar (e.g., guitar synths, XY touchpads, etc.), less electric guitar. More compact hybrid drum kits, fewer monster drum racks. More power duos, fewer traditional bands. More DJs and beatmakers playing self-produced tracks, fewer traditional club DJs. More keyboardists going out into the audience (via wireless MIDI), fewer drummers stuck on risers. More music technology being taught in school, fewer traditional home piano lessons.

Thank you for reading!

This article is based on an interview with Joe Sparacio, Global Web Manager at Roland Corporation.

Interviewer: Joe Foxton
Visual curation, layout & final touches: Justyna Cyrankiewicz