We spoke to the team behind CMPSR, the gaming-style music-making instrument that puts the play back into playing.
You’ll have likely heard of conversations around gender equality in the music industry – the lack of female and non-binary artists on festival lineups is an annual talking point. A less-frequently discussed topic, though, is accessibility. This could mean many things, from physical access to live music to accessible ways to create music. It’s the latter we’re focusing on here, as we meet Simon Tew and Owain Wilson of Digit Music – a music technology company that has released the game-changing CMPSR (pronounced Composer) tool. It’s a MIDI controller manipulated entirely by a joystick, therefore increasing the accessibility of the music production process. And it is compatible with desktop audio software like Logic and ProTools.
“Digit Music is focused on making music more accessible and easier for everyone,” explains Si. He and Owain are both from composition and production backgrounds, often working with artists on major labels like Sony BMG.
“We have three main ways of achieving our goal,” Si continues. “First, we [Digit] create and sell sounds on global marketplaces. Second, we design instruments like CMPSR, which simplifies playing a full piano or keyboard into a device that can be played with just one finger. All the musicality is controlled using a joystick.
“Finally, we have a creative learning arm where we provide learning experiences for people of all levels, from beginners to advanced learners, in various settings such as schools and universities.”
It’s points two and three that caught our eyes at Creative United.
“I was invited to be part of the Accessible Instruments Challenge run by Creative United in 2020,” says OwainSi. It was looking at accessibility across the entire music industry, including the provision and design of accessible instruments. We also wanted to think about how to make retailers in the music space more accessible too.”
The CMPSR is, as Si and Owain put it, “inclusive by design”, rather than an instrument designed solely for disabled creators. Unfortunately, they explain, they have faced reticence from some retailers on product accessibility as a selling point, not always due to prejudice, but a lack of knowledge about how to confidently serve disabled customers.
“We position CMPSR as a professional music tool, rather than solely focusing on its accessibility features. This helps retailers see it as a product that can expand their customer base and increase sales,” Si explains. In terms of improving accessibility standards across the music sector, Digit’s founders see the opportunity to work in partnership with organisations like Creative United to provide retailers with products that are accessible by design as well as practical training and support for their staff in responding to the needs of disabled customers.
In partnership, Digit and Creative United aim to introduce retailers to the benefits of offering inclusive and accessible products. “We realised that our product could serve as a starting point for this conversation with retailers,” says Owain. “By showcasing an accessible product, we could encourage retailers to think about how they can make their stores more inclusive and welcoming for all customers, regardless of their abilities.” Both also stress that Digit itself is a disability-confident employer, and boasts Christopher Patnoe, Google’s EMEA Head of Accessibility, on its board.
Digit’s collaboration with Creative United also connects to our Take it away scheme, which offers customers the opportunity to spread the upfront cost of buying musical instruments with the benefit of an interest free loan. Creative United is particularly keen to ensure the scheme is there to support disabled musicians who often face additional costs when sourcing and buying products that meet their needs.
Performance-wise, CMPSR has been well-received – Computer Music awarded it 9/10 in a review and MusicRadar saw fit to give 4.5 out of 5 stars. “We have started working with a few retailers too, such as Westend DJ and Gear4Music,” says Owain. “I’m out constantly trying to get it into stores – it’s like dating!
“It takes time to establish partnerships and gain their trust, especially since we’re a new brand in the market. Retailers know what a MIDI keyboard is and what a joystick is, and we’re presenting them with a hybrid of both. But they want to see proof of demand before stocking our products, so we’re building a community of users which is growing.”
“Ultimately, our goal is to create a welcoming and equitable landscape for anyone interested in music,” continues Owain. We want young people to feel comfortable walking into a music store, knowing they will be welcomed and find relevant products that they can use. Our own aims are very aligned with Creative United’s vision of a future where accessibility is the norm and inclusive products are standard, but we know there’s still work to be done to get there.”