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The Wonderful Music of Japan’s Roland Corporation

Modern music around the world would not be what it is today without the Japanese technology that helped to shape its unique sound. There is one manufacturer, in particular, that is highly regarded globally for having provided many of the primary tools used to create much of the sound of modern pop genres such as hip-hop, RnB, dance, and other forms of non-acoustic music. This company is known as Roland Corporation. Their products have provided music producers with the drum machines, sequencers, synthesizers, and effects that have become amazingly ubiquitous throughout modern music.

Oddly enough, just about all of Roland’s most sought after products were discontinued prior to their surge in popularity. This means that by the time they were legendary, the company was no longer manufacturing them and beginning musicians could only buy them second hand. Some of these instruments were, thankfully for those buying them, incredibly unpopular in the mainstream at a moment when they were gaining popularity in the “underground” music scenes. They relied heavily on pre-digital circuitry known as “analog” synthesis and digital was the popular new trend in the early 1980’s. As a result, the instruments could often be purchased for relatively little as they were considered dated products. Analog sound is conceptually like traditional photography, which is smoother than digital photography regardless of how high the resolution of a digital camera may be. This is wonderful for music production and analog bass synthesizers, in particular, are known for smooth ground rumbling intensity.

In recent years, analog synthesis has been highly important in modern synthesizer production, since Japanese manufacturers realized that their older analog products were more highly appreciated than their conceptually more modern digital ones. Manufacturers have also happily recycled the names of some of the most popular discontinued analog products into newer digital products, in order to better profit from their popularity. Perhaps even more amazing, an abundance of the popular modern music production software for computers has been focused on recreating classic analog Roland machines. This is modern 21st century software, usually made by third parties, which is focused on providing an emulation of Japanese synthesizers that were considered dated by many mainstream musicians by the year 1985 or so. This is truly a testament to the popularity of Japanese instrument manufacturers like Roland.

Here is an overview of a few of Roland Corporation’s now classic instruments that have been featured continuously in popular music from the 1980’s through today.

The TR-808
In 1981 the Roland Corporation introduced the now legendary TR-808, popularly known simply as the “808”. It is a drum machine that has shaped the world of rap and hip-hop rhythms since the early years. It is known for its deep and long bass kick drum, its snappy snare drum, and signature cowbell.

The TB-303
In 1983 the company released a portable bass synthesizer which was rather ironically intended to be used as a replacement bassist for a band to practice with or possibly perform with if necessary. Most of its legendary sound is nothing like a traditional bass and so it went on to become the signature “acid” sound of house, trance, and many other forms of dance music.

The TR-909
One year later, in 1984, Roland released a drum machine which would provide the beat for the majority of modern dance music. The kick drum, high hats, and clap sounds provided by the 909 are still heard in clubs and on radio stations around the world today.

While the Roland Corporation has made numerous other popular instruments, it is these 3 that are known for shaping much of the world of modern music production today.