Given that “Five Minutes With” devotes considerable page space not only to our featured interviewee’s company, but also to his or her background and career progression, we look for industry executives who’ve enjoyed a long, storied history in MI. This month, in Jay Wanamaker, President and CEO of Roland Corp. U.S., we find the ideal “Five Minutes With” candidate: someone who’s devoted his life to the music products industry, worked for a half dozen of the most respected companies in our market and gained recognition for his expertise, leadership skills and ability to inspire a team.

In our extensive interview, Wanamaker reflects on Roland’s highly successful NAMM Show in January, discusses his leadership style, reinforces the company’s commitment to brick-and-mortar dealers and offers insights into what the next several years might bring. By the end, you’ll have a hard time doubting that these are exciting times for Roland and for its dealer partners.

The Music & Sound Retailer: Let’s begin with your personal background. Trace your own history with music making, musical instruments and audio technology. Touch on what initially captured your interest. During your earliest years, what steps did you take to pursue that initial interest?

Jay Wanamaker: Drums and music have been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. My uncle gave me a drum set at a very young age, and I was mesmerized by the sound and the visual aspect of drumming. By the time I was in fourth grade, I had joined a local drum and bugle corps in Utica NY. My father took me to many concerts growing up, but Buddy Rich and the sound of the big band really blew me away. His virtuoso performance was incredible…so exciting. Watching Buddy Rich perform inspired me to take drum lessons myself, and it led me to fall in love with percussion instruments.

My love for music and the opportunity to combine it into a full-time job ultimately led me down the music academia path early in my career. Growing up, I absolutely loved marching band, and I was a total band geek. I loved playing music and I loved the concept of being a member of the team. In marching band, you had to have discipline to be any good, and it was really exciting to be a part of something bigger than myself. Producing something cool as part of a group has always been appealing to me, and the marching band was a great outlet for me as I grew up. I loved it so much that I went on to study music in college, and I have a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s degree in performance.

The Retailer: As someone who’s been associated with our industry for more than 35 years, you’ve had an incredible career and worked for some truly legendary companies. Describe your career progression, bringing us from the early years to the present day with Roland Corp.

Wanamaker: After grad school, my first job was teaching marching band and percussion at the University of Southern California, where I served on the faculty at USC’s Thornton School of Music. From there, I went on to serve as a senior executive with Alfred Publishing, Yamaha’s Band & Orchestral Division, Yamaha’s Pro Audio & Combo Division, Guitar Center, Music & Arts, Fender’s KMC Music and, finally, to Roland in 2015. My background in the MI industry is pretty diverse. I spent five years with Alfred Publishing, and I’ve personally authored more than 50 instructional percussion DVDs and books over the years. So, I understand the publishing side of MI.

After Alfred, I joined Yamaha, working in their Band & Orchestral Division—“toots and flutes”—and I was there for 10 years. It was the perfect place for a band geek like me to cut my teeth in the MI space. After that, I ran their Pro Audio & Combo Division for six years. During that time, I saw the industry change dramatically, with the advent of the big-box retailer, mail order and, eventually, e-commerce. It was the ’90s, and everything changed quickly. Sales channels were changing and growing, and I spent a lot of time working for Guitar Center, which gave me a much deeper understanding of the retail side of our industry.

I’ve noticed that a common career path within the MI space is to start in retail and, then, to move into wholesale, but it was the opposite for me. My path gave me a unique perspective because I could really empathize with the wholesaler while I was wearing my retailer hat, and I could clearly see both sides of the channel while the experience was still pretty fresh in my mind. I was then able to apply that retail and wholesale perspective for the three years I served Fender/KMC. I have a master’s of business, as well, which has proved to be invaluable—especially in an industry as dynamic as ours is. All these experiences led me to—and they’ve helped me with—my job at Roland. As a matter of fact, I just had my one-year anniversary at Roland U.S.

Roland Corp. U.S. employees gather for a group “TNT” photo with      President Jun-ichi Miki during a recent visit to the Los Angeles office.

Roland Corp. U.S. employees gather for a group “TNT” photo with President Jun-ichi Miki during a recent visit to the Los Angeles office.

The Retailer: Now, let’s turn to discussing Roland Corp. When was the company founded? Describe a bit about its history, while also discussing the company’s evolution and some of its biggest milestones over the past several decades. What have been among Roland’s most significant moments?

Wanamaker: Roland was founded in Osaka, Japan, in 1972; rhythm machines were the very first Roland-branded products. The first Roland synth debuted in 1974, followed by many “world’s first” instruments, including the world’s first electronic piano with touch-sensitive keys, the world’s first guitar synthesizer, the world’s first electronic accordion, the world’s first electronic layered cajon and more. In between these breakthroughs came many more Roland and BOSS products that have helped shape the face of music over the past four decades. Without Roland, we would not have those iconic 808 and 303 sounds, or the new AIRA line of products that pay tribute to that legacy. There would be no V-Drums or SPD-SX sampling pad: the most popular sampling pad for drummers ever made. Imagine music without the Space Echo sound or the powerful and clean Jazz Chorus JC-120 guitar amp tones: an amp that is still in production and selling strongly after more than 40 years.

The Roland V-Drums lab at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music features Roland TD-25K V-Drums kits.

The Roland V-Drums lab at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music features Roland TD-25K V-Drums kits.

Roland’s guitar synthesis products have held the support of some of the world’s greatest guitarists, such as Jimmy Page, and they’ve paved the way for innovative products like the BOSS SY-300 Guitar Synthesizer. And, in the last 12 months alone, Roland and BOSS have released milestone products like the Roland Boutique Sound Module series, which showcases Roland’s most popular synth sounds from decades past, and, most recently, the ELCajon EC-10 Electronic Layered Cajon and the new BOSS Waza Amps: BOSS’ first professional guitar amps. It’s sometimes hard to grasp just how much creative and innovative ground the roster of Roland and BOSS products—both past and present—covers.

The Retailer: You’ve achieved a great deal in your career, playing an integral role in companies like Yamaha, Guitar Center, Fender and, now, Roland. You’re someone who’s accomplished so much already. What keeps you motivated, excited and engaged today? What makes you eager to get out of bed in the morning and go to the office?

Wanamaker: I always try to set an example for my team. I like to be one of the very first people in the office each day. And, when I arrive, I’m ready to jump in and lead the troops with the ultimate goal of winning. I love being on a team, and I love winning. That’s one of the things I loved so much about marching band: that team dynamic, and being able to deliver winning performances as a group. But it really does start from the top. I remember my days at USC when Pete Carroll was the football coach and I watched him motivate the football team. He had the spirit of a young player running around on the field, and that spirit rubbed off on me. I saw how he was able to motivate the team by being positive, and how his enthusiasm was infectious. Seeing him cheer them on really grew on me, and that factors into how I manage today. I don’t lead with fear. I lead with enthusiasm.

At Roland, I’m on a team. It’s my job to lead the team and elevate each employee’s performance the best I can. We’ve all adopted my “Today Not Tomorrow,” or “TNT,” approach to getting our jobs done as a team. And, although it’s simple, it’s made a huge difference in our performance overall. I see each employee as the CEO of their area of responsibility, and I think one of the key success factors since I have been here is that each employee has taken on this mantra sincerely. Now, Roland as a team is more efficient and more effective in all areas: brand awareness, local marketing, social media, sales…you name it. We’re growing, and we’ve got a healthy outlook on what’s next for us.

The Retailer: When you look at Roland Corp. as it currently exists, what would you say you’re the proudest of? What makes the company stand apart not only from its direct competitors, but also from companies in the broader MI industry? What’s the “secret sauce” over there?

Wanamaker: I’m proudest of our people. Because the company is run mostly by musicians, we can offer unique and innovative product design, and we have a spirit that provides musicians with the solutions they need to make the music they aspire to make. Everyone from the top down is a musician or music geek on some level. Whether they currently play an instrument, played when they were younger or attend 50-plus concerts a year, our employees love music. We are our customers to the core, and we understand what they need and what unique solutions we can offer them. The combination of inspiring people and inspiring products is the secret in the sauce.

The Retailer: What was Roland’s biggest, most important news at the NAMM Show in Anaheim this past January? Was this year’s show a big one for you? What were some of your new product highlights, across the Roland and BOSS brands?

Wanamaker: Roland debuted many new products at the NAMM Show this year. Of those releases, the new premium Roland Accessories line, the Roland ELCajon EC-10 Electronic Layered Cajon and the BOSS Waza Amps were among the most popular with the press, dealers and end users who attended the show. The ELCajon is a game changer for the Roland family of products. Stevie Wonder even took it for a test drive when he visited our booth on Sunday at the show. He had a blast with it. More than 150 Roland-branded accessories were officially unveiled, including cables, bags, stands, bar stools and more. We had several VIP events in the booth on Wednesday, including the very first Roland Lifetime Achievement Awards induction. We honored Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, as well as Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, for the roles they played in helping to define that distinctive Roland and BOSS sound.

A young musician tries out the AIRA VT-3 Voice Transformer and the new AIRA M-100 headphones during the NAMM Show.

A young musician tries out the AIRA VT-3 Voice Transformer and the new AIRA M-100 headphones during the NAMM Show.

The excitement in the booth was strong all the way through Sunday. We introduced our new high-gain, high-quality, flagship BOSS Waza Amps with the support of Steve Vai. Scott Kirkland from the Crystal Method joined us in support of AIRA and the new Boutique Sound Modules, and the always-popular Michael Schack packed the booth so tight that you could barely get through the front door every time he demoed the new TD-25KV V-Drums set. The show was huge for Roland and BOSS, and it was the biggest show of my career, by far, in terms of the overall product and brand impact.

The Retailer: Tell us about Roland Corp. U.S.’s efforts to support music education and to help nurture the next generation of music makers. Is Roland deeply involved in charitable and philanthropic efforts centered on music? Describe your personal feelings about the importance of growing our industry into the next generation.

Wanamaker: I am a big believer in music education, because it’s in my roots. I was a band geek, and I’m proud of it. That experience shaped me. Anything we can do to support music education, and help grow the arts, is important. Roland supports music education in many ways. Our partnership with the Grammy Museum not only helps provide thousands of kids in Los Angeles, Nashville and Cleveland with the chance to play Roland and BOSS instruments, but also gives these kids hands-on training using some of our most popular gear. The Lang Lang Foundation is another great organization that Roland works with to create once-in-a-lifetime music-education experiences for kids. Lang Lang’s 101 Pianists Events aim to inspire these young students with unforgettable rehearsal and performance opportunities with Lang Lang himself.

USC V-Drums Lab Teaching Assistants Christopher Brawley (left) and Karl Schwonik (right) join Professor Peter Erskine in the USC V-Drums Lab.

USC V-Drums Lab Teaching Assistants Christopher Brawley (left) and Karl Schwonik (right) join Professor Peter Erskine in the USC V-Drums Lab.

Beyond those types of programs, Roland also participates at the university level with instrument labs in schools like the University of Southern California and Berklee College of Music. USC currently has progressive V-Drums labs led by drum legend Peter Erskine, the professor of percussion in their contemporary music program. And, most recently, Roland hosted students from the Crane School of Music for a “Life Lessons” seminar to give them a better understanding of the music industry. Let’s face it: Our industry needs to stay connected with education if we’re going to have customers in the future. But, on a purely fundamental level, we need to stay connected for our culture’s sake.

The Retailer: Discuss Roland’s commitment to the brick-and-mortar MI store channel. Is working collaboratively with brick-and-mortar music dealers a key part of Roland’s bedrock, fundamental approach to doing business? Expound on Roland’s dealer-focused philosophy.

Wanamaker: Roland was established and built with brick-and-mortar dealers as the foundation of our distribution. And, although we embrace new ways of doing business through the support of our Internet dealers and through the support of social media, the majority of our business continues to come from our brick-and-mortar retailers. In fact, Roland still has one of the largest field staffs of any MI manufacturer today, and we’re proud to have increased that by 20 percent just last year alone.

The Retailer: Is there anything the dealer channel could do that would be helpful to Roland as a company? Do you have any suggestions for the dealer channel that you believe would be helpful to retailers, in addition to being helpful to your company’s bottom line?

Wanamaker: The most successful dealers are the ones who stock the product. This is what I see over and over again in my travels around the U.S., as simple as it might sound. How do you sell what you don’t have? As customers continue their research online, and as we continue to improve our digital marketing content that pushes customers into stores, we want to feel confident that stores have the gear in stock that the customers want.

Retailers can also take advantage of Roland’s local marketing programs to drive sales. Our local marketing efforts supporting the retail spaces in 2015 were phenomenal, and I am extremely proud of what the team was able to accomplish. We have developed numerous high-impact assets, including high-quality, customized product marketing content for in-store display and Web sites. We continue to help retailers improve the quality of their retail space and their Web sites. The Alliance of Independent Music Merchants (AIMM) recognized BOSS and the local marketing team for those efforts with a 2015 Partnership Award for Outstanding Web Contributions.

The Retailer: What does the future hold for Roland? What can company-watchers expect over the next year…five years…10 years?

Wanamaker: We are factoring several elements into what we internally refer to as “Roland 2.0.” Technology is one, solutions are another and new markets are a third, to name a few of the key points. New technologies are going to make it easier to create and share music, and we will be part of that trend. Access to high-quality accessories is a fundamental part of making music and, although they might not be as glamorous as the instruments themselves, they are no less important to the creative process. We’ve committed to bringing our customers the best accessories we can, as well. We’re also believers in developing market-driven, solution-based products. It’s our goal that the products we develop and bring to market are not only innovative and of high quality, but also inspire our customers and provide creative solutions that enable them to make the music of their dreams a reality, and more accessible than ever before.

No more articles