In an open letter, Sonos CEO Patrick Spence announced Thursday (Oct. 26) the launch of his company’s social impact initiative Listen Better, which will commit $1.5 million in funding over the next three years to supporting grassroots activist and advocacy work centered around music.
“In today’s world, music faces mounting threats,” wrote Spence. “Too many artists face barriers to free expression and others can be jailed or even killed for merely sharing their songs over the internet. Communities lack space and resources to ensure all musicians can be heard. We’re failing to foster a new generation of music lovers prepared for success in the modern economy.”
Key objectives for Listen Better include fighting music censorship, defending digital rights and access to information for artists, providing robust tools such that emerging artists can be heard, and supporting music education in underserved communities. The initiative will be led by Sonos’ new Head of Social Impact Deji Olukotun, who formerly drove campaigns spanning cybersecurity and online censorship as Senior Global Advocacy Manager at Access Now.
Sonos has already awarded an inaugural round of grants to six organizations, three of which are dedicated to fighting for freedom of artistic expression: Denmark-based Freemuse and UK-based Article 19 and Index on Censorship. The remaining recipients include Access Now, public art nonprofit Creative Time, and Washington, D.C.-based music research and advocacy group Future of Music Coalition. In early 2018, Sonos will allow any eligible organization from anywhere in the world to apply for a Sonos grant, and has opened up a form on its website for any interested organization to reach out to the company.
The launch of of Listen Better comes off the heels of the public release of the Sonos One smart speaker on Tuesday (Oct. 24), which was notable for taking a more artist- and culture-centric branding approach compared to competitors Google, Apple and Amazon. In a similar vein, Q-Tip — the Billboard-charting rapper and member of Sonos endorser A Tribe Called Quest — will be aiding the Listen Better initiative as an advisor. He joins several notable artists, including Aesop Rock, Death Cab For Cutie, OK Go and R.E.M., who have spoken out in the past about the importance of net neutrality and freedom of expression for the music industry.
“We are encouraged by Sonos’ commitment to protecting artistic expression, which is increasingly critical in a new digital era where companies have become major actors in people’s ability to communicate, send and receive information, and express themselves,” Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of Article 19, said in a statement.
David Heinemann, Head of Fellowship at Index on Censorship, added: “Some say silence is golden, but at Index on Censorship — where we all too often see musicians attacked, interrogated or imprisoned — we stand proudly alongside Sonos in supporting those who strive to be heard.”