So you want to invest in an alternate musical controller company

3 min readSep 4, 2021

The size of the musical instrument (MI) industry, in its entirety, is around $7.5B USD.

The total yearly sales of all products from Roland is around $500M USD.

The Yamaha DX7, the world’s best-selling synthesizer of all time, moved 100,000 units at $2000 USD/ea.

A controller is a device that produces a data stream intended for musical expression. A MIDI keyboard controller is the most common type of controller in the MI industry. Any controller that isn’t a standard MIDI keyboard controller can be described as an ‘alternate controller’. This includes drum controllers like pads and MIDI drum kits, wind controllers like Roland’s Aerophone, strap on keytars and grid controllers like the monome and Linnstrument. These devices typically sell in the hundreds of units per year and collectively represent a minuscule fraction of the total MI industry.

Roland keytar

People who adopt and purchase alternate controllers are a fringe group apart from the typical MI customer. Alternate controllers do not exist in isolation, they are pieces in a larger ecosystem where the data streams are merged and manipulated. People who use alternate controllers need easy access to technical information, prefer open protocols and non-proprietary drivers.

The most successful alternate controllers come from boutique operations that produce small numbers of units and understand and support the needs of their user base.

The scale of the alternate controller market is not going to change or suddenly grow. Historically, every attempt to take an alternate controller and market it as a consumer electronics or lifestyle product have failed spectacularly. Failing to understand how an alternate controller fits into the MI landscape is a serious error. This error is compounded significantly when scaled to the realm of consumer electronics.

Bringing your MI product-idea to the masses of consumer electronics usually falls into two categories: music education (we will teach you how to play your instrument!) or the hilariously entertaining failures of “anyone can make music instantly”-genre.

Peloton rode a wave of success from the coronavirus because it brought the excitement of a group class to the comfort and safety of the home. It succeeded in spite of not because of the hardware+subscription model. Everyone hates that model. Beware of any company that describes themselves as ‘the Pelotron of XYZ’ simply because they sell hardware that requires a subscription to be fully-functional.

Online musical education sometimes adopts the subscription model. Remember Apple Artist lessons? This is an online music eduction model that doesn’t require specialized hardware. First introduced in 2009, each Artist Lessons used to cost $4.99 as an in-app purchase, but now, GarageBand 10.3 makes them all free. GarageBand, as a free product, devastated the ‘curiosity sales’ that subsidized a lot of the professional DAW software at the time. Now Apple is doing the same for paid-lesson subscriptions. There aren’t any success stories of companies competing with a free product from Apple. Something to keep in mind.