If musicians can’t make music, then Sonos has nothing to play through its speakers. “We believe music changes lives,” says Sonos CEO Patrick Spence. “That isn’t possible without the artists that make it happen.”
To make sure that musicians worldwide can continue to compose, produce, and play, the company is investing $1.5 million into grassroots organizations that fight censorship and promote net neutrality and freedom of expression. The initiative, called Listen Better, also aims to help under-resourced musicians who may need help raising their voices.
Sonos is taking a hands-on approach to philanthropy, making time to meet with organizations and hear what they need. “So much of being a non-profit is coalition building. You need to coordinate with other people to make an impact,” says Deji Olukotun, Sonos head of social impact.
Following some initial meetings, the company has decided to start with investments in six groups: Access Now, Article 19, Creative Time, Freemuse, the Future of Music Coalition and Index on Censorship. But in 2018, the company will open up its grant application program to organizations that are fighting for artists’ freedom of expression. In addition to funding, Sonos is hoping to share its offices, storefronts, and other properties as performance space. The company is also hoping to extend its engineers and other staff to help organizations achieve their objectives.
“I’ve been a human-rights activist for most of my career,” says Olukotun. “It’s really amazing when funders listen and don’t tell you what they want to fund first.”