Internet-connected speaker maker Sonos launched a new social impact initiative called “Listen Better” Thursday, with the goal of supporting both anti-censorship initiatives as well as groups that aim to bridge the access gap to music and technology. To that end, Sonos pledged to give grants to qualifying non-profits, starting with donations of $1.5 million to six groups.
“Too many artists face barriers to free expression and others can be jailed or even killed for merely sharing their songs over the internet,” said Sonos CEO Patrick Spence in a blog post. “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.”
The first round of grants of the Listen Better program was awarded to the following recipients:
- Access Now, a digital rights group that among other things fights for an open internet.
- Article 19, a nonprofit that fights against censorship and for freedom of the press.
- Creative Time, a group of artist-activists.
- Freemuse, a nonprofit fighting against censorship and imprisonment of artists around the world.
- Future of Music Coalition, a musician’s rights group.
- Index on Censorship, an anti-censorship initiative.
Next year, Sonos wants to open up its grant program to other groups around the world. The company has hired former Access Now exec Deji Olukotun as its new head of social impact to lead these efforts, and is getting advice from Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest fame for the program as well.
Said Spence: “Without freedom for the underserved to make their voices heard, there is nothing to listen to. There’s just silence. So we must listen better – and fight for the future of music.”
The launch of the program comes at an interesting time for Sonos. After struggling with increased competition from the likes of Amazon Echo and Google Home, Sonos finally released its own voice-activated speaker earlier this month. Coinciding with the release of the new hardware, Spence told Variety that the company is considering to go public to finance further expansions. “We are considering whether an IPO would be the next best thing,” he said.