Musicians on an Inclusive Mission

In this interview I speak to the founders of Digit Music and creators of Control One, a device that removes the restrictions to music creation for disabled artists.
Jess creating music with Control One

Speaker 1: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.

Toby Mildon: Hello there. Thank you ever so much for tuning in to this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I’m Toby Mildon, and today, I’m joined by three excellent guests, Owain Wilson, Si Tew, and Jessica Fisher, sorry. Owain Wilson and Si Tew are both founders of Digit Music, and Jess Fisher is a content creator and performer with Digit Music as well. So welcome to the show, everybody, it’s lovely to have you.

Jessica Fisher: Thank you

Si Tew: Thank you.

Owain Wilson: Thanks very much having us, Toby. Thanks for inviting us.

Toby Mildon: So I’m gonna attend to Owain first. Owain, what is Digit Music and why did you set up the agency?

Owain Wilson: Yep, so we’re made up of a collection of musicians, technologists, designers and educators, but fundamentally, the company is a pro audio company, so we make music content for different uses, so we make sample packs which are distributed on various different platforms, and some people might have heard of Splice or Loopmasters. So you can go there and you can buy content, and they are basically pre-prepared building blocks of music that you can use. But we also record library albums for Universal Music and people like that. We’re also obviously, professional musicians and performers in our own right as well. But part of the ethos of music is obviously giving back to the next generation as well and allowing people to come through and work within the industry. So what we also do is we manufacture a piece of technology which is called Control One. And it’s a universally designed MIDI controller for digital DJing and music making. The idea being though, is whether you’ve got two dexterous hands or whether you’ve just got the use of one finger, you drive the device in exactly the same way to create music.

Owain Wilson: The other thing that we do is we wrap education experiences around that technology as well, so skills training, obviously, music is quite dependent on being able to understand how to create those building blocks. So we make that access route and those pathways easier for people, but the intention is, is it’s also about training people up on soft skills, job skills, so that when they come out of one of our training programmes, should they wish to, they can obviously then start to look at a career within the music industry and the creative wider industries as well. ‘Cause what we tend to find is music is used more and more in several platforms. You’re watching TV, you’re hearing music, you’re listening to music on the radio, but on the internet as well, there’s music that needs to be synced for content there as well. So that’s really what the company does in a nutshell.

Owain Wilson: There’s obviously background as to where we came from, and Si and I know each other as community musicians, first and foremost. And this is a contested period of time that we’ve known each other for, but we’ve never really agreed. It’s about 20 years, and I don’t think either of us wanna admit to that ’cause we agree that we’re getting older and greyer. But what I will do now is I’m gonna pass you over to Si because Si has done a lot of work prior to Digit, which actually kind of is the… It is where the ethos of Digit was born from and some of the wider kind of outreach programmes that he’s done as well.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Yeah, Si, it’d be great for you to elaborate on that.

Si Tew: Nice one. Thank you. Yeah, so Digit was set up to enable a universal creativity, essentially. Creativity is for everybody, and as listeners as well, selfishly, we should want everybody in the world to be able to create because that’s how you kind of… Where we get the best art from and the best music to listen to. So I’ve been involved in a number of different projects over the years. So before Digit, I worked as a community musician, as Owain mentioned, for 20 years. He definitely makes me feel older than I think we are. [chuckle] But yes, we’re… One of those projects was called the Able Orchestra, which is a project run by an organisation called Inspire Youth Arts of the Nottinghamshire and also with Orchestras Live. And the aim of that project is to place disabled young musicians at the forefront of the composition process. So, rather than it being a passive experience, it’s about enabling people with the right kind of tools and the techniques to be able to compose from the get-go, to build pieces of music and build performances but then bring in kind of traditional musicians and pro musicians in around that.

Si Tew: So we worked with the Hallé orchestra, did a project with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. This project, it’s still running now. Inspire, doing great things with it, we’ve actually got something coming up this summer, and then again in the autumn term as well. But as I said, the whole idea was putting disabled young musicians at the forefront of the creative process. And it was during this time, working with guys and Jess, who we’ll speak with shortly, Jess was a part of that group, which is where we first met. And it was during that time that we kind of recognised the need for a new type of controller, one that played to the strengths of… If somebody’s been using a wheelchair controller all day, every day to explore the world, then we need to kind of reinvent that to explore music, which is where Control One came from, which is the device. And it was actually kind of… Control One was almost the impetus for setting up the rest of the company. We’d kind of designed this device that was unique and was starting to get some traction, and was kind of enabling creativity for some people.

Si Tew: So then, it was about setting up Digit to kind of support that mission and then bringing in our skills and our work as professional musicians, bringing all of that under one roof, which is Digit as you see it today, which is, as Owain mentioned earlier, a pro audio company. But we also develop tools and technology and learning experiences to enable creativity and hopefully make it a universal thing.

Toby Mildon: Yeah. You do so much, but what I really love about it is that it’s built on this kind of bedrock of universal access to the creative arts and music, in particular. And I first came across your company because I saw the Control One controller online. So obviously, we don’t have the benefit of any kind of visual medium on podcasting, but essentially, Control One looks like my wheelchair controller, it’s got a joystick with buttons on it. Can you just explain a bit more about what Control One can actually do and how somebody uses it?

Si Tew: Yeah, so from a design perspective, the reason it is designed in the way that it was, was to allow people to use muscle memory and familiarity to remove… To kind of initial barriers. Even with tablets and things like this, that can be really, really accessible and there’s some incredible apps and things out there, we felt it was about allowing people to, say, use that muscle memory that they’ve built up. And also as well, if a young person’s been using a wheelchair for their life, as soon as you put the Control One in front of them instantly, they kind of know how to drive it, know how to interact with it. And initially, it was… We wanted it to be a musical instrument, we wanted it to feel dynamic and to really be able to play with it. So that’s kind of initially where it was designed to play music, so it can interact with whichever applications that you might use, everything from Chromebooks and things used in schools, through to iPads and various tablets and phones.

Si Tew: But then all the way through to like a pro end studio as well, you can plug it into… You could plug it into Abbey Road and drive the main machine there if you wanted to, as it is just a MIDI controller at its core. But then there’s a number of other things that we can do with it. So you can DJ, as Owain mentioned and you can also give full control of your operating system as well. So the idea being that when we come to market with the device, at the minute, there’s only prototypes available. But when we come to market with the device, the idea being that it can be a tool for somebody to use, from the moment they turn their computer on and start to create a piece of music, to going and performing live, to chasing the promoter for payment.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Si Tew: It could just be that one device can see you all the way through, is our hope and our intention. But it’s only through working with people like Jess who are going out and actually performing and using the device, and a number of the other case studies that we’re working with, that we’re actually gonna… We’re gonna get close to achieving that.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, that’s brilliant. I think it’s amazing. So I wanna bring Jess into the conversation now. So, Jess Fisher works for you as a content creator and performer. Jess, can you just tell me a bit more about your own personal background and what you want to do within the creative industries?

Jessica Fisher: Yeah, so background wise, I grew up in Nottinghamshire. I’ve always been around music, always grew up around it, but I never knew because of my impairments, how it is possible to play it. And then obviously, as Si mentioned, we started the Able Orchestra and that opened my eyes to, okay, this is the way around that. This would be a way around the impairment that I can still do these things. And then with the controller, that’s just been a whole different level. I can actually sit at my computer now and create music from scratch without worrying about the fact that I can’t hold anything or can’t do anything. And I think in the creative industry obviously, I want to carry on making music, that’s really what I’m passionate about, but I think one of the biggest things is making sure the next generation get the opportunity and they’re not missed out. And music can just become a normal thing on all levels. It’s not disabled, it’s not non-disabled. It’s just that we’re all musicians and it doesn’t matter how you do that, we should be on an even playing field.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, absolutely. I think you and I have got a similar taste in music, ’cause I love your tracks.

Jessica Fisher: Thank you.

Toby Mildon: I wanna play one of them now, so this is “Time Stood Still”. Here’s a short snippet of “Time Stood Still” for you.

Toby Mildon: So Jess, how did you create that piece of music using the controller?

Jessica Fisher: The way that, that piece of music was created at the very beginning of my journey, when I look back now, I can’t believe how long it’s actually been, it’s quite scary, but I think in the beginning, it was just, when Si have just finished their orchestra and I just was like, I need to carry on with this. I need to get this creativity out there. So luckily with the help of Inspire and Si, they were able to come into my college at the time and do some work with me. And it was just about listening to what sounds I like, how I want things then put together. And I just… I’ll never forget it, I just felt free, it was like, all this emotion that I’ve had built up for years was just being poured out into this one song.

Jessica Fisher: And then I remember going home at the end of the day, like, “I’ve done this at college today.” And then my parents were like, “Oh, you’re actually… This could be done seriously.” And people are taking it seriously. It’s a really nice experience. And then with the controller, it was literally just, pick a sound that I like and then I would just literally able to play it into the software and it removed all those barriers.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, that’s amazing. And I know this is a bit of a closed question, but if it wasn’t for this piece of technology, do you think that you would be able to achieve your personal goals and your professional goals of working within the creative industries?

Jessica Fisher: Sadly, I think not, without beating down a lot of barriers that are still up, I think it wouldn’t be possible because everyone is different, some people can take a good time, adapt it to their own needs. But I’m not one of those people, I literally [0:13:14.9] __ need everything adapt as much as possible. So I think if Si, Digit, haven’t come up with this idea, I think I’d still be in the bubble of, I’ve got all this creativity, but I don’t know what to do with it.

Si Tew: That’s lovely to hear Jess, but knowing you, you’re tenacious, you would have found a way. But we’ll take the compliment, but I definitely don’t think it’s all down to… And also, as well, if you think, on the other side of it, a large part of the reason that Control One operates the way that it does and it is the way it is, is through Jess’s input. You were one of the first people to use it, so it’s great that it’s a useful tool, but don’t do yourself down, you would have definitely found a way.

Toby Mildon: The point that I’m taking away really is that technology can really help create opportunities for a lot of people and open up access for a lot of people. It’s like, I use my own assistive technology, so in order for me to do my job, I need to use speech-to-text software, which is called Dragon NaturallySpeaking. But I’ve also adapted quite a lot of “mainstream technologies” to live independently. So I’ve wired my home up using the Amazon Echo devices, so that I can control the thermostat and I can turn lighting on and off, and things like that. So I think when we talk about inclusive design and inclusion, technology plays such a crucial role in opening up opportunities for people, and interestingly, a lot of assistive technology turns into mainstream technology as well.

Si Tew: Yeah.

Toby Mildon: So, text messaging, for example, the keyboard was created donkeys years ago, in a town… In Italy for a blind countess who wanted to write love letters to her lover. And we all use keyboards nowadays. They’re on every device that we use pretty much. Are you finding that there are non-disabled people in your sector who are interested in using Control One?

Owain Wilson: Yeah. We’re very fortunate in that we’ve got early adopters right across the spectrum. So, we’ve got a young lady called Millie, who is a seven-year-old, who’s never been able to partake in music making with her family. And her grandmother is a music therapist, and now she’s able to engage with the family through music and that’s always a great thing. But then we go right to the other end of the spectrum, and we have got some A-list technicians that are building live rigs for some very well-known household names, which for various reasons, we can’t mention at the moment. But people would recognise who they are if we said. And I think that’s the important thing because it’s about making people realise, actually, this device is being used hopefully by a broad spectrum of people. And I think it’s about not making someone with additional needs think, “Well, I have to go and use this thing over here, which no one else is going to be using because that’s all that’s available to me.”

Owain Wilson: So for us, it’s very important for anyone to be able to see themselves within it. And I think one of the driving things for us as well, it’s about culture as well. It’s like you can only really get good culture if in society, in our view, if everyone is putting into it. And if everyone can’t put into that culture, then there’s a question mark around, well, what are society’s priorities at this point in time? And I think we’ve been through such an adverse period over the last 18 months globally, that it’s actually culture and society and creativity really, they’ve always been important, but they’re more important now than ever before. But arguably that also means that the demand for everyone to be able to input into that is more important than ever before as well.

Toby Mildon: Absolutely. So how do you see Control One developing over the next few years?

Si Tew: I’ll take that one. And one, I just wanted to just jump back a step as well into where it’s used and how it’s used. There’s an accessibility thing from a physical design point of view and how it’s designed there, but also from a musical perspective, one of the things that we’ve tried to make Control One do, and I think we’ve achieved and are on the the way to achieving, is removing some of the initial complexity from creating music. There’s a lot of learning that needs to be done. There’s music theory, etcetera. You sit down at a keyboard, you can’t play every single note in a certain order because you’ll end up with things that are slightly out of key. We’re not looking to replace music theory or to remove the importance of some of those things but I think Control One’s an open tune device. So it means that you’ve got sort of eight directions, each one plays a note from the scale, so you can’t play essentially a wrong note.

Si Tew: So, if we’ve removed that initial complexity, it really allows that creative spark to kinda grow. And Jess, if you don’t mind me speaking for you, and correct me if I’m wrong, but when Jess first started, it was very much about that creative spark. I really like this sound and I really like when I play it in this direction, and I really like this. Whereas now, Jess is really digging into the kind of the music production and the technicalities of things, and mixing things using logic and arranging things here and working with this orchestra over here. But it’s that initial spark and removing some of the fear of doing something… Of being wrong. We were in a Pupil Referral Unit week before last and the young people there didn’t have any additional access needs, but none of them were trained musicians.

Si Tew: That’s a lie, actually, there was one in the group that was a trained musician. But due to the nature of the device, it meant that five of them were able to start playing music together and actually collaborate, and start to generate that musical conversation, which that initial spark is sometimes all that’s needed for somebody to go, “Right, actually it’s worth that additional time spent to learn the basics and the fundamentals of these things.” And in terms of where Control One’s going. For us, I think it’s been so…

Si Tew: So, at the forefront of our thinking and it’s a huge part of our business, and we’re building it and developing it. But where it got really interesting was seeing it go out and took some case studies, so we’ve got a number out in case studies at the minute and seeing how people are using it. And I think the big thing for us is when we come to market and the devices are available, then it’s gonna be really interesting to see how people use it. Because the technical side of it, it can interact with a number of different pieces of software, it can interact with kind of any computer operating system, etcetera, etcetera. But that’s not where the excitement comes from, the excitement is to see how people interact and where they interact, and what they try to achieve with it themselves.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, absolutely. And Jess, for you, what’s your future looking like?

Jessica Fisher: Well, wouldn’t say [0:20:18.5] __ interesting season that we’ve been in, so with that… But I think for me, it’s just, I really want to carry on making music, I’m really passionate about that. And I think with Control One, what I’m really excited to see is, not only how people like myself use it, who identify as disabled, but how non-disabled people use it and it can just be called another instrument, and it takes away that… Like Si was saying, it takes that away… Yes, it’s accessible, which is great, but I could go with a mainstream person and they could use it, too, and it wouldn’t be a big deal. And I think that’s what I was looking forward to seeing that just being another instrument and it doesn’t define who I am as a disabled person.

Owain Wilson: And I think just to add to that as well, ’cause Jess made an interesting point there about an instrument. For us, it’s kinda like redefining, to a slight degree, what a traditional instrument is as well, when I think in the digital era, obviously, we have that new territory to explore. It’s, ultimately, it’s a device for playing music, and we’ve had one of our… Someone who’s used it quite extensively described it as having personality, and I think that’s an important thing as well. We find when we plug Control One into our existing studio setups, we play things differently with it. We end up with different melody lines or riffs or things like that, and as a creative, that’s super exciting because it then sparks you to go off and explore new horizons that perhaps you wouldn’t have ended up with if you were using a more traditional interface. And that’s not to say that we are trying to replace traditional interfaces ’cause we’re not, we’re just trying to actually augment in and enhance the current experience that people have, but also broaden the amount of opportunities for more people to experience that creativity as well.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, yeah. But at the end of the day, you’re delivering a really high quality product to your customers as well. That creativity is introducing new things for them.

Owain Wilson: Exactly, and I think from the business model perspective, for us as well, obviously, look, we are out releasing music, that’s our bread and butter, that’s what we do, but I think that’s important for the user to see as well. Certainly for Jess, and again, correct me if I’m wrong, but I would imagine, understanding that, actually, if I wanna take this seriously and I wanna make a career out of it, I can. And part of our business model is to be the enabler for that as well. So as Jess has found, when her content got to a good enough standard then it was released, and more people that come through for us as well. If you buy Control One and you start making decent content with it, submit that content to us because part of what we need is we need more content to then put out onto these platforms. So hopefully, it’s a good thing for business and it’s a good thing for society as well.

Toby Mildon: Exactly. And you’re working with some big names, aren’t you, in terms of producing music for them?

Owain Wilson: Yeah, and we have done in the past as well, and we will continue to do that, but hopefully as well, what we’ll do is, we’ll enable opportunities for other people to work with bigger artist names or become big artists in their own right as well.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, I just love it. I think it’s so empowering and I think it’s really helping people develop and grow and produce music and content, and I just think it’s really exciting. I love it. [chuckle]

Si Tew: Thank you.

Owain Wilson: Thank you.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, so, this is, of course, The Inclusive Growth Show. I’m gonna ask you all really, but Owain and Simon, from a business perspective, what does Inclusive Growth mean for you?

Owain Wilson: I’ll give my view and Si will give his view. So, Inclusive Growth for us is about making sure we are ticking off what the agenda for the company is, which is about increasing representation in the creative industries really, that if I have to give it in a sentence, that’s what it is. We want people to be able to see themselves in the values of the company, but by seeing themselves in our values, they then wanna go and obviously amplify those. So, as long as we are increasing creative pathways for people, we are growing as a company, but then it’s still hitting that inclusivity bit. And if we’re not doing that, then we’re not doing one of the main agendas of what the company was set up for.

Si Tew: Yeah, I’d second that as well. It’s important for us, for our business model. It’s at the core of everything that we do, inclusivity, accessibility. I think in terms of growth, it’s exciting to see that it’s such a kind of part of a lot of conversations these days and maybe that is because we’re in this world, so we’re in an echo chamber. But it does seem to be that inclusion is at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds. I’m sure we all know there’s a lot of… A long way to go and there’s work to do, but it does seem to be a more important part of the conversation for people, not just from the social, from the human perspective, but from the business perspective as well, which is exciting to see.

Owain Wilson: And I think just actually to draw on a point that Si made in a conversation that he and I were having a long, long time ago, accessibility isn’t just made up of one thing. It’s lots of different components. It is about technology, it is about society, it is about all of those things. So I think what we’re starting to see in the work that we do is that there is more attention coming to disability, inclusion and accessibility. And that’s the way that it needs to be, because as much as we might provide a piece of technology for someone to use, that’s only actually a small part of the puzzle as well. But hopefully, by us getting that bit of the puzzle right, it encourages other people to get their bits of the puzzle right, working in collaboration, and then we get the complete picture.

Toby Mildon: Excellent. And Jess, your perspective as a content creator and performer, what does Inclusive Growth mean for you?

Jessica Fisher: I think it just means normalising it, in the simplest of words. It shouldn’t be a thing forever where it’s like, “Oh, these people are different or this is seen as different.” I just want everything… I want everyone and everything to be seen as… Well there’s nothing normal anymore, but I just think if we can just get rid of stereotypes, if we can just get rid of all these things that don’t need to be around anymore, and I think the more people can just be themselves and not have to worry about, “Oh, I can’t take part in this because… I can’t do this because… ” So let’s just move as many becauses as we can and just be normal.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, excellent. And Jess, for the person listening to this interview today, how can they get access to your work and hear what you do?

Jessica Fisher: I’m on SoundCloud and you can type in Jess Fisher, or just e-mail me, I’m at and I’m happy to answer any questions you have.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant. I’ll put links and your email address and things in the show notes of this episode, so people can easily click through. And Owain and Si, again, for anybody listening to this episode, how can they find out more about Digit Music and get in touch with you?

Owain Wilson: Yeah. I mean obviously, the usual channels, so we’ve got a general contact email, which is Again, feel free to put that in the comments, etcetera. You can add us on LinkedIn, we’ve all got personal profiles and a business profile, whichever one is more convenient for yourself. Follow us on social media. It’d be great to get some extra followers just because we’d like people to be more part of our conversation as well, I think that’s an important thing for us and that only comes through representation. Yeah, I think that’s… I can’t think of any other ways that they might wanna get in contact with us through the usual thing, social media, etcetera, so.

Toby Mildon: That’s brilliant. Well, Si, Owain and Jess, thank you ever so much for joining me on today’s interview, it’s been lovely to chat with you, and thank you for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I hope you found my conversation with Jess, Owain, and Si interesting and helpful. If you are interested in getting in touch with them, please do reach out to them, they’re a great bunch of people. And just before we sign off, here’s another sample of music that Jess has created called “Magnetic”. Thank you very much.

Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to The Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at

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