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Musicians’ Union Meeting Report

Daniel Spreadbury

Nearly two weeks ago, on the morning of 13 February, the whole of the Steinberg scoring team decamped to the London headquarters of the Musicians’ Union, a short walk from the Oval cricket ground, for a meeting with members of the MU’s Music Writers’ Committee and a number of other professional musicians from around the city. The purpose of the meeting was to share our plans with a group of top professional musicians and to solicit their feedback on those plans, as well as to hear from them their hopes and wishes for our new project. Read on to find out about how it went.

We were very fortunate to have a number of prominent figures from a variety of areas within the music business attending the meeting: several musical directors from top London shows and theatres; several of the UK’s top copyists for film, TV and musical theatre work; two professional engravers working for the UK’s largest publisher; several esteemed educators; not to mention a number of experienced composers. The panel consisted of nearly 20 people, with an enormous amount of expertise between them.

Into this midst of this high-powered gathering came the Steinberg crew. Rather than just sending me into the lions’ den, the whole team attended the meeting: although a large part of my role is to act as the conduit between end users and our development team, there is no substitute for our developers and testers hearing from prospective customers first-hand and in person.

After a brief introduction from Naomi MacDonald, Secretary to the Music Writers’ Section who organised the meeting, we got down to business. I had prepared a short presentation of fewer than a dozen slides, and set about my presentation. An hour later, I stopped talking, and the panel were free to get a cup of coffee and a muffin to help digest everything they had heard.

The panel listens intently (except for Anthony, who mugs for the camera)

The panelists listen intently (except for Anthony, who mugs for the camera)

I will share many of the details of what was on those slides in future posts, but suffice it to say for now that I outlined our vision for how our application will differ from the current incumbents in the world of scoring software, including information about how our new program will think about music and the powerful possibilities that unlocks for sophisticated new features that will save you time.

In particular, I explained how first and foremost we are targeting professional musicians with our new program. There are many reasons for this, but chief among them is that professionals simply have greater demands, and they typically need to achieve more in less time as they do battle with deadlines. If we can make the most demanding of tasks quick and efficient for professional users, and if we can prove that the product is a valuable ally when the chips are down and the deadline is looming, then we will be able to handle the needs of musicians who are perhaps not yet lucky enough to make music their main profession just as capably.

For the remainder of the meeting, there was lively discussion about everything we’d talked about. There were questions about pricing (we don’t know yet, but we do expect that there will be some kind of crossgrade price for users of Finale and Sibelius to buy our new product when the time comes), integration with Cubase (over time we will integrate the technology we are building more deeply with Cubase, but to begin with we are focusing on delivering a great stand-alone scoring application), targeting mobile devices like the iPad (we would love to have apps on iOS and Android on day one, but with our small but perfectly formed team we have to prioritise desktop development first), user interface design (our new application will not have a ribbon, but nor will it look or feel like earlier versions of Sibelius either), and more besides.

Our developer James and panelist Bill Strang deep in conversation

Our developer James and panelist Bill Strang deep in conversation

What we took away from the meeting was that there was real excitement about the way forwards that we are proposing, and that many of the wishes that were expressed by the panelists were already in our plans. It seemed to me that, on this evidence (and indeed on the evidence of the many comments and emails I have received in the days since the blog launched last week), we are really in tune with the prospective customers for our product, and that both we and they can see the possibilities for a true generational leap in what scoring software can do to make a professional musician’s job easier and more efficient. Please stay tuned to this blog to hear more about what this generational leap will mean for you and your own work.

Finally, a huge thank you to Naomi MacDonald at the Musicians’ Union for helping to set up this meeting, and for all of her support so far. If you’re a musician based in the UK, why not think about becoming a member?

We expect to be holding another meeting at the Musicians’ Union later in the year, so watch this space for more details.

35 thoughts on “Musicians’ Union Meeting Report

  1. Martin Thomson

    2 sentences stand out from this for me – “first and foremost we are targeting professional musicians” – fair enough, but please dont neglect the huge education market. Many schools in the UK currently use Cubase and have, shall we say issues(?) with their notation package, so a well-priced, perhaps feature-reduced version for the school market would be a hugebonus to those of us for whom that is our major interest.
    Also – “our new application will not have a ribbon, but nor will it look or feel like earlier versions of Sibelius either” – an interesting insight there from the user feedback for Sib7, but the second half of that sentence intrigues me! What other options are there, is will the interface not be similar to anything that has gone before?!?

    I’m really excited about this new application, and now I can’t wait to actually see it! :)

    Reply
    1. Justin

      Yeah, color me scared about “targeting professionals”. Usually that means pricing it out of the reach of we humble musicians who require top-quality software but make little money from our craft. I mean, it needs to be a tool that professionals are using, but I’d like to think that the rest of us aren’t that small of a market share.

      Reply
      1. Daniel Spreadbury Post author

        @Justin: By targeting professionals, I mean that we want to ensure the software is up to the most demanding of tasks, which typically come from top professionals rather than, say, amateur choir directors (and I say this with no disrespect intended to amateur choir directors, speaking as one myself!). It doesn’t mean that we will price the software beyond the reach of all but the top professionals. Steinberg has a policy of offering its products at a significantly lower price to educators, for example, and I would expect that to be the case for our new product as well. We will also very likely have special pricing for users of existing professional scoring software.

        We want everybody to be able to take advantage of our new software, but we want the product to be fit for purpose for even the most demanding of users.

        Reply
  2. Mary Elizabeth

    How heartening to see a development process that—from near the very beginning—openly includes end users and allows them to interact with developers! From past experience, many know that this development team is capable of creating sophisticated products, but this approach bodes well for a notation program that will fit users’ needs in ways that were previously only imagined (or even unimagined ;^)! Well done, Steinberg!

    Reply
  3. Ron Cleave

    I am hoping that you can include a scrub ability that allows us to find our mistakes easy. (not that I ever make such mistakes, ;-) To do it up royally, a color coding that show the intervals and their relationship to the tonic would be spiffy.

    Reply
  4. jeepi

    The dialogue here is announcing very good things for the future of this program.
    Do not forget the freedom of writing contemporary music with the easy way to integrate vector paths as for example in Illustrator.
    It will be difficult to live with the wishes of professionals engravers and teachers of music. But we say in French “Qui peut le plus peut le moins” (Who can do more can do less)
    Thank you for your information.

    Reply
    1. klaviersonic

      I agree with the integration of vectors into the new software. It always seemed counter-intuitive that Sibelius required an export of vector graphics into an Adobe Illustrator compatible format, when the Sibelius fonts are already vectors! A vector copy/paste would be ideal for cross program compatibility.

      Horay for getting rid of the ribbon!

      Reply
  5. Peter Roos

    Very cool – it will be interesting to learn more about the plans for the new product. Will you also organize similar meeting with people outside of the UK (not that their opinions are necessarily radically different by the way)?

    Reply
    1. Daniel Spreadbury Post author

      @Peter: Hopefully we will get out on the road and having meetings elsewhere, but with the whole team being based in London, having the meetings locally is the best way to ensure that the whole team can participate, rather than a single itinerant person (i.e. me).

      Reply
  6. Paul Harrison (@paulharrisonjaz)

    This is so exciting. You have my support for the way you and your team appear to be tackling this – firstly involving a wide range of people in the consultation, and secondly you seem to be designing a focussed, professional tool free of gimmicks. Please be bold with the interface design – as you know so much has changed in the last few years with the way we use technology, and people are much more demanding with workflow efficiency and presentation. I hope that when your product comes out that we will see the competitors are very much stuck in the past.

    Reply
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  8. Phileus de Muso

    How are you guys going about development? If you use some kind of Agile method do you have a need for testers out (here) in the community to check out code as you prepare functional chunks? I’m speaking here wearing two hats (a slightly eccentric look I admit) being that of programmer/tester and very keen amateur musician.

    What I’m asking, I guess, is what can we in the user community do to help you? And I apologise if I am treading on well-discussed areas, but no harm asking)

    Reply
    1. Daniel Spreadbury Post author

      @Phileus: Yes, we work using an agile methodology that involves sprints or timeboxes, product backlogs, daily stand-up meetings, and all that jazz. However, it will be quite some time before we are ready to unleash any of our code on the outside world. I’ll definitely share information about how to get involved when the time comes.

      Reply
  9. Benjamin Waters

    My personal request for your new program:

    Ability to import from Lilypond source file, or some other pure text source.

    Sometimes I want to test how a couple of thousand permutations of a musical figure or sequence are going to sound, and the best way to build these permutations currently is to write them out in Lilypond source code using Vim (allows me to use the sed commands to build permutations) then get Lilypond to export to midi, then get Sibelius to import the midi.

    Would be nice if Sibelius had its own native way of importing music from pure text markup.

    Reply
    1. Daniel Spreadbury Post author

      @Benjamin: We most likely will not write a Lilypond importer for our new application, but hopefully the extensive scripting support that we intend to build into the application will make it possible for any interested party to write their own importer if they choose.

      Reply
  10. Emil Yordanov

    You have my best wishes and support, new/old best team!
    Remember maintenance of Cyrillic languages!

    What do you think about UI of Adobe Design Suite with their pallets and plugins, as something other than ribbon or Finale/Sibelius6 UI?
    Sooner or later we need InDesign or Illustrator, when we need high-quality graphics and prepress.
    All the best Daniel!

    Reply
  11. Ralph Middenway

    I would be astonished and even perplexed if you went on the road with these ‘focus groups’, and not only because you are already at the centre of the musical world.

    (Pause to duck the flying half-eaten croissants and empty Bud and Berliner Kindl bottles).

    With so much to do, I guess you’ll be hunkered down for several years to come.

    I like the ideas of focussing on the basic needs of professional users of all sorts, providing educational versions, avoiding gimmicks, catering for application switches, and making a clean start.

    Reply
  12. Oliver Ostermann

    Hi Daniel!
    I´m glad, that there is a progress in a new software.
    I´m a user of Cubase 7 and Sibelius 7. My wishes to the new progamm are, combining, writing and listening to the music you write and using all the Sample libraries(VSL, East West QL, Native Instruments….) …

    Reply
  13. thecultofanne

    I would be careful to talk to publishers, too. In my experience, MU copyist guidelines don’t often match what publishers want to print. In the past when a potential client has asked me to use MU standards, I tell them that they are geared more for session and pit situations, and aren’t necessarily aesthetically pleasing. They also aren’t particularly demanding as far as what is needed notationally. I think that is why Cubase Score was never really adequate for publishing. Don’t write another Cubase Score.

    Reply
  14. Paul Baker

    My entire publishing business is currently based in Sibelius. Is it safe to assume that I’ll be able to import my Sib files into your new App as smoothly as possible? Second, the most brilliant aspect of Sib7, for me, is the new printing paradigm. I really hope the new App will allow for such functionality. It has literally saved hours and hours of my time. Third, please don’t forget us jazz guys – keep all the current symbols! Finally, and this is fairly picky, please teach your App the difference between tied notes and slurred notes. An edit made to the first in a series of tied notes should apply to all the subsequent tied notes!

    Congrats on the new gig and my sincere wishes for great success!

    Reply
  15. WipeOutHamasOnceAndForAll

    To start with, many thanks to Daniel Spreadbury for having found a new home for the former Sibelius team!!

    First point. Your idea of creating a professional tool that is a successor of Sibelius 7 is fine but, no matter how professional this new program will be, always make sure that it will be the easiest and simplest possible to use for anybody, professional or not. That was one of the main reasons why Sibelius was and still is the best notation software until your new product will see the light.

    Second point. Plan also a version of this new software program that will be affordable to all price-wise and that will have access to less features than the full professional version.

    Any drawback in life brings with it the seeds of new opportunities. This new software program might be this opportunity, to create true professional tool that will improve even further the state of the art of notation software.

    My best wishes to Daniel Spreadbury and his team.

    Reply
  16. Wes Ramsay

    Just spoke with a colleague here in Nashville who directed me to this blog. The announcement of your intentions to create a program friendly to professional users is truly heartening. I’m a Sibelius user (could not tolerate Finale), but even at that I ended up on the phone a couple of years ago in total frustration, explaining that, in my view, software is a tool. It is a hammer. It drives a nail. Especially on deadline. Every minute spent fussing with software that won’t drive nails is money lost. This week, I’m writing my project with my favorite hammer–a pencil on a score pad.

    Also, reading comments from teachers–I do a bit of that as well. I am concerned that software has dumbed-down a generation of young students, most of whom cannot now take a pencil to a score pad and create anything intelligible. That problem is not yours to solve in this project, obviously, but it does exist.

    Looking forward to seeing your efforts come to fruition.

    Wes Ramsay

    Reply
  17. Peter Espada

    Best wishes to the development team for this new notation program! One of the things that I am looking for is the ability to run a notation program on an IPad–portability has been an important criterion for me. It looks like you are addressing that. In addition, I am volunteering myself to be a tester (beta or otherwise). Up to now, I have been a Sibelius user having employed it in my recent arranging studies at Berklee College of Music. I feel I know Sibelius very well, and I can apply my knowledge to evaluating any new notation program that may come from the Steinberg team. My contact information is below. Thanks!

    Reply
  18. morten eide pedersen

    This sounds just so promising! Wonderful to see the old team’s still iso dedicated to its (future) users and customers, and that they keep an inviting dialogue runningI That attitude and support was for me what made Sibelius stand apart from other software (not forgetting the ease-of-use I learned to appreciate.)
    My wish for the future: I would really, really hope for some import/export solution for the Open Music package, to have access to the wonderful IRCAM’s composition toolbox.

    Reply
  19. Rudie Vissenberg

    You state that in a later phase the integration with Cubase will be much deeper but what will be the initial possibilities? I hope that at least there will be a direct exchange of info between the two of them? Meaning that when I change a note in Cubase it will be immediate in the score and vice versa. Otherwise I won’t see any advantage of being the new product.

    Reply
  20. Wolfram

    Hello Daniel,

    congratulations to you and your team for an obviously very smooth transition to Steinberg!

    I am using Sibelius for years now, and there were quite a few points which I did not understand – you tell about the restrictions of old code.

    Just one word: tuplets. Please do not make such mistakes with your new software!
    I am not such a fan of the ribbon, like probably many of us. So I am pleased to hear there will be a different solution.

    All – and I really mean all – functions should be reachable with as less keystrokes as possible. Sibelius still had to many functions which could only be chosen by mouse. You know score by Andreas Press? In a way, that’s what I mean, but with the many comfortable possiblities of a modern GUI-program, of course.

    There should be a real possibility to insert freely positioned and designed text- and pictureframes like in any other professional DTP-program (I still like Quark5, for example). The handling of text items in Sibelius did seem very awkward and unflexible sometimes. One example: why do Instrument names at the left in a score behave different from other text items, if you try do double-click them?

    There a many standards in Microsoft environments which were not equally handled in Sibelius (of course, as an originally acorn-based software). Why not offer a section in preferences, where users can easily switch between MS- and Mac- and perhaps even more -based standards, so we all can use our stupid Microsoft or Mac preoccupied brains?

    In Sibelius, the buttons to reposition or redesign items is very handy. But quite often I chose Crtl-a, used one of those buttons and realized that I was a bit too quick. There should be a possibility to leave specified items out of a general repositioning and redesigning.

    Speaking of dynamics as p, f, mf and so on: I always missed the possibility to position them centered under notes, sometimes even with a fixed amount of offset to the left. The general positioning of text styles was not helpful in this regard.

    A right click on a certain object should offer all possibilities to change this object which are available (if – or when – working with a mouse).

    I would like to work with a real stepless zooming function again…

    I am sure I will offer a few more points in the next weeks… Just one more point concerning PhotoScore: I tried each new version of this program, and only now it is worth it’s money (but only if you get educational rebates, that is). Even now the recognizing of text e. g. is a catastrophe, as if there is no OCR-Software out there which is able to read whole books of letters. Can’t you work together with a scanning software company which is able to write code? For instance, look at the result of scans of a drumset part…

    Thank you for your work and your unique ability to communicate with us users! (I once mailed you concerning the Sibelius sound maps and my wish to make Peter Siedlaczeks Orchestra compatible to Sibelius – your reaction was awesome for a probably extremely busy product manager). That is a such a high value for every company which can’t be paid by any money. I seriously do not understand AVID at all…

    That’s for now, I am sure I will be back again. I am – like many other users – excited to see which – I am sure – great new product will emerge. Please, take your time and try to fight unreasonable company deadlines as hard as you can! Quality is what we need, not a product which is launched because of share holder interests! (Look at Berlin Airport).

    Yours

    Wolfram Domay
    Germany

    Reply
  21. David Frost

    Daniel, I have enormous respect for all you did to make the Sibelius software the most useful tool it has been up until now. Indeed I recall many times when a call to you solved all my queries quickly and with great sensitivity. I do so hope that you and your colleagues will continue to provide an easily accessible personal phone service to support your new concepts for the development of Cubase and also make the changeover affordable for lesser composing mortals, like me, who wish to provide my clients with a clear (aural) vision of what I am proposing to write for them.
    Warmest regards,
    David Frost

    Reply
  22. Per Aastrup Olsen

    Great news for Score users. Morning Breaking DayO for amateurs and professionals a like!

    My very short wish-list:

    1. When in the project-window one can just right-click/tap to get the tools at quick hand; NOW: what about a right-click in Score opening the “note-menu” or something as fast as that for writing notation “on-the-fly” – PLEASE!

    2. When dragging notes on the lines they make a sound, good for micro-editing, but really a drag when notes have to come from high up on the menu-line. I know one can drag them around the line-system, but anyway please make it easier doing something like my point 1. – I made a whole set of pre-made templates (i.e.: 8 bars in 4/4 of mostly 1/4-notes, 16 bars of mostly 1/8-notes all on the g-line & and so one for the general time-signatures and forms of verse, chorus and bridges in modern music. Then one just have to drag the general note to their place and delete and replace the few notes that do not conform to the template and glue it together. – I’ll gladly supply the ones I made for reference. :-)

    3. If you close the Project Window first, having the Score-window as the last open window and then save from there and close Cubase, then the file will load back and start up in the Score Window at next load. Please keep that fine little detail, making entrance to the score in Score a one-click operation!

    4. When you import midi-files and arrangements (from for example Band in a Box) they look a mess, also Guitar Tap files look a mess. One can edit them to look o.k. but please use your expertise to make such scores look a little less messy on first load.

    The very short wish-list – would also like to see the text-box functions just as easy as once (when they could not write French but had learned Danish).

    Keep up the good work. :-)

    Kind regards <3

    Reply
  23. Wolfram Domay

    Hello again,

    just having a new (old) point discovered on my wish list. It should be possible to format Score pages totally different, like in some opera scores by Richard Strauß. One page is full with about 40 staves, very small in height, the next page with 15 much larger staves ist full from top to bottom as well…

    Thanks for your work!

    Wolfram

    Reply
  24. gugenman

    Hello,

    does there exist a page on the same subject, but in French? If not, perhaps could you create a French discussion forum?

    Reply
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