It’s been four months since I last provided an update on our progress in building our new scoring application, so I thought it was about time to lift the curtain a little bit and give you some idea about what we’ve been working on. Warning: this post is pretty nerdy, and very long… and it only covers April and May.
David MacDonald, Patrick Gullo, Nate Bliton and Sam Merciers were kind enough to invite me to appear on the SoundNotion podcast this week, and I had a great time chatting with them about the work we’re doing on our new scoring application, SMuFL and Bravura. You can download the podcast from the SoundNotion.tv web site, subscribe via iTunes, or watch the whole thing on YouTube. Enjoy!
Today I’m at the Music Encoding Conference in Mainz, Germany, where I am giving a presentation on the work I have been doing over the past several months on music fonts for our new application. There are two major components to the work: firstly, a proposed new standard for how musical symbols should be laid out in a font, which I have called the Standard Music Font Layout (SMuFL to its friends, pronounced with a long “u”, so something like “smoofle”); and secondly, a new music font, called Bravura. Read on for more details.
We’re now a few days into April and our team has been working for Steinberg for five months (we started work on 5 November last year, which happened to be my birthday). Although I can’t share lots of details about what we’re working on, perhaps a few details of what we’ve been up to will be intriguing enough to be interesting.
I was asked to answer the question, “Does music notation software have a considerable impact on musicians?” on Quora. Here’s my answer. (If you want to follow me on Quora, here I am.)
I’m certain that music notation software has had an impact on musicians in many fields, both on the creation side with composers, arrangers and publishers, and on the consumption side, with performers. This impact is both positive and negative, of course, just as with any other tool.
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.
Shortly after we launched our new blog on Wednesday this week, we became aware of the fact that the name “Keeping Score” is a registered trademark in the United States, and we have been asked to change the name of the blog.
The new name will be Making Notes, which is both a charming musical pun and also a reflection of the work that lies ahead of us, namely to build software that will, in turn, allow you to make notes yourself.
We’re sorry for any inconvenience caused by this change of name, and hope that you will continue to stay tuned for updates on the development of our new software.
As part of this change, we will also shut down the blog’s own Facebook page (since it uses the trademarked name), and ask that you will kindly like Steinberg’s official Facebook page, so that future posts will appear automatically in your timeline, along with news relating to Steinberg’s other software and hardware products.
Welcome to Making Notes! I’m Daniel Spreadbury, and you may remember me from other notation programs and other blogs, but I’m very happy to be starting something new here, and to chronicle the development of Steinberg’s new music notation and composition application.
Our mission is simple: to create a next-generation application that meets the needs of today’s composers, arrangers, engravers, copyists, publishers, teachers and students. We know we have a big mountain to climb: we’re starting work on a new professional-level application for Windows and Mac (and hopefully mobile devices later on) and looking to bring it into a crowded market that already has two very capable and mature competitors, not to mention an explosion of new products that exploit mobile devices and the web.
Despite the magnitude of the task ahead of us, I believe we can be successful because of three things: our experience, our vision, and because we have the support of a great company. The 12 of us who currently make up Steinberg’s scoring team have, between us, nearly 100 years’ combined experience in developing world-beating professional notation software. The core of this same team was responsible for developing six major versions of Sibelius, introducing hundreds of innovative features over the past 14 years.
It’s rare for an established development team to get the chance to develop a whole new application in the same area as their previous one, and we believe our combined experience gives us a unique perspective on how to design a new application that will overcome the limitations of existing programs, escaping the legacy of code that is 20-plus years old. (Of course there are dangers inherent in starting again from scratch, but since we don’t have any code of our own to use, we have no choice in any case.)
We have a vision for a flexible, powerful music notation application that is equal to the task of notating today’s most challenging art music and capable of producing graphical results of the highest quality, while providing an environment for composing and arranging that is as close as possible to the simplicity of writing music with pencil and paper, or improvising at your instrument. I will share plenty more details about how that vision translates into design considerations in future posts.
Steinberg is the ideal home for our new venture, and we are beyond delighted that its leaders asked us to join their team. Steinberg builds tools that change musicians’ lives, and that comes from a deep understanding of what musicians need, often before they know they need it. Every one of our new colleagues that we have met shares our passion for music and delivering to customers what they want. We are looking forward to contributing directly to the amazing portfolio of products and technologies that Steinberg has built over its near 30-year history.
My aim is to involve you as directly as possible in the development of our new program, and to listen to your thoughts and ideas so that we can take them into account. At the same time, the number of companies actively working on professional music notation software is very small, and perhaps now numbers only two (one being Steinberg, the other MakeMusic). Despite the small number of big players, it is a very competitive niche of the music software market — with both many small start-ups and some decent open source solutions — and we don’t want to give away our best ideas before we’ve had a chance to make them into reality! All that said, I will share as much as I can of what we’re working on, because I hope you will be excited to hear about it, and it may spark off ideas that could help us to make our software even better.
I hope that this blog will also act as a catalyst for musicians who are working with other scoring and composition programs to get in touch and share their own ideas, wishes and dreams with me and the team. There must be things you wish you could do more efficiently, or things about your current application that drive you crazy. Tell me about them! You have an open invitation to email me, tweet at me, call me or, heck, send me a letter if you like. In my previous job I made myself as available as possible, and I want to build the same kind of close relationship with users of our new product. We can start now, even before the product is released: it could be that you tell us your idea at just the right time, and we are able to take them into consideration as we develop the program.
Please take a moment to follow this blog, to make sure you don’t miss anything. If you “like” the Steinberg page on Facebook, you will see each new post appear in your timeline. Alternatively, you could follow me on Twitter, where I will also be sure to share each new post.
That’s it for now. I’m excited to be able to start up the conversation, so please leave a comment to introduce yourself.