Steinberg to Create New Notation Product

Daniel Spreadbury, formerly of Sibelius, posted his first blog about his latest endeavor on the Steinberg blog yesterday. Although some infomation about this latest project had leaked earlier, the Steinberg team (former Sibelius members) are going to create a new notation product, and perhaps eventually move to mobile devices.

It's an interesting product move at a time when many users are moving their notation needs towards the free MuseScore or the $99 Notion. This is particularly true at schools, where labs can be outfitted for free (MuseScore) or site licenses obtained for a ridicuously low price (Notion). Historically, we have never had as many quality choices for music notation as we do today (remember: Finale and Sibelius still exist). This is acknowledged in the post:

…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.

There are a few comments that were surprising in the post. This first comment was a commentary about Finale and Sibelius:

…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.

I'm not a programmer, and I've never opened the code on any software program. One of the criticisms I've heard about Finale and Sibelius is that the code is tremendously outdated and will have to be completely reauthored in the near future. I can't speak to that, but Spreadbury indicates that this may be the case.

There has been a lot of debate about whether Sibelius will continue to be developed, or whether it will be used as is and eventually abandoned. Spreadbury indicates that Sibelius is no longer in development:

…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).

In no case are MuseScore or Notion mentioned by name. Perhaps Notion isn't considered a “professional music notation program,” but I know that it is certainly still under development, and that it has the potential to be used by professionals.

Speadbury was a great advocate for Sibelius, and would even show up to answer questions about Sibelius on the Finale forums (and one point, I had asked about the size of Sibelius 7, which seemed to be larger than the hard drive of a 64GB MacBook Air, and he responded to that question).

Naturally, the biggest draw for Steinberg Notation will be former Sibelius users–particularly if the product is abandonded. Otherwise, Steinberg will have to be exponentially better than its competitors who sell notation products, and be a better overall bargain than MuseScore. That's hard to do.

Paid Notation programs offer some resources MuseScore cannot, such as live customer service and some guarantee that the programs will last. As an open source project, there's no guarantee that MuseScore won't simply disappear tomorrow. That said, MuseScore offers amazing functionality that could meet the notation needs of most musicians and even music students. Professional composers and music publishers may need the flexibility and power of Finale or Sibelius. People looking for a bargain price, ease of use, and quality sounds–not to mention an iPad app–will look at Notion. It certainly looks like most of the market is covered by existing programs.

So…it's going to be interesting to watch. There's no ETA for the program–and as mentioned in the blog, they have to write all new code. It will be also interesting to learn if the developers singed non-competition agreements and how Avid reacts to this news.

I wish them the best, and I'll be following the Steinberg blog as well as Mr. Spreadbury's twitter account. Perhaps they are just crazy enough to make it in this market.