Hopefully, you are aware that MakeMusic, the company that makes Finale and SmartMusic, has undergone a lot of changes in the past two years. In early 2013, the company was a public company, and quarterly financial results were troublesome. Karen van Lith was removed as CEO in 2012, and Karen VanDerBosch was made CEO (full time in 2013). During 2013, MakeMusic came to agreement with a group of investors, and the company went private. At that point, most middle level managers and VPs were let go (including project managers for Finale and SmartMusic). One ray of hope is that Michael Good, creator of the MusicXML file format, was brought on as a VP.
This past summer, MakeMusic announced that it would close operations in Minnesota, putting MakeMusic under the leadership of Gear Fisher, CEO of Peaksware, a health fitness company in Colorado. In the past months, the company has completed that transition, leaving only Michael Good as a continuing VP (with the removal of any remaining CEO or VP since the company went private), and once again replacing the product managers of SmartMusic and Finale. Of the 130 (or so) employees that were with MakeMusic in January of 2013–only 30 remain with the company in Colorado. Although I had strong connections with the company, I personally only know one employee still left with the company. That is a lot of internal shake-up. To MakeMusic’s credit, SmartMusic has been very stable throughout the move–although I am still a little disappointed that Mac OS Yosemite basically ended any functionality of Finale 2012 or earlier on Macs.
Such drastic changes result in a company can only do one of two things–either break from the status quo, finding new directions and growing under new leadership and with new staff, or cause the company to slowly spiral down the drain. As a Finale user and a SmartMusic subscriber, I am hoping for growth and new direction, but the road is littered with the skeletons of other companies that went before and did not make it.
This past weekend, I was shocked to see that MakeMusic did not have a booth in the ILMEA vendor area. I quickly checked with some friends from other states, and it appears that MakeMusic is not sponsoring booths as part of its strategy this year. They ARE sending experts to make presentations (such as “How to use the rubrics in SmartMusic” and Finale sessions).
I don’t know what to make of this.
Not too long ago, AVID stopped sending staff to vendor areas–and I am still not convinced about the long-term viability of Sibelius under AVID; and it isn’t unfair to wonder about the viability of MakeMusic under Peaksware.
Part of my issue with the lack of a vendor booth is that the vendor area used to be the most valuable location of a conference for me. Not only was it a place for networking, but it was also a place to see the latest and greatest in every aspect of music education–including technology. If all the major players in technology for music education “pull” their display booths–that is no longer true.
Vendor booths are incredibly expensive. You have to create and ship a display, pay a team of (at least) two representatives to be there, and you have to pay dearly for that space–which helps the state MEA pay for its use of the facilities where they hold their events. Any internet and power needs are additional costs. I don’t know the exact costs, but with everything included, it may cost up to $10,000 for a company to be represented in single vendor area–and that amount 50 times over for all 50 states. That is $500,000 a year! Eliminating the booth, and sending “just” a presenter could easily cut $8500 from that per-state budget, resulting in an overall cost of $75,000 per year (probably less). Even if MakeMusic is planning on sending a booth to certain states and not others–I don’t like the message that sends, even if economics are in play.
I fully understand why a company like MakeMusic, which has not been overly profitable (and now that it is private–we will not see any financial reports) would need to cut its operating costs. At the same time, if a teacher cannot make it to the prescheduled sessions at a conference (many schools only allow for one day of training), they are out of luck if they want to talk to someone in person or to try something at the booth. I still feel that personal relationships are key, even when choosing technology for your program. My former SmartMusic sales representatives were very important players in the process.
I want to express that I’m sad to see the vendor booth for MakeMusic disappear, and I am hoping this is a temporary cutback rather than a permanent change–and I hope it isn’t another signal that MakeMusic is at risk of going down the drain. Even though it is early in the game, we need to see signs of the phoenix from MakeMusic–because all that has been communicated (or demonstrated) in the recent past is continued cutbacks from the company.