Updated Pricing Structures for SmartMusic AND thoughts about old blog posts

A couple of days ago, I received an e-mail from MakeMusic, letting me know that they have changed the pricing structure of subscriptions to SmartMusic. They were concerned that an old post on this blog had old pricing information.

You can find the updated pricing information (as of November 19, 2021) at: https://www.smartmusic.com/pricing/

I just wanted to add a couple of items regarding the blog, as well as my instructional shift.

First, blog posts on this channel become “historical artifacts.” Technology is ever changing (even if the pace of technology advancement in music education has been snail-paced for the past three years), as are subscription methods and so on. If you are interested in the latest versions and pricing for any hardware or software, please visit those sites directly for the latest information.

One of the powers of the “blog” is that we record where things are at the present—both in terms of facts and opinions—which later gives perspective. I still remember my commitment to the netbook Windows PC format. I thought it was going to be a hit, and it was a colossal flop. Windows itself was the culprit, making the speed of those devices crawl.

Where I wasn’t wrong was the format, as the Chromebook today is everything the netbook was not. I just bought my first new Chromebook in over 4 years. I still love my iPad and Mac (I’m typing this on my iPad), but the Chromebook has come a long way, mainly because there are better web-based services. There are still many things that iPads and computers do better…but touchscreens, flip Chromebooks, and active styluses change the game a bit, along with those better services.

The other thing I wanted to discuss is that my personal shift from secondary to elementary education has resulted in my focus on some other issues. While I keep an eye towards the broader changes in the profession (e.g. NoteFlight adding many features available in SmartMusic), my use of some systems, such as SmartMusic, have lessened. While SmartMusic might be very useful to teach recorder with 3rd and 4th grade students, I am not going to get funding from my district at this time to purchase it for them. So I have put my focus in other directions, such as making play along videos for recorder and so on. That’s not to say that SmartMusic (or NoteFlight, or MusicFirst) aren’t worth buying or pursing—they just don’t fit into my work flow at this time, and therefore I don’t write much about them.

And really, I don’t think much has changed with these programs. Now that the main approach is web-based with most of these services, they all offer an ever-increasing library of content, with ever-increasing levels of accuracy of assessment, and ever-increasing clarity of communication of the results to students. If you are considering purchasing a red-note/green-note (my term for the playing assessment/training services), I would strongly encourage you to contact SmartMusic/MakeMusic, NoteFlight, and MusicFirst, ask for a demo, and compare the available libraries, methods of uploading exercises (if something isn’t in the library), accuracy of assessment, quality of feedback, and of course, cost per student. Rate each category, and choose what you think is best for you and your students.

Existing Finale Owners…

If you didn’t update to Finale 25, Monday is when you want to do it. MakeMusic is offering a $99 upgrade to existing owners (of Finale, PrintMusic, and SongWriter).

Finale 25 doesn’t operate any differently than previous versions–most of  the work was done “under the hood” updating the code. While there are some “new” things (e.g. transposing parts) the 64 bit programming is why you want the latest version.

Hopefully you saved some cash to be able to take advantage of the sale. 

Finale 25 Now Available

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 8.20.58 PMEarlier today, Finale 25 was released by MakeMusic.  The program (Windows/Mac) features new 64-bit architecture, bug fixes from previous versions, transposing playback (see instruments at their written pitch, hear them played at their played pitch), and an expanded library of Garritan Sounds.  For those of you who interact with pro audio applications, you can now do that through ReWire (I don’t use pro audio applications for my workflow).

I have only been working with Finale 25 for a little while today…I was given a preview copy, but I had some installation problems on my old MacBook (those difficulties disappeared when I used the public installation file that was released today).

My first opinion: Finale 25 opens and runs like Finale.  As much as that seems like the understatement of the year, remember that this program has been reworked extensively, so to have a program continue to look and operate as it did before is no small feat.  It is also important that previous users are able to open the program and use it.    Remember the nightmare for Sibelius users when a new version changed the operation of the program with Microsoft Office-like ribbons?  As another example, Finale has encouraged “simple entry” for years, yet those of us who have used the program for a long time (I raise my hand here) still use “speedy entry.”  Both options still exist, and menus all seem to be where they ought to be.

The upgrade price is $149 from a previous version of Finale, and of course, if you have bought Finale recently (e.g. last week), I would contact MakeMusic directly to see what they can do.

Should you upgrade?  Obviously, MakeMusic would prefer it if you did–and there is nothing wrong with that.  Your upgrade helps the company keep the lights on and continue development on the program.

If you are a Mac user, MakeMusic has let some versions of Finale fall into obsolescence on the Mac due to “old” OS conflicts.  I don’t expect MakeMusic to continue supporting old versions of any operating system, so if you have a Mac that can run El Capitan (current) or Sierra (coming), it might be worth the upgrade price to guarantee continued operation in the future.

If you are a Windows user, you are going to need a 64-bit machine to run Finale 25.  Sadly, my Windows machine is an Asus T-100 Transformer that runs 32-bit programs.  It is time to send that computer to the farm (it doesn’t feel that old, and in fact, my MacBook is older).  To check whether your old Windows computer is compatible, open the Windows Start Menu, Choose “System” and then look under “About.”  There is a category called “System type,” and my Asus reads, “32-bit operating system, x64-based processor.”  Time for me to buy the Surface 4 Pro, I guess (but in truth, I need a new MacBook and 12.9″ iPad Pro first–as well as a few more ukuleles!).

If you have a more recent machine,  the 64-bit program should be marginally faster and more stable than Finale 2014.  If you are running Finale 2012 on a 64-bit Windows computer, it is time to upgrade.  If you are running Finale 2014, you’ll have to decide whether the new features of transposing playback, expanded Garritan sounds, and ReWire integration are worth the upgrade to you.  If you export audio tracks for rehearsal files, the expanded Garritan sounds should make the purchase worthwhile, and if you are a band director who makes scores for your students, transposed playback will be a nice (must have?) feature.

Missing in Finale 25 is scanning, which was recently pulled from the product.  Have no fear–there are still ways to get music from paper or PDF into Finale, you’ll just have to do it outside of the Finale sandbox.  Although I will blog about that in the future, look at Neuratron’s PhotoScore Ultimate 8, Notateme/PhotoScore on iOS and Android, and the latest version of Musitek’s SmartScore X2.  All of these programs export scanned materials to MusicXML, which can be read by Finale.

So…congratulations to MakeMusic, and best wishes for a great launch and continued success!

Alfred Music joins Peaksware

You can file this in the category of things that I never considered: Alfred Music is now a part of the Peaksware family.  Nearly two years ago, MakeMusic went private and was acquired by Peaksware.  Since that acquisition, a lot of good things have occurred at MakeMusic: regular updates to SmartMusic, a much more stable system this academic year, an expanding catalog, the acquisition of Weezic, the export of MusicXML to the W3C committee, an upcoming new version of Finale, and a truly “new” version of SmartMusic based on the Weezic acquisition with an entirely new pricing scheme.

I don’t know how Alfred’s new “sibling” relationship with MakeMusic will play out, but I am hoping that the future-minded aspects of MakeMusic will have an effect on the publishing side of Alfred.

It should be noted that Hal Leonard owns Noteflight, and now their Hal Leonard’s largest competitor, Alfred, is a sister company to MakeMusic.

I’m excited for the changes in this industry in the coming year(s)!

MakeMusic Acquires Weezic

Weezic Logo

In May of 2011, I had a rather direct conversation with a VP of MakeMusic about the iPad.  At the time, the iPad was relatively new (the iPad 2 had just been released), and I was arguing for SmartMusic on the iPad.  At several music conferences that year, MakeMusic representatives had discussed (with me) whether it made sense to have a web-based SmartMusic platform, or to go device specific.  In the end, MakeMusic chose the iPad, and it didn’t choose wrong.  The iPad is a wonderful platform for SmartMusic, and thousands of students are using SmartMusic on their iPads.

But none of us expected the impact of the Chromebook in education.  As you can see from various posts on my blog, if you have a choice, the Chromebook is the wrong device for music education.  Chromebooks are the result when a district chooses the device, or a music teacher can’t afford iPads (With all sincerity, a MacBook or Windows computer is a better option for music than a Chromebook).  This doesn’t mean I am anti-Chromebook, but we have to be honest and admit that they are not the best device for music.

That hasn’t stopped thousands of schools from adopting Chromebook 1:1.

If every student has a Chromebook, what do you do about SmartMusic?  Nothing.  You either have to have students with access to Mac/Windows/iPad, or they can’t use it.

Meanwhile, a number of other players have entered the field of green note/red note programs.  One of those programs, which won an award at NAMM this past January was Weezic.  Weezic is a French company which has offered green note/red note feedback, provided a library that sold songs individually, gave users the ability to purchase a song to be put into Weezic’s format, and recently was moving towards letting users upload their own MusicXML files, as well as audio and video files that–using Weezic’s proprietary algorithms–would sync the visual music created by the MusicXML file to the uploaded audio and video.  Furthermore, Weezic was promising to have a conservatory feature (school mode).

The crowning achievement (if this wasn’t already enough)?  The latest version of Weezic, although already an iOS app, was running on ALL platforms with HTML 5.  Had Weezic come out this fall, MakeMusic would have had a lot of competition for SmartMusic (along with new multi-platform solution, PracticeFirst).

Although I have been aware of Weezic for a long time, it was not a solution for me as it didn’t have the literature I needed, and I didn’t want to pay someone else to convert literature for me.  However, as Weezic announced new features early this winter (allowing you to bring your own materials into Weezic), I made sure to visit their booth in February at TMEA, and saw most of these features in action.   I felt, at the time, that Weezic had the best chance to be a SmartMusic competitor, particularly if it was priced right.  However, after building up a lot of steam in February, the company had gone quiet, and today’s news explains why.

The news from SmartMusic today is that they have acquired Weezic, and it just makes sense.  In doing so, they eliminate a competitor while incorporating their technology, meaning that we will see a platform-agnostic version of SmartMusic sooner than later.  Earlier this year (before today’s news), an reliable source told me that MakeMusic would be (at least) several years away from releasing a web-based version of SmartMusic.  I wouldn’t expect to see a web-based version of SmartMusic any time soon (think fall of 2016, perhaps), but MakeMusic now has the technology in hand to make this happen.

This is a great acquisition–the best I have seen from the company since it brought Michael Good on the staff; and in fact, it is the first “major” good public news in a long time.  It shows that MakeMusic was able to assess the market (i.e. Chromebooks), realize they couldn’t react to the market while continuing to develop and support their existing products, so they acquired Weezic for their staff and technology.  Unless the web version is a “knockout,” I would expect to see continued development of the Mac/Windows/iPad versions, although a web-only product could be an end goal for the company.

Do you remember how long it took for the iPad version to come out?  Expect a similar length of time for a web-based SmartMusic, and perhaps a product that slowly adds functionality (just as the iPad version did).

MakeMusic is also opening an office in Europe, which is a good sign for the future of MakeMusic as it attempts to make a stronger effort in the European market (a place where Sibelius has reigned supreme).

The only negative part about this acquisition is that some Weezic users will lose access to the songs they have been using (and perhaps purchased).  It would be nice if all of Weezic’s library could be rolled into the new SmartMusic (whenever that comes) for those users in particular.  I would also like to see Weezic’s ability to connect audio and video to a MusicXML file brought to SmartMusic.

In closing, this is great news for MakeMusic, and it will be exciting to see the changes in SmartMusic as a result of this accession.