Category Archives: SmartMusic

The New SmartMusic–see their webpage for updates

I have been putting this post “off” for a while, as MakeMusic has been in the process of defining how the “New” SmartMusic is going to work.

Since my previous post about the pricing of the “New” SmartMusic, MakeMusic has revised the plan–basically simplifing things.  Where there were going to be two levels, they have simplified the plan to one.  To see the details, check out their website at: http://www.smartmusic.com/new/

They are constantly revising and improving the “New” SmartMusic and how they talk about–even terminology is shifting.  Therefore, if you have feedback about the coming product, please contact them.  As has always been true of MakeMusic, they are listening because they want to provide a product that you want to use.

Finally, just some scattered thoughts:

  • Some colleagues were worried about the “set of 50” pricing.  The latest plan addresses this in groups of 5 additional students.
  • If you are an individual user of SmartMusic (e.g. A home-schooled student), the “old” SmartMusic is going to be your option for 16-17.  There will eventually be solutions with the “New” SmartMusic for you, too.
  • I asked some questions to MakeMusic which they are going to include in a FAQ.  Watch for that document (They can speak for themselves on those questions).
  • Be aware that you have to make the choice between “Old” and “New” as you cannot do both.  I would also advise that in time, the “New” will become the “only” SmartMusic, so it probably makes sense to get on board in the fall of 2016.

Again, if you were the teacher using SmartMusic in 4 practice rooms for 200 students (about $300 a year)–the “New” SmartMusic represents a price increase.  I understand that.  At the same time, if that was you, you have to acknowledge that your past use didn’t cover the annual cost of improvements, server space, or literature licensing (Note: this comes from my perspective, and does NOT come from MakeMusic).  The new pricing of $399 for 50 students (plus 3 teachers) guarantees the sustainability of the product (in this era of new competition) for $8 a student; plus you will find that your students won’t be locked into the practice room (although they can do so) and will be able to use SmartMusic with any device.  Think about it…students can get SmartMusic for the price of less than 2 beverages at Starbucks.  Or less than the cost of a lesson book (Yes…I said that).

We know SmartMusic can significantly improve the playing ability of a student–can you imagine any other activity where an $8 investment could yield so much potential growth?

And of course, the full subscription (all literature, not just assignments from the teacher) is available for $20 per student.

Which is still a bargain.

Again, visit SmartMusic for the latest details (which continue to change) for this exciting new product.

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Reactions to Pricing

I recently blogged about the changes in pricing to SmartMusic for 2016. There will be some addiitional information about pricing coming soon from MakeMusic, which I will blog about afterwards (keep your eyes open for this news).

One of my internet colleagues and I shared an exchange about pricing this week. My colleague's concern was that the change in SmartMusic pricing ($399 for 50 students) represented a price increase for them. Currently, they use a director's subscription ($140) plus two practice room subscriptions ($44 each). Their current cost is $188 per year for SmartMusic, which is used by 70 students in two practice rooms. To make matters worse, two of the $399 blocks will be necessary to provide access for all 70 of their students. And I understand that some schools do not allow music programs to charge their students for anything (instrument rental, uniform cleaning, or anything else). Other schools are allowed to collect a music/rental fee.

No matter how you do the math, $188 to $798 is an increase. To compare, MusicProdigy covers all your students for $1500 (content not included), and PracticeFirst would be $6 per student (minimum of 100 subscriptions–plus some included content). That said, you need to work with all three programs to know the positives and negatives of each program.

Going back to the issue of price increase for this school (and many like it): part of what you get with SmartMusic is extensive content (particularly for band and orchestra, and now choir) and familiarity (it was the only option for years). MakeMusic pays royalty fees on the content that is used–and they know exactly what is used by each account A school with an education subscription and a few practice rooms, where 70–or in my own past, 150–students use those accounts, MakeMusic wasn't getting a profitable return (in my case, I was making my own content, so I am an outlier). We know this because there was an attempt to charge $8 per user of practice room subscriptions several years ago (the backlash was so strong that they did not pursue that plan). That was a few years ago–but even so, that $8 cost per user wasn't a “guesstimate” by the company–it was a number that reflected the actual cost (and need for profit) for the company. We really should be thanking them for keeping this option so long.

And this needs to be said: companies dealing with technology in music education have a passion to help music education, but they need to be profitable.

The new “block” price of $399 for 50 students might be a price increase for your program. That said, with those 50 subscriptions, you have access to all of SmartMusic's repertoire (you'll have to make assignments for your students from that repertoire). However, under the old pricing, one teacher was $140, and each student subscription was $40. If you had a teacher and seven students subscribe to SmartMusic this year, that was more than $399. That leaves 43 more students per “block” that can get access that may not have had individual go-anywhere access before. If you have 70 students and have to buy 2 blocks, perhaps the additional 30 subscriptions could be used in other ways (faculty band?).

And most importantly, students will be able to take SmartMusic with them, on any device (iPad, Chromebook, Windows Computer, Mac) and not restricted to two practice rooms.That freedom might be worth the added $610. But I understand the barrier of funding–we receive no direct funding from our school for our choir program.

Those are my thoughts on the issue–not an attack in any way, but an attempt to look at the issue from the larger aspect of profitability, convienience, and competitors.


The NEW SmartMusic

If you haven't been paying attention, MakeMusic is progressing towards a fall 2016 release of a new platform-agnostic (i.e. It will work on all platforms) version of SmartMusic…including running on the Chromebook. MakeMusic has been fully aware of the impact of the Chromebook on education, and it saw the need to get SmartMusic on all devices (all that is required is an Internet connection). The answer was to purchase the software company Weezic, and to bring the best of Weezic to the world of SmartMusic.

An early version of the new SmartMusic was shown at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in December. A week ago, MakeMusic announced pricing at TMEA (and incidentally, MMEA, which is held at the same time). This is public information that was handed out–so I am not breaking any confidentiality agreements.

While you should visit MakeMusic's website for further (and future) details, here is the new pricing in a nutshell:

  1. Year-long licenses are now sold in packs (or blocks) of 50 students, with up to 5 teachers per pack (or block)
  2. The first type of pack is called “SmartMusic Teach,” where teachers can assign content from any existing SmartMusic repertoire or content the teacher submits themselves (from MusicXML content). Each block costs $399 for a year (1). Students do not have access to any SmartMusic content other than assignments from the teacher–but students can individually subscribe to all content for $3.99 a month (no need for a yearly subscription) (2).
  3. The second type of pack is called “SmartMusic Teach Premium” which features everything from the aforementioned “SmartMusic Teach” but students have access to all SmartMusic repertoire as well. Each block costs $999 per year.

Just one other thing to mention: the NEW SmartMusic isn't directly connected to the existing SmartMusic. As a result, in 2016, educators will have to decide whether to pursue the “old” SmartMusic interface or the new SmartMusic–and there is no switching between both. My guess is that since the New SmartMusic will work on nearly every device, most schools should choose the new interface. However, talk to your SmartMusic representative for more details.

 

It is quite wonderful for SmartMusic to annouce pricing at this time. First of all, the other green-note/red-note programs (specifically MusicProdigy and PracticeFirst) have similar pricing plans, and all work out to roughly the same cost when content is included in the cost. Second, schools are setting budgets NOW, so music teachers can let principals know specific budgetary needs for 2016-2017 as it pertains to SmartMusic. Schools that do not have a music budget (like mine) can determine the cost and fundraise before the fall.

 

How do I feel about the product and pricing? I'm all for it, and I still may not be able to afford it for my 350 students (3). If you purchase the “entry level” SmartMusic Teach at $399 per set of 50 students, this year's SmartMusic would have cost $2140 for 50 students and 1 teacher. That means the new SmartMusic is less than 20% of the cost of SmartMusic right now. That is amazing pricing. SmartMusic Teach Premium, at $999 for 50 students, is less than 50% of the cost of SmartMusic right now.

 

Again, the new SmartMusic will work on all devices and cost at least 50% of what SmartMusic costs now (based on 50 students).

 

That's pretty amazing.

 

Yes, there will be a band teacher somewhere that has 54 students and then have to pay an extra $399 for 4 students. It will be interesting to see how MakeMusic handles those situations.

 

I have always thought SmartMusic was an incredible deal, even though I have not been able to afford to have it for my students at my current school. One rehearsal with a pianist and an audition for the Minnesota Opera costs me more than $50. To think that you can buy that rehearsal pianist via SmartMusic for $40 a year is a game-changer. And now you can get it for roughly $8 per year.

 

There were no details about pricing for individuals, such as home-schooled students.

 

Again…keep your eye on MakeMusic and SmartMusic…they will have more news and sneak peeks as the fall approaches.

 

(1) Do you remember a couple of years ago when SmartMusic wanted to change pricing to practice room subscriptions of $8 per year? If you do the math, that is about what the cost of the new SmartMusic for each student (50 students into $399).

 

(2) Most students won't need that level of access–but those who study privately can purchase access to all repertoire, and those that need SmartMusic to prepare for Solo and Ensemble contest can do so for a few months rather than needing to pay $40 for the whole year.

 

(3) I fall into a minority of music teachers who create their own resources and use very little of what SmartMusic offers in repertoire. While the $399 is an incredible bargain per set of 50 students, I would have to buy 7 blocks of SmartMusic ($2800) to have my students have SmartMusic for one year. If you are a band director who picks music based on availability in SmartMusic, or SmartMusic becomes the $9.00 methods book replacement–the new SmartMusic is an incredible deal–so is the $999 SmartMusic Teach Premium subscription ($20 per student). For me, what I need is the functionality of SmartMusic without the content. I would love to see a “no content” option that simply covered their server/operating and R&D costs.

 


SmartMusic adds choral literature

In the midst of a very big week (the acquisition of Weezic), SmartMusic has now added a number of choral titles to the SmartMusic Library. There are fifty selections in various voicings. This is considered a “beta” effort by SmartMusic, and when you try the literature, they ask for your feedback.

I have only worked with a few titles so far, and had already been making my own SmartMusic choral files for some time. What I learned, making my own SmartMusic files, was to give every part its own line (this can be tricky with mid-measure divisi in parts), and to very carefully decide what measures I wanted to assess (you can do this with the educator’s version of SmartMusic with a full score).

The difference between my own files and these new choral files is that each song is linked to an audio recording (think of the audio sampler recordings sent out by the publishers), and although you can add “your part” as a synthesized overlay, all parts of the audio tracks exist at all times when you work with the music.

I have sent my feedback already, but I would prefer to be able to choose what parts I heard as I or my students sang an assignment/assessment. I would prefer the choice to hear either a synthesized accompaniment or the recorded accompaniment.

The use of an accompaniment is a tricky matter for singers and choirs. In the instrumental world, you want every player to aspire to the sound of a professional player. If you hear a professional recording of Holst’s 1st Suite, that is how you want your young players to sound, too. In vocal music, you probably don’t want your young choir sounding like the St. Olaf Choir (as beautifully as they sing) or like a particular opera singer, as their voices generally have not developed enough to emulate those sounds. While I don’t want to insult anyone, you generally don’t want your choirs to sing like sound sampler choirs, either, which tend to be adults singing with a bit of a “pop” sound.

What ends up happening, then, is a quagmire where to fully represent a song, you might need several recordings attached to it (e.g. An excellent children’s choir, an excellent high school women’s choir, and a collegiate women’s choir), with solo parts recorded by exemplar voices at each level for each part, so that “music minus 1” audio samples could be used at all levels for all students.

That level of complexity just can’t happen, but that is what would be ideal. Since it can’t happen, I would instead like the choice to use synthesized accompaniments as well as the provided audio recording. It would also be wonderful to be able to upload your own recording (you can upload JUST an MP3 as an assignment/assessment, but I am talking about doing so attached to a score)–perhaps using some of the technology developed by Weezic.

Also, I would like the ability to see ALL parts (full score) or single parts. For assessment, single parts are wonderful, but most of the time, choral singers are used to following the full score, which is much easier to follow than a band score.

With full score examples, SmartMusic has the potential to be the place where choir directors would go to find music, much like many band directors (I know many band directors who only choose music that is available on SmartMusic).

If you are a choral director and have a subscription to SmartMusic (if not, the $40 annual student subscription will give you full access to the literature), check out the choral music on SmartMusic and give them some feedback!

P.S. I would love to see the “legacy” SmartMusic vocal literature updated to include the scores (right now, the legacy vocal literature only provides an accompaniment and interface box, as it dates to the days when SmartMusic was called “Vivace” and ran on an external unit and required “carts”)


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.