Category Archives: SmartMusic

New Pricing from SmartMusic

This news was released a couple of days before TMEA, but MakeMusic has just announced a whole new pricing plan for SmartMusic.  The cost is $40 per educator, giving the educator access to all of SmartMusic’s tools, and then there are three new tiers for student accounts for SmartMusic.

Basic ($4 per student per year) allows student access to all method books and any materials that you create as a teacher.

Standard ($8 per student per year) allows student access to method books assigned by the teacher and teacher-created materials, as well as solo and ensemble, as well as “group” literature assigned by the teacher (i.e. if you want to assign your concert literature to students, this is the plan they will need).

Premium ($12 per student per year) allows students to accesss all content on SmartMusic on their own.  They can still access assigned lesson books, literature, and teacher-created materials.

The old plans required a set starting fee ($399 per year) plus a 50 student minimum.  The new pricing allows for a program of any size to use SmartMusic.  The Premium model used to cost $40, or $20 through the school.  That’s a major savings for the student on that plan…at either price point!

Many programs will want to look at the $8 pricing level, which would give students access to method books and the scores they are working on in class (provided that the scores are a part of the existing SmartMusic library—and many directors choose literature that is a part of the library).  You can create your own resources…but that takes a greater commitment of your time and energy, and you would not have access to the recordings that are a part of SmartMusic as well.  Choral music educators are used to creating their own materials, but we generally have two to four voices plus piano, unlike a band score with a much wider range of instruments/parts.

With the $8 model, think of the cost as $1 per month per student.  That’s an incredible deal.  Add $0.50 per month ($1.50 per student per month) and students have access to everything on SmartMusic. That is a great deal, too!

If you haven’t been using SmartMusic and price or the previous structure didn’t work for you…it might be time to check out SmartMusic again, and to see what the “New” SmartMusic is all about!

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SmartMusic has an Online Notation Editor/Creator!

You know those movies/TV series where all sorts of events build up to a point of confrontation (That’s just about any movie, TV show, book, drama, etc.)?  That is what is happening right now in the space of music notation, practice tools, and student assessment.

About a week ago, I was given a “sneak peek” at the new online notation editor that exists inside of the new SmartMusic.  Yes, let me repeat that: inside.

The “new” SmartMusic is web-based, and works on most devices (iPads still need a proprietary application, as is often the case).  I have stepped away from red note/green note programs for a while (I’ll write an addendum at the bottom of this post if you are curious why), so while I continue to watch what is happening in the space (SmartMusic, MusicProdigy, PracticeFirst) I am not using any of those products with my students.  I still very much see the value of these products, and in a different teaching position, I would insist on (as least the consideration of) the use of those programs in band, choir, orchestra, and general music (recorder, mallats, and ukulele).  “New” SmartMusic allows for Chromebooks to be used, which opens a huge educational market in the United States—and is one of the best ways for a Chromebook school to put those devices to use (along with Noteflight, Flat.io, and Soundtrap).

I was stunned to learn that the SmartMusic team has added a full notation feature to SmartMusic.  Yes, stunned.  In the dark ages when Finale was created (MakeMusic’s other product), Finale was the product.  SmartMusic came along, and now the mission of MakeMusic is “to develop and market solutions that transform how music is composed, taught, learned, and performed.”  That is far beyond the original focus on music notation.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m a Finale user.  I use other tools, too, but when the going gets tough, I use Finale.  That said, the notation field has simply exploded over the past years, from open source MuseScore to heavy-hitting Dorico…and at least five other significant applications, some on mobile devices.

At the same time, web applications are improving all the time.  I used to be strongly against Chromebooks (particularly when compared to iPads), but web applications have made Chromebooks significantly more useful for music educators.  I still believe that iPads are the better tool for our field—but a day is coming where the Chromebook could be just as good of a choice.

All this makes me wonder how long it will be before all traditional programs move to the cloud.  For example, you can log into iCloud.com and use Pages, Excel, and Keynote on just about any device.  The same is true with Microsoft products, and of course, Google apps continue to improve.

How long will it be before Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, Notion, and MuseScore all move to the web?  Probably sooner than we think.  Five years ago, this didn’t seem possible.

Meanwhile, on the web, Noteflight and Flat.io have been working to create quality products, also sharing an interest education.  I have used Flat.io with students—it is a bit more accessible than Noteflight, and Flat.io is a little friendlier as it uses school Google accounts (GAFE).  Noteflight is working on a number of other features, including connecting Hal Leonard catalog content to the service as well as developing other educational features.

Keep in mind that Hal Leonard owns Noteflight, and that SmartMusic’s parent company owns Alfred.

A bit about the notation editor in SmartMusic: it is impressive.  It functions on a level very close to Flat.io and Noteflight.  The notation editor hides one level deeper in the program than you would think (the editor currently resides inside the “add content” button, whereas I would want just a “notation button”  on the front page).  I messed around a little bit with the program, and was pleased to find out that it recognized “traditional” Finale numbers for note value.  That said, the difference between Finale and Sibelius has always been note entry.  Sibelius (and MuseScore) have always approached a measure as having a measure full of beats, and when you add a note, the program subtracts that from the preexisting rest.  Put in a quarter note in 4/4 and a whole rest turns into a quarter rest with three quarter rests.  Finale (and Notion) have always been ex nihlo programs, where nothing exists in the measure until you put it there.  The SmartMusic notation editor acts like Sibelius in this regard, which was surprising to me.  MakeMusic would also want you to know that the notation program is tapping into the Garritan sound bank.  Sounds have been a weakness for a number of the web based notation programs.

And if you want to see the post by Michael Goode about the new features of SmartMusic, you can read it here.

The “new” SmartMusic allows you to import your own content.  I tried uploading a choral score that had two vocal parts (SA), piano, bass, and drum set.  SmartMusic allows you to map the drum part so it plays correctly…this is amazing and practical.  It allows you to write a drum part as you want to—and then to be able to have it played back correctly.  All the notation programs should follow this lead with a similar interface.

With the “old” SmartMusic, the way to get music into the program was through Finale.  I thought that was the key to Finale’s long term survival—as you had to own the most recent version of Finale to creat SmartMusic files.  The “new” SmartMusic accepts MusicXML files (now an open standard—another business move by MakeMusic that I’ll never understand, but am happy that it happened) eliminating the need for the user to have Finale.

And now, the embedded notation software, combined with a scanning app such as NotateMe (with the PhotoScore IAP) or Sheet Music Scanner (iOS), means you don’t need any other software to create SmartMusic scores…everything you need is right on the web.

All this said, the industry is moving towards a giant point of confrontation.  Some “bullet” thoughts at this time:

  • If the notation feature of SmartMusic continues to improve to the point that it can do everything Finale can do, I expect a merger of both products within 5 years.
  • I expect to see Noteflight move into the practice/assessment arena (they already accept recordings) as SmartMusic is moving into the online notation arena.  John Mlynczak was recently named Director of Noteflight (overseeing the service), and he was responsible for many of the previous education initiatives from the company (such as Noteflight Learn).  Look for John to continue to be distruptive (in a good way) in this industry.
  • I don’t know where MusicFirst fits into all of this, as Hal Leonard is connected with (but not owned by) Music Sales Group, the owner of MusicFirst.
  • The next item for all these companies to address is the quagmire of sheet music into digital formats, distribution, and revenue sharing (Creating an Apple Music for sheet music)
  • Look for SmartMusic to move into composition assignments for students.  Why not?  The editor is there, so logically, the program could expand to allow teachers to assign composition through the SmartMusic as well.
  • Look for MuseScore to move into the web space.
  • Can Sibelius survive in a world with MuseScore, web-based notation, mobile-based notation, and Dorico?
  • I’m not sure what to expect from Flat.io, which has taken a very different approach, focusing on relationships with Google versus working with publishers.  They are very innovative and it is fun to have no idea what they will do next.

So, in summary—I was surprised to learn about the music editor in SmartMusic, and it works great.  If you have SmartMusic, check it out.


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Addendum:

I just wanted to mention why we have moved away from using red note/green note programs, particularly as I believe in them.  Cost is one issue for our school, but more importantly we are working on changing our school climate through PBIS, respecting self, others, property, and learning.  We use Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed sight reading method, and MusicProdigy offered access to Dale’s exercises for unlimited students for $100 per year.  We tried that out, but students would not do the assessments at home (20% would do home—at most).  We don’t have practice rooms, so I moved to having students record themselves in class (we are 1:1 iPad) while completing sight reading or singing assessments (as part of the larger group), and submitting those recordings via our LMS/CMS.  Those recordings are graded on a rubric.  This process it is like using SmartMusic, but there is nothing “smart” about the process.  I know some other teachers use Charms Office Assistant in a similar way.  When we moved to doing the recordings in class, the percentage of completed assessments increased to over 90%. Until PBIS kicks in (it can take five years), I am going to have to do the assessments in class instead of outside of class.


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.


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.