Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Notation Software, its Existential Crisis and Future

Recently, I updated the music software market analysis section of my business plan, as part of the pre-launch due diligence for my innovative Virtuoso application. I did this update just after hearing about ThinkMusic and the fiasco that ensued in Janurary of 2013. There was talk about copyright infringement while apparently advertising vaporware on Kickstarter, it seems like they were banned for this. In addition to this news, Sibelius has shut down and MakeMusic, the company behind Finale has also been sold after going through four CEO's in just one year.
"The past couple of weeks, though, many of us digital sheet music people have been through a mini existential crisis. It’s recently come to light that not only has the Sibelius team been axed by Avid, but MakeMusic, the shepherds of Finale, are in trouble as well." — Singly Noted, SUBSTITUTING THE DOMINANT
"Unbelievably shortsighted, wanton vandalism of the world's most beloved scorewriter. Cutting costs is the losers' way of improving profits. The winners' way is to go out and to reinvent product with innovation and new sales frontiers. When Avid took over Sibelius in 2006 it was worth $23 million, now they're shutting it down." — Derek Williams, OF NOTE, Sibelius UK Office Closes
"Would it be unwise to buy Finale now if it’s for the first time and you don’t own any software at all? My investigations into software just seemed to reveal an impenetrable world I can’t understand – and I’m unwilling to choose software on a guess if it’s going to cost me hundreds of dollars." — Michael Edwards, The Future of MakeMusic, UNCG
All told, everything in the music notation software industry is in upheaval and in a state of expectation. As a result, the internet is buzzing with so much conversation about it all that I ended up with an extensive State of the Market 2013 report (the report is internal, however, partners will have access to the reasearch it contains). One could not hope for better market data and it has now become very obvious that the old products are swiftly becomeing history and that any much anticipated decent new products do not yet exist, at least not in market ready form.

What is more incredible still, is that while tablet hardware is advancing fast the software designs are not. There is a GAP and the ideas being proposed out there for new music software are just trivial or else they are just the same old same old stuff, put into the new tablet form factor. Essentially, what has occured after 25 years of clicking in notes is that we have now learnt about tapping on tablets, instead of clicking with a mouse. While a tap is great start, human expression demands more.

However, this is still boring and predicted news (my business plan foretold this outcome some time ago) compared to the regressive news that ThinkMusic anounced to the whole world on Kickstarter. Indeed, ThinkMusic with their software's note entry method, is hoping to convince musicians to regress back in time and not progress forward. How? By offering an iPad only system where the user has to hand sketch each part of a note seperately (the notehead, then stem, then flag, etc.) like a caveman (who is trying to be an elitist scribe at the same time), instead of even just clicking in whole notes like before!
"If this a hoax, it’s beautifully done. If the app is for real, then shouldn’t the promo video carry a disclaimer that the images are simulated? No doubt, an app that actually does what is shown in the video would be welcome among musicians, judging from the excitement in comments posted to social media. If ThinkMusic’s app designing skills are as good as the production values in the video, then this could indeed be cause for celebration. For now, though, we’ll take the skeptical approach." — Siblelius BLOG, A new tablet app that recognizes handwritten music?
Oh, and yes, this ThinkMusic option must be done with the stylus that never shipped with the iPad. Which means you need to go buy a stylus too (BTW, Steve Jobs never thought a stylus or hover was needed, DUH!). Is this absurd or what, handwriting all your music IOTA-by-IOTA instead of what was already tedious, the standard CLICK-by-CLICK method. Meanwhile, Virtuoso stands in direct contrast to such nonsense, offering a way forward not backward from the clickity click entry method of the past.

Comparatively, Virtuoso's note entry method is already fantastic, when contrasted in side-by-side demonstrations against prior methods, however, in light of the regressive ideas being proposed Virtuoso is incrediblely progressive and just plain brillant. This has been acknowledged by the music composers, educators and retail staff who have seen the prototype and have only high praise for Virtuoso's ground breaking innovations (see the endorsements at the bottom of this blog).

Virtuoso is above all, a new kind of interactive musical instrument for creativity and learning, that ALSO includes a robust music notation module. This is why what is going on with music notation is also something Virtuoso has a keen interest in. Virtuoso will help shape the future of notation by bringing it to life, moving it forward from the staid reputation it has and the static depiction it has been.

In summary, mobile tablets are changing everything and many industry sectors are being affected as a result. Until lately, we have had two major players in music notation software over the many years, Finale and Sibelius. Both of these monolithic products are very old and updating them is difficult, plus they only run on desktop not mobile environments. In other words, they are stranded and dying, they are no longer relevant and not much can be salvaged.
"In the end, complacency is a symptom of mediocrity and mediocrity is the result of a leadership organization that chooses not to lead, but instead, to manage how to be better or more efficient around "what is" and not "what should be" or "what's next"." — INNOVATE OR DIE, What's the Future of Business?, Brian Solis
Meanwhile, musicians everywhere are voting for the mobile way of doing things, except there is a problem, there is no decent music software for them to use on their mobile devices. Right now, there is a big void that is waiting to be filled. It is because of this dire lack of software that groups like ThinkMusic even come up with their poorly contrived ideas for products. Yet, the market gets very excited, even if it means they will have an even more cumbersome way of creating notes than ever before. However, Virtuoso will soon provide them with something truly great!
"So what do I make of this project? First, it has captured a lot of attention. The promo video managed to “go viral,” in a sense, at least among people who are interested in finding something better than what is currently available. There are very few, if any, apps that allow for intuitive, smooth, well-formatted music notation input, editing, and output, and Think Music’s video appeared to be about an app that will fill the void. But it turns out that the app is not really an app at all – just an interesting idea." — Pedaplus Blog, Think Music Technology?
"By the way, I’m in support of any music notation software that finds its way to the iPad. I really like Notion (and have been using it to make audio files out of MusicXML files generated by Finale), and I loved the interface of Symphony Pro (which has now disappeared from the App Store as well as from their website). But there are seventy million iPads out there, and there’s plenty of room for competition." — Another ThinkMusic Video, Technology in Music Education
This is an opportune time and Virtuoso is primed and ready to offer its revolutionary way of creating and editing notes to the world at large. Virtuoso is the no compromise result of extensive reseach and development spanning a number of years. Virtuoso anticipated tablets, yet it is not just a knee jerk reaction to them. Virtuoso is a revolutionary environment and a set of accessible and reactive tools that are perfectly realized on mobile devices, however, above all it is musical and moves us further into the future and its brilliance, not away from it.

Monday, 15 April 2013

The HTML5 Revolution and More Frontline News

It has been a while, so a new post is in order. First, you will notice that the Java Duke which use to occupy space along the right side is gone. In his stead are some shinny new jewels (explore the linked banners along the right side), which I've brought back from my journeys in the wonderful new world of HTML5 and by extension Hybrid Apps. It is truly awesome that it is now possible to bring an app to multiple platforms with Hybrid App technology, quite right and literally the greatest thing since sliced bread for companies that mean business!

Alas, Java is not what it use to be, there was strong resistance as Javascript grew in power but the time had come for a change, the change that marks the time when the mighty web browser became king and the emergence of a Web OS based on HTML5, Javascript, CSS3 and W3C web standards came into it's own. Like Wayne Gretzky said, "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been".

This blog was started when Steve Jobs passed on and so my intention at the time was to leave it be with the original posts (which are still fully intact below). Yet, there is much to say and share, the year has been exceptionally progressive. There has been much progress on Virtuoso and the opportune time to bring it to market is now here.

For myself, HTML5 completes a long open circle that started for me in the early 90s, back when I operated my web publishing and promotion company like a true pioneer, at the dawning of the World Wide Web. Except, now HTML is not just for ad agencies, now the application developers are in on the action, forging robust Single Page Apps that are catching up with the power of native apps very fast. Expect this year to bring a number of performance break throughs to Hybrid mobile apps.

Some other highlights this year have been Bret Victor's most excellent presentations. There is lot of material on his site but for sure checkout his Inventing on Principle video on YouTube. Seeing this just made my day, finally someone is saying the kind of things I believe in and have also discovered during the design and engineering of my Virtuoso software. I will say it again, anything by Bret Victor is super and a great way to get your brain thinking about innovation, instead of just accepting the status quo!

I also helped to get the Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet movie to our northern city. Jason has the most incredible story to tell and everyone reading this surely needs to check it out! I love his guitar style and have been able to get a number of his arpeggio sequences under my fingers lately. Its tough work but great to learn chops from a guitar master like Jason!

There was a scene in Jason Becker's movie that really stood out to me in a unique way, no doubt because of my involvement in improving the state of music composition software. The scene showed Jason's dad playing back a whole sequence of great sounding notes he had just painstakingly entered into the computer. Then it showed Jason telling his dad to delete all but the first few notes! Jason's dad was not happy to have to wipe out all that work but Jason wanted to try a different melody.

This melody composing scene really showed how inadequate existing music software is when it comes to entering music and making changes. The scene hammered home the truth of how my Virtuoso software will eliminate the pain other music applications make you endure! And how Virtuoso will free all who use it to compose anything they imagine quickly, without the pain and regrets the users of existing music software know all to well.