As industry giant Avid reorganizes, user fears about the future of popular notation tool Sibelius continue to mount. The chief rival to MakeMusic’s Finale, Sibelius is widely used among composers, musicians, arrangers, engravers, and educators. Those users now fear not a dead Sibelius, sold off to some other party, but an undead tool. In this scenario, they contemplate the loss of the core development team that would provide essential ongoing updates.

Despite the staying power of tools like Venue, Pro Tools, and its flagship video software, Avid has been on a steady skid in profits and share value. Consecutive quarters have seen losses and the company has seen major recent executive team changes, overseeing a company that sits stop a dwindling cash supply. In an attempt to return to profitability, Avid divested key brands earlier this summer – most notably M-Audio – but retained notation software Sibelius and the accompanying iOS apps. In statements about its financial situation, Avid numbers Sibelius among the assets the company says can return it to more ample black ink.

Now, we have two conflicting narratives about what’s going on with Sibelius. Avid has already told CDM that Sibelius will remain a key product, and echoed this sentiment in communications with the Sibelius community. But reports from inside Sibelius suggest that the entire UK development team is being gutted. Reporting for ZDNet, Jack Schofield has a nice write-up of the latest sequence of events:

The response from the community, expressed in 200 comments, appears to be that without Daniel Spreadbury and his British development team, Sibelius is doomed. [Ed.: Spreadbury is Sibelius’s Senior Product Manager, and has been with the company since 1999. -PK]

Following what he called “the outpouring of concern on forums and social media,” [Avid audio vice president Martin] Kloiber followed up by saying: “I want to personally give my assurance that Avid is deeply committed to developing Sibelius moving forward. Our plan is to integrate Sibelius development more closely with the rest of Avid’s audio development teams in California, and I’m confident we can leverage our innovative development teams and continue to raise the bar in the future.”

To which John Murdoch responded in a comment: “Who among your audio development teams in California has experience generating PostScript Level 3 code? Don’t know what that is? Sibelius is far more of a desktop publishing application than an audio application.”

Schofield also notes that the Finn brothers, creators of Sibelius, are concerned enough that they say they tried to buy back the tool from Avid, but were turned down. The whole article is a good read:

Users petition Avid to sell Sibelius music software arm [ZDNet]

As rumors fly, I have been able to acquire some information I believe to be accurate. A source close to the Sibelius UK operation confirm to CDM that the primary office in Finsbury Park, UK, is closing, though some of the details have been muddled. 15 employees worked at the UK location, including the entire development and product management team. Nine of those employees finished work at the end of July; the source says that six people remain in the office, and will leave with the conclusion of the building lease at the end of September. While Avid says it is “integrating” Sibelius development in California, there are no reports that any current Sibelius development staff will be retained.

Avid has declined to comment on internal staffing.

I can attest to the value of continuity in development – both in Sibelius, specifically, and in complex music software, more generally. I’ve talked to the Finn brothers and Mr. Spreadbury in the past about the importance of their development team, and, indeed, Avid and Sibelius commented on just how essential these individuals were to the operation when the company was acquired several years ago. Complex tools of this sort have complex code bases. With no continuity in development, it’s almost inevitable that future updates would suffer. Sibelius itself had, until last month, kept a continuous thread of software developers back to the point when it was the Finn brothers’ student project in the early 90s.

Users are banding around the software, in an attempt to pressure Avid to sell the tool. sibeliususers.org is the primary rallying point. Derek Williams of sibeliususers.org identifies the people behind the organizing:

As regards the rest of the current pressure group, it is made up of a flotsam of disaffected Sibelius devotees, ranging from myself as campaign organiser, (www.derekwilliams.net) through former Sibelius programmers such as Simon Whiteside, web developers, such as Mark Sealey, lawyers such as Peter Roos and several others who cannot be named because they have close ties with Avid. For all that, we are well connected and highly motivated.

Those whom I have named are among those who can be identified publicly as key players in the campaign to rescue Sibelius. All of us are outraged by the pillage of Sibelius by its Wall St speculator owners, Avid Technology. We are doing everything in our power to wrest our beloved Sibelius loose from these marauders.

The “Wall Street” term here may be a bit of a stretch; a quick look at Avid’s current Board of Directors suggests a financial and business background, though not necessarily New York Wall Street finance specifically. sibeliususers has also not yet responded to a request for additional sources to some of the claims about Avid’s corporate situation, though you can easily confirm that a number of the changes to Directors and Executive Team have taken place. (Avid is publicly-traded, and therefore discloses a lot of this information.)

In the meantime, because of the user reaction, and because user faith in a tool is so vital to its health, I believe the burden of proof now lies with Avid to explain how Sibelius’ development can continue without any of its previous developers. It’s difficult to imagine Sibelius as we now know it continuing without the guidance of its creators.

  • synthetic

    I thought that most Avid software development was offshored to Russia? 

    • plopp

      I think it was Ukraine.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yes, the sibeliususers website references Avid’s investment in developers in Ukraine. Whether those people would work on Sibelius is speculative, though; Avid refers to “California,” of course.

      Now, there’s a big difference between building development resources abroad and offshoring. Intel, for instance, just about saved the whole business by investing in R&D in Israel, far away from their previous core engineering teams, when that center developed the Core processor architecture. The issue is whether you’re just cutting costs, or really building something functional, sustainable, and effective.

    • Simon

      I think the answer is they think they’re saving costs. Actually they’ll lose money – the London operation was lean, mean and very productive. That will be very hard to reproduce with a completely new team no previous experience of the software or complex music notation,

  • Alejandro

    Any idea what’s gonna happen to the M-Audio Venom? I saw that thomann.de has it with a 60% of discount. 

    • Chad

       Venom is a fun synth to play and program.  Worth picking up at that rate.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Venom would go with the rest of the M-Audio range over to InMusic (along with Akai, Numark, Alesis, etc.) — including support.

  • markLouis

    I currently use Finale and don’t like it very much.  But I would hesitate, right now, to buy Sibelius.  I agree that it seems fool-hardy to move forward without the original creators if they are available.

    But, still, let’s remember this is computer software.  Did Apple have too much trouble moving forward with Macintosh without, say, Andy Hertzfeld, as great as he is?

    In real life, founders/creators go away all the time.  And Postscript L3 code is hardly some esoteric environment.  I’m sure the coders can be replaced.  If Avid is going to spend the $$$.

    I sure hope Sibelius comes back strong.  Or some other notation software steps up and really tries to be first in class.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      There’s a big difference between losing a founder or two and canning an entire development team. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but navigating a code base as large as Sibelius’ with absolutely no continuity with the previous developers or product managers is a significant challenge. It also means that you’re not retaining any of the people who charted the direction of the tool – not one – so even in the most optimistic analysis, this means an enormous amount of uncertainty about what the future direction of the product will be.

  • http://www.derekwilliams.net Derek Williams

    They’re wasting no time capitalising on Avid’s decision to destroy Sibelius:

    http://blog.finalemusic.com/post/2012/08/09/Switch-from-Sibelius-to-Finale-for-just-24139.aspx

  • Kip Halfetter

    I remember working for an M-Audio remote office years ago.  Avid decided everyone needed to work in CA…  Didn’t work out so well for those that took up the offers and moved.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Philippe-Pascal/100003217824975 Philippe Pascal

    A lot of ppl already reported important ppl left M-Audio…before Avid left M-Audio alone.
    And i think it is the same here with Sibelius.Even if they keep it.

    Avid are vampires just sucking everything they can, and throwing their victims just before being  cadavers.
    Because killing companies is a bad thing.But doing business is not…even if it is the same thing at the end.
    May be they will just keep code to include in Protools or something like this.
    Who knows…but Sibelius is already a living dead.
    That’s the Avid way.

  • rockridge98

    A few years ago Notion looked like it might be a challenger to Sibelius and Finale.
    Are they still in the game? Worthy competitor?

  • https://soundcloud.com/justin-buckley justin

    I didn’t know this, just signed the petition. I have Sibelius First and I was thinking of upgrading to Sibelius 7 – are there any disadvantages to doing this? It’s still a great piece of software…

  • Nihilist

    you know musescore is up and coming. it is open source, and those guys could use as much help from this community….

    as someone whos been using PT since sound designer on my old mac512, i would be hard pressed to sink 100k into a new PT system and icon… the writings on the wall for avid. i am looking forward to the new motu dp8 for windows, since now apple is not going to develop new mac pros, and might stop building them all together…. 

  • rathrbcanoin

    Please do all you can to save Sibelius. It’s become indispensable to my classroom teaching, and I’ve only just begun to write the many studies, lessons and worksheets I intend to create using Sibelius. In fact, I have an idea that would make Sibelius a daily feature of my elementary and middle school band rehearsals. I desperately need this program to continue, and there is nothing I dislike more than being forced to learn a new software program when I’m very comfortable with the one I currently use.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.ensminger.5 Jon Ensminger

    Any chance the dev team would start an entirely new project / business targeting multi-touch interfaces? There is still no really decent notation software that leverages multi-touch in an intuitive way.