Avid’s Sibelius score writer, seen here, no longer has the team that once led its development. But those veterans are now planning something new – and are now working for Steinberg.

In the production of printed scores and traditional notation, two tools have loomed large for over a decade: Sibelius and Finale. So, for publishers, composers, arrangers, and teachers who use scoring software, it was a big deal when it became clear over the summer that a reorganization at Avid pushed the core development team of Sibelius out of the company. That raised some protests among users, and serious doubts about Sibelius’ future.

Now, we know what became of the core team behind Sibelius. Twelve of them now work at Steinberg, the German developer of Cubase and Nuendo, and a major Avid competitor. (Steinberg is also a Yamaha subsidiary, which gives them tremendous distribution power, as @Dan_Radin notes to CDM on Twitter.)

After years of relative quiet in the notation software landscape, it appears scoring software could be in for a real shake-up if these developers can live up to their ambitious goals. The Sibelius team now are readying their own notation tool, and they’re blogging the results, starting today. (It sounds like a non-compete agreement wasn’t part of their severance, unless they’re about to hear from Avid legal.)

What matters for users: this new tool promises to be built from the ground up, and with the Sibelius creators behind it. That could actually mean this story has a happier ending. Unlike Sibelius and Finale, the new tool won’t be bound by legacy code. (Sibelius, for its part, has code and an architecture dating back to the days of the Acorn computer in the UK. Don’t remember the Acorn? Yeah, it was a while ago.)

We get an explanation of what’s going on from none other than Dan Spreadbury. (Dan was a key figure behind Sibelius’ development for many years.) The goals sound almost impossibly lofty – but they’re also the goals I know many people who care about scoring desperately want. Excerpt:

We have a vision for a flexible, powerful music notation application that is equal to the task of notating today’s most challenging art music and capable of producing graphical results of the highest quality, while providing an environment for composing and arranging that is as close as possible to the simplicity of writing music with pencil and paper, or improvising at your instrument.

The suggestion of alternative notation warms my heart; architectural considerations in the original Sibelius made some of these difficult or impossible to implement. And returning to the feel of improvisation and pencil and paper – that’s even better. How they’ll pull it off is another matter, but it’s nice to hear these goals.

Well worth reading the whole post:
Keeping Score: Welcome! []

We’ll be watching.

  • markLouis

    This is wonderful news and it really makes me smile. Yamaha seems to get a different kind of press from Roland and Korg, but the Motif and Tyros seem to me to be best-in-class kind of instruments (I own a PSR-S910 and I am very, very happy with it) and I thought Sibelius was best at what it did. This could be a great thing.

    FYI, the J. P. Morgan Library in NY has an amazing collection of sheet music from the greats of classical music and it is amazing to look at their handwriting on their scores. But it is even more amazing imagining how rich the world would be now if they had created something like Sibelius scores for their works, scores that could play, perform canonical versions of their composer’s imagination. Music kids in the future are going to be living in something like paradise.

  • NLPsajeeth

    Wouldn’t be surprised to see the tech end up in Cubase and other Yamaha products. I am a bit surprised they aren’t at least using Steinberg’s Cubase notation code to start, creating a score writing application is a daunting task. But these guys definitely have what it takes to make it happen. Looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

    Another nugget tucked away in their blog post:

    “At the same time, the number of companies actively working on professional music notation software is very small, and perhaps now numbers only two (one being Steinberg, the other MakeMusic).”

    Zing! Seems like they aren’t concerned at all about Sibelius or Avid.

    • Peter Kirn

      Well, they’re not concerned about Avid because Avid just fired all of them. And Avid has officially only told CDM that they aren’t selling Sibelius, but was unable to talk more about their future plans.

      Dan does, however, leave out independent developers. I think it depends on what he means by “companies” – relative to MakeMusic, Steinberg, and – until this summer, Avid, there aren’t any major players. But there are the likes of:

      And that seems worth watching, because both MakeMusic and Sibelius began in similar fashion, not as part of a big developer/distributor.

    • NLPsajeeth

      Indeed, Arobas ( is another worth mentioning. Guitar Pro 6 works pretty well as a general scorewriter.

      The road is definitely not easy for independents. A while ago you mentioned Symphony Pro for the iPad. It came out in Jan 2011 and was one of the top iPad scorewriters for a long time but even at $15 a copy they couldn’t make the economics work out and they have closed up shop.

    • Peter Kirn

      Agreed. Well, and having dealt with this market, conservatism could come into play. Notation users simply tend not to be early adopters – so writing scores on iPads may take some time. That does mean that having distribution behind you can help. And that iPad score writer may have simply been ahead of its time.

    • Daniel Spreadbury

      I didn’t include Notion in the list because I don’t think their aim is to develop Notion into high-end notation software. I believe their aim is to produce a really great performance and playback environment that happens to use notation as its primary means of representing music. I know Jim and Chris at NotionMusic and I have a lot of respect for what they’re doing, but I think their efforts are going in a different direction. And hopefully that’s only good for users of music software, who have a variety of tools to choose between.

    • Peter Kirn

      Ah, okay – fair enough. And I don’t disagree; I just expected to hear from some users who see this as an alternative for their needs.

      High-end notation software, absolutely, it’s MakeMusic and now, evidently, you guys at Steinberg! (This will take some getting used to, but of course I absolutely wish you the best – and building something high-end from scratch is sorely needed.)

  • fierywater

    Hey, it’s the Office ribbon. Not my least favorite UI paradigm, but it’s weird seeing it replicated so faithfully on a Mac application. Even Office 2011 for Mac doesn’t replicate it THAT closely. This does it right down to the bright color File menu button.

    • Peter Kirn

      Well, you’re in luck – that’s the “old” [Avid] Sibelius. 😉 Now they’re building something new.

    • Adrey

      Office ribbon is the reason why I downgraded from Sib7. Couldn’t stand it.

  • Jon Appleton

    Best of luck to these developers but the new software had better be able to read my Sibelius scores or I will be very disappointed….make that angry!
    Jon H. Appleton
    Arthur R. Virgin Professor of Music Emeritus
    Dartmouth College

  • ArchiesBoy

    I have nothing but loathing toward Avid, and hope they all go starving — heartless mercenary bastards! I have been in touch with some of the original team (I have been using Sibelius for years) and have high hopes for this project. This may just turn out better than anyone hoped! And I’m sure that — it only makes sense — that the new tool with be able to read Sibelius scores, if not Finale as well!

  • ENsaxist

    It would be really awesome if they made something that would be readily transposable to application form, if someone were interested in working on the go from a tablet. It wouldn’t necessarily need to be a full version (any kind of a “light” version would likely suffice), but I can’t begin to describe all the times I wish I could have worked on pieces and arrangements from my tablet (Surface RT). This is really exciting news.

  • Magnus Johansson

    “And returning to the feel of improvisation and pencil and paper – that’s even better.”

    ScoreCloud is concentrating on improvisation, or at least instrumental playing or singing, as the main input method for a notation program.

  • Angry Composer

    If you are on a Mac, don’t put high hope in the new software’s GUI. If you have seen something as simple as dspMixFx, you’ll already know that they don’t care a *ss of the Mac interface.