Five Years at MakeMusic

makemusic-logoToday marks my fifth anniversary at MakeMusic. It was five years ago when MakeMusic closed its acquisition of selected Recordare assets and I attended my employee introduction in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. At the time I said “There will be so much more that I can do to make digital sheet music work better for people at a larger company.” MakeMusic said that “Recordare’s MusicXML format is a key element in the future of digital music notation.”

So how have things worked out since then? We have made great progress, and there is still much more work ahead of us.

MakeMusic Universal File Format

The initial project that started the Recordare acquisition discussions was modernizing Finale’s file format to be forward and backward compatible. Five years ago, a file created in a later version of Finale could not be opened by an older version of Finale. This also meant that SmartMusic accompaniment files created in a newer version of Finale could not be used in older versions of SmartMusic. This led to long periods where our customers could not use the latest version of Finale to create SmartMusic SMP files for the latest version of SmartMusic.

After two years of work, we delivered the new Finale .musx file format in November 2013 with Finale 2014. In July 2014, we updated our SmartMusic desktop and iOS applications to accept the new .smpx file format for SmartMusic accompaniments. The true test of the file format came this past August when we released a new Finale v25 update. People were able to open files created in Finale v25 in Finale 2014. There was no interruption in being able to create SmartMusic accompaniments for the existing SmartMusic desktop and iOS applications from Finale v25 – things just worked.

The New SmartMusic

While the file format project was the short-term goal for the acquisition, the strategic goal was longer range. MakeMusic realized that at some point it would likely need to modernize the SmartMusic application to better serve the needs of music practice. The modernized product would need to be able to use new web and mobile technologies, and most likely include a new music file format.

To make that work, MakeMusic would need to be able to convert its existing SmartMusic subscription repertoire from the current Finale-based file format to whatever the new file format might be. MusicXML would be the way to do that. The Recordare asset acquisition would give MakeMusic full control over the MusicXML export from Finale as well as the MusicXML import into a new SmartMusic format.

This is exactly what happened with the launch of the new web-based SmartMusic earlier this year. In July 2015, MakeMusic acquired Weezic, establishing MakeMusic SAS in Paris. The Paris team worked together with Arpege Music to launch the new SmartMusic, running on Chromebooks and other web-based platforms. For most of the past year I have worked on improving the MusicXML export out of Finale to get the best possible repertoire conversion from desktop SmartMusic to the web-based SmartMusic. We also added one-step export of MusicXML files from all linked parts in a Finale file to ease the import of Finale-created MusicXML files into the new SmartMusic.

Creating the best possible music practice app in SmartMusic is a key part of the digital sheet music future. MusicXML has turned out to be a key part of this process, just as we anticipated five years ago.

MusicXML to the W3C Music Notation Community Group

The MusicXML format itself also received improved support with the greater resources of MakeMusic. We created a new MusicXML web site with easier-to-use MusicXML documentation, converted the old MusicXML mailing list to a forum, and held several successful meetings at the Musikmesse and NAMM trade shows.

However, the acquisition changed important dynamics within the MusicXML community. Many companies that had collaborated with Recordare became hesitant to collaborate with MakeMusic. Recordare was not a competitor, but MakeMusic was.

Joe Berkovitz from Noteflight recommended for many years that MusicXML move to a community group in the World Wide Web Consortium. MakeMusic management saw the advantages of this move, and Steinberg agreed to simultaneously transfer their Standard Music Font Layout (SMuFL). In July 2015 we started the W3C Music Notation Community Group. The group is currently working on new MusicXML 3.1 and SMuFL 1.2 updates, and is also investigating a more long-ranging update to web-based music notation standards.

MakeMusic to Peaksware

When I agreed to sell Recordare assets to MakeMusic, it was no secret that it could be an adventurous ride in the future. MakeMusic had been through numerous CEOs in the past several years, and was not showing the growth that public company shareholders wanted to see.

In 2013, MakeMusic was acquired and taken private by its largest shareholder, LaunchEquity. A year later, MakeMusic joined Peaksware and the company moved from Eden Prairie, Minnesota to Boulder, Colorado. A great core of people made the move from Minnesota to Colorado, bringing important continuity, but more people needed to be hired once the move was made to bring the teams back to full strength.

Throughout these moves I remained here in Silicon Valley with periodic trips to MakeMusic headquarters. My role within MakeMusic evolved throughout these organizational changes, and I have been serving as Vice President of MusicXML Technologies since last April.

In April we also announced that the educational music publisher Alfred Music would also join Peaksware. MakeMusic and Alfred operate independently, and SmartMusic continues to support and promote repertoire from all interested publishers. However, having MakeMusic and Alfred under one corporate umbrella offers tremendous possibilities for the digital sheet music future. It brings Peaksware ever closer to the vision that I had for Recordare when I started the company nearly 17 years ago.

To sum up, the last five years have been amazing. We have accomplished a tremendous amount at MakeMusic and are well-positioned to progress into the future. If I had to do the acquisition all over again, I would do it the same way in a heartbeat. I can’t wait to see what the next five years will hold. As my favorite Alan Kay quote goes, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

This entry was posted in Finale, Music Business, MusicXML, SmartMusic. Bookmark the permalink.