Following up with Gear Fisher, MakeMusic CEO

by Philip Rothman on November 24, 2015 · 4 comments

in People

After last week’s release of Finale 2014.5, I had a chance to catch up by phone with Gear Fisher, CEO of MakeMusic. Gear assumed leadership of MakeMusic last August when Peaksware, the company he co-founded in 2000, became the corporate parent of MakeMusic.

Gear’s immediate challenge at the time was overseeing a move from MakeMusic’s Minnesota home to Boulder, Colorado, where Peaksware is based. It was a bittersweet transition: Many MakeMusic employees did not join the company in its westward journey and left the company. But those who did make the move found themselves working for a company that Outside Magazine named the 24th best place to work in the country in 2015, citing that its “lunchtime bike rides have been known to spontaneously brake for push-up contests” along with “less strenuous events, like food truck lunches, concert raffles, cookouts, and beer Fridays.” (A little caveat: Outside‘s digital department is based in Boulder, and 15 of the 100 best places were located there…maybe a slight local bias?)

The other challenge was integrating MakeMusic with those seemingly very different businesses of endurance training and coaching — Peaksware’s other businesses are TrainingPeaks and TrainHeroic.

Gear Fisher

Gear Fisher

I asked Gear how this was going, now that the move to Boulder had been completed. “The Best Places to Work survey speaks to what we’ve been up to as a company,” he said. “That survey was conducted in June 2015, which the MakeMusic staff participated in, and it was from their results combined with TrainingPeaks that we received the award. That’s something which I think shows how much care and enthusiasm the new MakeMusic team has for our mission.

“It’s unbelievable, the similarities among the three business that we run,” he continued. “I get asked this question a lot, and what I always say is that you have to focus not on the domain, but the process behind the domain. TrainingPeaks and TrainHeroic exist to connect coaches to athletes in order to learn and develop a skill. MakeMusic exists to connect students to teachers to learn a different skill, but the process is the same.”

Gear anticipated my next question. “So you might wonder — OK, that analogy works for SmartMusic, with its interactive music teaching and practicing elements,” he said. “But where does Finale fit in? You know, one of the most surprisingly persistent rumors I heard when I took on this new role was that we weren’t going to support Finale anymore. I have no idea why or how that began, but it makes absolutely no sense. See, Finale is a creators’ tool. Creators work with educators and performers to provide tools — the music — for them to do their job. Without Finale, the core element — music creation — wouldn’t exist. So it’s vital for us to continue to innovate and develop Finale.”

Was it difficult to manage these different businesses? “There’s a tight thread which makes it easy to flow among them,” Gear said. “We’re able to learn and share knowledge, whether it’s marketing, development, software platforms that scale, or how we collect data and what we do with the data to enhance learning and the community.”

Speaking of software platforms that scale, Gear said that “the next step for us is to make our products get in the hands of a wider audience. There’s an ecosystem that consumes as well as creates content. SmartMusic is thriving, and we need to be able to anticipate those users’ needs. Weezic [French start-up] was an important acquisition for us,” alluding to the plan to use its technology to offer a web-based version of SmartMusic that will work on any device.

We talked about my tests that showed that while Finale 2014.5 improved reliability and performance in certain areas, it actually performed worse in many other respects than other recent versions. “Speed, reliability and ease of use are the three key areas we need to continue to improve,” Gear acknowledged. “We have a sizable development team that is working very hard on this. Making Finale 64-bit is long overdue, and once we do that next year, I do think you’re going to see dramatic improvements, with the program being able to access much more memory, audio devices, and plug-ins than is currently possible.”

Finale 2014.5 was a free upgrade for existing Finale 2014 users. It’s good for consumers for which a paid update might rankle, but at some point, MakeMusic will have to start charging money for its updates. I brought up the trend towards subscription pricing, not just with Sibelius, but with other popular software like Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite.

“What you’re really talking about here is continuous delivery,” Gear said. “I have to give Avid kudos for leading the way on the subscription model. It helps us learn from what went well for them and what could have been done better. That said, TrainingPeaks has been a subscription since October 2000, so we have a lot of experience of our own with that model. TrainingPeaks releases new content every week.”

Gear continued, “There’s a lot of incremental value in continuous delivery. I like the challenge of a contract with the customer — as long as we keep earning the customer’s trust, you maintain your subscription with us. It keeps us motivated and focused to create the best product. Still, we have a large installed base that likes to decide when to pay, so we’ll continue to offer ‘the box’ alongside the subscription.”

I mentioned that, with all the doom and gloom we always hear about lack of support for the arts and arts education, that there seemed to be as much activity as ever in the music notation software space, with new products, platforms and standards being released or in development. “Music is an enduring domain,” Gear said. “You’re never going to take music out of people. It’s too fundamental to human nature. It’s not surprising that there is a lot of innovation here. I’m excited to be a part of it. We’re a healthy organization with a whole lot of talented, motivated people doing things at the cutting edge. It’s fun!”


Finale 2014.5 released

by Philip Rothman on November 17, 2015 · 10 comments

in News

About a year ago at this time I sat down to breakfast with several key MakeMusic employees to discuss the future of the company and its flagship product, Finale. CEO Gear Fisher, product vice president Fred Flowerday and notation product manager Mark Adler were in the process of moving the company’s headquarters from Minnesota to Boulder. With the release of the Finale 2014d maintenance update in December 2014, they were setting the stage for a product transition as well: one that moved away from being “beholden to a yearly ‘major’ release cycle,” as Gear said.

At that time Gear also said that “I’m focused on making Finale 2014 better, and if that means a 2014e or 2014f, that’s what we’ll do.”

Although it’s not called 2014e, today MakeMusic made good on his promise by releasing Finale 2014.5. Announced back in June of this year, it is a free maintenance upgrade to all registered Finale 2014 users, and aims to enhance performance and fix bugs along with adding a few modest features.

Most crucially for Mac users, 2014.5 is fully compatible with OS X 10.11 El Capitan.

Finale 2014 users can access 2014.5 by following the automated prompts upon launching Finale, or manually from within Finale itself. To do so:

  • On Windows, navigate to Help > Check for Update…
  • On Mac, navigate to Finale 2014 > Check for Update…

Finale 2014.5 is much more substantial than the typical maintenance update that Finale users may have become accustomed to over the last couple of decades. Most significantly, it is installed separately from Finale 2014, so unlike the “letter” updates, installing 2014.5 will not overwrite 2014d. Like new versions of years past, it maintains its own folder library structure and preference files, which means that you’ll have to copy over any templates, plug-ins, and other settings, and update any macro programs or controllers you might use with Finale.

Unlike past upgrades, however, the file format is unchanged, meaning that you can save a 2014.5 file and open it in 2014 (exporting natively to Finale 2012 and to MusicXML continues to be supported).

The 2014.5 application icon is different, and in keeping with the design trends of the time, is flattened compared to that of Finale 2014.


The tuplet tool icon also got a modest redesign from 2014 2014-tuplet to 2014.5 2014-5-tuplet .

Icons aside, what users really want to know is what of substance is contained within the update and if upgrading is worth it. I’m afraid the answer at this time is, “it depends.” Read the full article →


StaffPad for Windows 10 released with new features

by Philip Rothman on November 10, 2015 · 19 comments

in News

PrintAs promised about a month ago, StaffPad Ltd. has released a new update today to its flagship StaffPad music handwriting app. Completely redesigned for Windows 10, StaffPad is a free update for existing users, and $70 for new users.

As before, it’s only available for Windows pen-and-touchscreen devices, and its release coincides with the availability of Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book, and continues to be compatible with older devices like the Surface Pro 3 and the Surface 3.

StaffPad lead designer and founder David William Hearn talked about the changes from Windows 8 to Windows 10 that led to significant redesigns in the latest StaffPad update. “Instead of just adding workarounds for these changes, we decided to take the time to go deep and reimagine StaffPad exclusively for Windows 10,” David said. “We redesigned the user interface, to fit with the new Windows 10 look and feel. We now take advantage of new APIs and features that weren’t available to us previously, and of course we added some additional features and capabilities to the app as well.”

David also said in a blog post today that “StaffPad will now be a Windows 10 exclusive app moving forward. We’ve always got our eyes on the future, and the app is so different on Windows 10 that it really only makes sense to move forward and continually improve and enhance the app on Windows 10. The Windows 8 version will still run and function, but will be feature frozen.”

Having worked with the new update for several weeks, I can report that the fundamentals of StaffPad haven’t changed. If you already use StaffPad, the learning curve will be slight. Whether you’re an existing or potential user, though, you’ll want to know about the new features that improve StaffPad and continue to make it the most visionary music notation app currently available for any platform.

A few disclosures before we continue on:

  1. StaffPad Ltd. hired me to write their new help documentation, available online.
  2. Microsoft provided me with the Surface Pro 3 that I used to evaluate StaffPad.
  3. This article was not sponsored or vetted by StaffPad or Microsoft, although in some cases I did repurpose the same example images used for the StaffPad help documentation.

With that said, let’s explore some of the new things in StaffPad for Windows 10. Read the full article →


Avid_logo_purple-_4_Avid is in the process of hiring a team of six Sibelius developers to be based in Montréal. The Montréal developers will work exclusively on Sibelius.

As of this writing, two jobs were posted on Avid’s careers site (click on “Search openings” and then search for Montréal as the city). The full time jobs were posted on October 20, 2015 and were for the positions of “principal software developer” and “software developer – music notation.”

Downtown Montréal (courtesy Wikipedia user Taxiarchos228)

Downtown Montréal (courtesy Wikipedia user Taxiarchos228)

Both job descriptions were the same; the full text is posted below:

Avid is looking to hire a C++ developer to work on Sibelius, the world’s most popular music notation software. The candidate should have a strong technical background with knowledge of music notation.

Required Skills

  • BS or MS in Computer Science or equivalent degree
  • High level of C++ object oriented programming experience and expertise
  • Experience with cross-platform Windows and OSX development on large projects
  • Some experience with client and server side web development, preferably using Node.JS or JavaScript
  • Experience working with a cross-platform UI layer such as Qt and/or working directly with Cocoa and Windows API’s
  • Familiarity with music notation
  • Strong English language skills, written and oral
  • Excellent communication and team skills
  • Self-Starter with the ability to work independently

Desired Skills

  • Experience with a large legacy code base
  • Knowledge of scripting languages, such as Python, Bash, PowerShell
  • Notation, MIDI and/or audio programming experience
  • Experience with Agile Development

Tim Carroll, Avid’s vice president for audio products, told me the reason for the move was that “we’re adding more resource development for Sibelius and trying to centralize on a team based on a market where the skill set required — high skill engineers with extensive music notation background — is plentiful.”

Montréal was an attractive choice for Avid due to its highly educated and bilingual workforce, excellent universities, and proximity to major North American markets. It was the host city for the 2015 Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association (MOLA) conference and will host the 2016 Music Encoding Conference.

Tim Carroll

Tim Carroll

I spoke with Tim when he visited New York for the recent Audio Engineering Society convention in October. Tim is an 18-year veteran Avid employee with a music background that includes playing jazz piano and composing music for clients such as Turner Broadcasting, Coca-Cola and The Home Depot. Before assuming his new role as vice president for audio products (including Sibelius) in June of this year, Tim had been a vice president for sales at Avid.

He acknowledged that Sibelius innovation had slowed over the past three years, and was keenly aware of what happened when Avid closed the Finsbury Park office three years ago.

When Tim came on board to oversee all of Avid’s audio products, he was pleased with the recent improvements to Sibelius Cloud Publishing, but he was concerned about the lack of progress and innovative features Sibelius had seen over the past few years. He said, “We have an excellent product manager in Sam Butler and product designer in Joe Pearson. But it became clear that in order to move forward, we needed to have a specific skill set for our main development team: excellent developer skills plus both a background and passion for the art of of music notation. Montréal is proving to be a great resource for people that fit that description.”

Tim said that several members of the new Montréal team had already been hired and stressed that their sole responsibility will be Sibelius development. Programmers in Poland and Ukraine will remain, with their tasks divided among Sibelius and Avid’s other products as needed.

“Ideally we want to be releasing updates to Sibelius once per quarter, focusing on the top requested features from our customers,” he said, noting that the forthcoming Sibelius 8.1 release will include notation-specific improvements. “Additionally, with closer proximity to the Pro Tools development team, we expect to see some much tighter integration with Pro Tools as well. I’ve just returned from the UK and reviewed our 2016/2017 road map with Sam; I’m very excited about the future for Sibelius and looking forward to getting the new team fully up to speed!”


Thumbnail image for New plug-ins: Save and Export and Save With Previous Version

New plug-ins: Save and Export and Save With Previous Version

November 5, 2015

Save a Sibelius file as both the current version and an earlier version of the software, along with PDF and MusicXML formats, in just one step by using these new plug-ins from Bob Zawalich.

Read the full article →
Thumbnail image for Change symbols to articulations with Sibelius plug-in

Change symbols to articulations with Sibelius plug-in

October 30, 2015

Ever wish you could convert a whole lot of free-floating symbols to smarter articulations in Sibelius? Now you can, thanks to a handy plug-in that makes the task easy and fast.

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Thumbnail image for Music Encoding Conference call for proposals

Music Encoding Conference call for proposals

October 22, 2015

The Music Encoding Initiative (MEI) is seeking proposals for its 2016 Music Encoding Conference, to be held in Montréal, Canada from May 17-20, 2016.

Read the full article →
Thumbnail image for Daniel Spreadbury previews Steinberg software in New York

Daniel Spreadbury previews Steinberg software in New York

October 15, 2015

Daniel Spreadbury recently visited New York to give music publishers and engravers a preview of Steinberg’s new scoring application.

Read the full article →
Thumbnail image for Get Started Fast with Sibelius for Educators video tutorials

Get Started Fast with Sibelius for Educators video tutorials

October 13, 2015

An eight-part video tutorial series is newly available: Get Started Fast with Sibelius for Educators is designed to help teachers understand and learn some of the many educational features in Sibelius.

Read the full article →
Thumbnail image for New Surfaces announced; StaffPad for Windows 10 on the horizon

New Surfaces announced; StaffPad for Windows 10 on the horizon

October 7, 2015

Microsoft’s new Surfaces do an admirable job of pushing the all-in-one tablet/PC concept forward, and the forthcoming StaffPad update for Windows 10 takes full advantage.

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