Lucky students in Logan Smith’s AP music theory class at Cabot High School near Little Rock, Arkansas — whose seniors are graduating tonight — welcomed a very special guest into their classroom yesterday. Daniel Spreadbury, currently product marketing manager for Steinberg and of course former Sibelius veteran and founder of this blog, spent an hour via Google Hangouts with the class discussing a wide variety of topics.
Fortunately for us, the entire interview is available on YouTube:
The Q&A included the importance of music teachers, Daniel’s academic studies, singing, his early days at Sibelius Software, his thoughts on computer music vs. live music, the use of music software in education, and naturally, his job duties at Steinberg. Daniel said that his job is about understanding the customers’ needs and make a compelling argument to his Steinberg colleagues why the software needs to work in a certain way. About the visual design of the new software, Daniel predicted that “our new program will be much better” than Sibelius, and the wish list of program features is hundreds, if not thousands of items long.
“The product that we’re trying to build is really designed for professionals and aspiring professionals,” Daniel said. “Every opportunity I have to interact with somebody who might be a customer of our product is about picking their brains, listening to their problems, and putting all that stuff into a melting pot to help us shape what we’re going to build. When people take the time to sit down and write to me with their ideas, that is a wonderful gift for me as a product manager, because they’re telling me what they want.”
One savvy student asked how Steinberg’s current software will be different than Sibelius or Finale. Daniel replied, “For one thing, technology changes a lot, and it changes fast. Finale started in 1987. Every product is a child of its time. Finale is a child of the 80s, and Sibelius is a child of the 90s. There have been dedicated teams on both of those programs working valiantly to bring it up to date, but of course you can’t start from scratch. We can start from scratch, and ask, ‘what can a scoring program in the second decade of the 21st century look like?’
“We’re able to take advantage of new technology, but fundamentally, we’re trying to build a program that does the same types of things as Finale and Sibelius: producing the best sheet music that we know how to do, and to do that in such a way that makes it as natural as possible based on everything we know. We feel we have an amazing opportunity to get right what Sibelius and Finale get wrong; where they go 0-80% of getting something absolutely right, we’re trying to get much closer to 100%.
“The experience I want people to have when they use our program is that they can trust it completely to do the right thing in practically any situation, and they won’t have to spend a whole lot of time tweaking the output. But if they want to tweak the output, the power and the flexibility will be there to do so. It’s a bit like having an amanuensis — a skilled assistant — working at your elbow, doing the right thing for you.
“One of the things I hear from customers is that ‘I don’t like programs that do things automatically.’ They don’t really mean that — of course they do; we all like spell-checkers and automatic features that are designed to help us — but they’re good when they do what we want them to do, and it’s not good when they do what we don’t what them to do. So automation is good if we can do what you would have made the program do anyway. That’s the goal that we’ve set ourselves: to make the program automatically produce what an experienced musician, preparer of music, or engraver would have done themselves. That’s a tall order, but as far as we’re concerned, there’s something new to be done in this space.”
Daniel sounded a note of caution, though, for students or anyone using computers in music: “Don’t expect the notation software to do the work for you; do the work yourself. Try to have in the back of your mind that you’re writing for people, not for the computer, and the computer can only take you so far.” At the end of the day, Daniel said, “the computer is just a smart pencil.”
Logan asked Daniel if he had any advice for students that were about to embark upon their career paths. Daniel acknowledged the difficulty of making a living in the fields of music and music technology, but he also said, “If music is important to you, it’s because it’s important to you in your soul as much as it is in your brain. Follow that feeling. If music is what you want to do, then do it. As a musician you develop a lot of skills about communication, about working with others, and about communicating your intentions. All of these things are really powerful, not only in music, but in other aspects of your lives as well.
“Music is something that you do because it means something to you, and you love it,” Daniel concluded. “Even if you aren’t fortunate enough to turn it into a career — which I hope you are, if that’s what you want to do — it’s something that you should hang onto for your whole life. It’s something that will bring you great pleasure, and bring pleasure to others as well. That’s a gift, and you should share it.”