The Future of MakeMusic

I’m emerging from my web development cave to share this, as it could be a potentially monumental event in the world of music notation software – the short version is that MakeMusic has received a buyout offer, which would likely include the company being liquidated.  I’m no businessman (not even a little bit), but I know that this is a big deal.

I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth by talking about things I don’t really comprehend, but I did do a bit of research and reading.  The knee-jerk reaction seems to be that this could be the end of MakeMusic and its products, if this acquisition goes through.  In fact, I can see how that conclusion might be reached by reading MakeMusic’s own press release.

However, reading into a bit more detail (and reading the full text of the proposal) leads me to a different conclusion – it sounds like the buyer (LaunchEquity) intends to press forward with MakeMusic’s software, as they state that they will “need to inject at least $10 million over the next two years to (a) recruit and retain a new CEO, (b) upgrade both the Notation and SmartMusic software product lines and (c) cover working capital and seasonal liquidity needs.”  That doesn’t sound like a proposal that’s intended to buy up a company and completely dissolve it.

True, revenues are down – after the recent news that Finale would skip version 2013, and the apparent downturn in the number of SmartMusic subscriptions.  But their leadership has been a revolving door as well.  Again quoting from the proposal: “MMUS has had four CEOs in the last four years and now has to recruit a fifth CEO.”   Their most recent CEO stepped down in June.

Don’t get me wrong – something is going on at MakeMusic.  The CEO issue alone tells me that.  But it sounds less like the company about to be dissolved and more like a concerned investor is unhappy with their progress, and wants to buy them out and “get them on the right track.”

There are others who think this way as well, and I am writing this mostly to encourage those of you who are concerned to read the entire proposal, and not just MakeMusic’s press release (which, I feel, makes things sound more bleak).  At this point, my personal opinion is that Finale / SmartMusic users should not be concerned about their software becoming abandonware anytime soon.  For what it’s worth, I’m not alone.

That’s my interpretation, from a complete non-business background.  Please feel free to weigh in with your comments.

9 thoughts on “The Future of MakeMusic

  1. Is MakeMusic the parent company for Finale, or just SmartMusic? So this could impact Finale, too? I’ve also heard that Sibelius is in trouble, too…

    • Becky,

      Yes, MakeMusic produces Finale and Smartmusic. I was actually about to write a follow-up post about Sibelius and their woes as well – not a fun time for commercial music notation software! It’s probably not an “abandon ship” situation yet, but I’d start looking seriously at MuseScore, Noteflight and Lilypond…

      Thanks for writing,
      — Matt

  2. Hi Matt,

    There are other commercial music notion products that are still on the market and provide full customer and technical support. Our products, Encore and MusicTime Deluxe are two of them.

    Full disclosure, I am the CEO of Gvox and I have the responsibility to provide this information to the music community.

    Thanks
    Richard Hotchkiss

    • Richard,

      Thanks for the information – I wasn’t aware that your software existed, and I’m sure that means that there are others who weren’t as well. Sounds like a good “happy medium” between a free, open-source piece of software and a corporation-owned piece of software.

      Cheers,
      — Matt

  3. Thanks for your comments. I wasn’t panicking just yet about Finale, but I’m going to follow the story with great interest. I’ve always defended Finale because of its high-end features, including some things I’m uncertain can even be done in Sibelius. I’d hate to lose that. Perhaps the free applications meet most people’s needs, but I am much more demanding.

  4.      So is it just Finale whose demand is down? Or is the demand down for music notation software generally? Would it be unwise to buy Finale now if it’s for the first time and you don’t own any software at all? I tried to investigate programs (on and off) for years, with a view to choosing one – but I still do my manuscripts the old-fashioned way – with paper and pencil. I’m fussy about notation being just the way I want it, and my investigations into software just seemed to reveal an impenetrable world I can’t understand – and I’m unwilling to choose software on a guess if it’s going to cost me hundreds of dollars.

         Is there such a thing as a universal file format for music notation, and does Finale use it? Or does each program use its own secret format, and if you lose the software that created it, the files become useless, and the music is lost?

         Is there any sort of “Idiot’s guide” to music notation programs generally, either as a book or a web site?

         I would appreciate clear and straightforward information, since, even years later, I *could* be interested in buying a program – but I’m very cautious, and tend to be very distrustful of software generally.

         I don’t quite know what the “high end” features of Finale are that are referred to above; but, although my notation is fairly traditional, I suspect it is at times complex enough that I might need some “high end” features. Simple examples of unusual features I’ve at times required include: triple-sharps; bitonal key signatures in different staves; unorthodox “Bartokian” key signatures; different time-signatures in different staves, or even two (one above the other) in the same staff – just to give a brief idea of the types of things I occasionally require. (Very seldom – but when I require them, I really do need them.)

         So is Finale still worth buying for the first time? Or is the writing on the wall now?

    • Hi Michael, thanks for writing. Somebody else mentioned the idea that the market could just be so saturated at this point that the number of new users is down…but I would imagine that this is expected to some degree, hence the paid upgrades that Finale/Sibelius have implemented.

      The closest you can get to a “universal” format for music notation would be MusicXML. Finale, Sibelius, and MuseScore are all capable of reading/writing it, though its universality means that you lose a bit of program-specific detail. MusicXML may not be rendered exactly the same in different applications, specifically regarding the positioning of text and other “floating” items. MusicXML has made strides in the past, though – it’s much better than it used to be. The one thing about MusicXML that confuses me at the moment is that, in researching it, I found its official documentation under MakeMusic’s website…I was under the impression that this format was open, and not owned by a particular entity. That could be a concern.

      Right now, I’m not sure what to advise as far as spending good money to purchase an application…I’m not going to pretend to be an industry expert. You do mention liking things *exactly* the way you want them, and you’ll probably never get that from a computer application the same way you can with paper and pencil. But, of course, the tradeoffs are, theoretically, a) saving time; b) neatness; and c) being able to come back to a piece and make changes without having to do a ground-up rewrite. The best thing to do, in my mind, is to try the demo versions of both (Finale 2012, Sibelius 7).

      There hasn’t been a ton of news on either the Finale / Sibelius fronts lately, so it’s likely a wait-and-see scenario for a while yet, in my opinion. Hope this is at least a little helpful…

      — Matt

  5. Hi Matt:

    Thanks for your comments.

    Like you, I am not to be considered business-minded in the slightest. I also read the entire proposal, but I come away from it with a slightly different take. The comments about the necessary cost and securing of a new CEO I think can be read as purely hypothetical, as in, “if we proceed in this direction”. This is a bit darker interpretation (so I really hope that your take on the matter is correct).

    I am also left with the impression that this is exactly the wrong time, competitively-speaking, for MakeMusic to bail. Avid has decided to stop all development of Sibelius and has gutted its development teams, yet is refusing to sell the product as they have sold M-Audio to the parent company of Akai and Alesis. This looks for all the world like they simply want to “ride out” the product to the end. If they hang in, it’s extremely probable that Finale would be the undisputed high-end music processor program (“undisputed” being the operative word).

    • Hey outland, thanks for writing. Your take is indeed a bit “darker,” but who really knows? One other thing I read suggested exactly what you’re saying about Sibelius, about how Avid will just “ride it out” until the end. They probably have enough code to cobble together a version 8, and since they aren’t paying a development team any more, their profits will be way up on this product for a while yet. That’s (sadly) the way business is looking these days – lots of profit fast, and “who cares” about the rest.

      If all this is the case, you are absolutely correct – LaunchEquity (the group offering to purchase MakeMusic) should have all eyes focused on Avid and what’s going on with Sibelius. If this is truly the end for Sibelius, then LaunchEquity would be just silly to bury Finale.

      Time will tell, I’m sure…in the meantime, I’m still digging for a Plan B.

      — Matt

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