MakeMusic, Inc. announced today that they will join the umbrella company Peaksware, Inc., effective immediately. Peaksware is owned by LaunchEquity Partners, the same investment company who took MakeMusic private in April 2013.
MakeMusic makes the interactive music software SmartMusic, the Finale desktop music publishing software, the Garritan suite of software instruments and the open standard MusicXML music interchange format.
MakeMusic joins TrainingPeaks, another brand already under the leadership of the Peaksware team. Each brand will remain focused solely on their respective markets of music technology and endurance training, continuing their long histories as industry leading brands.
Through a unique approach to deliberate practice, each brand within Peaksware develops software solutions and provides services to help guide people along their own journey of improvement and skill development. Whether completing a triathlon, learning a musical instrument or composing a symphony, the same strategy applies: set a specific goal, get expert instruction, perform focused practice and receive immediate feedback. This shared approach is the common thread connecting the brands.
Peaksware’s CEO Gear Fisher and his executive team will assume the leadership of MakeMusic immediately. Current MakeMusic CEO, Karen VanDerBosch and the rest of her executive team will assist with the transition. By joining Peaksware, MakeMusic will share best practices and gain operational efficiencies with the other brands within a larger umbrella corporation. The increased scale of the combined organization will enable additional investment and innovation.
I spoke by phone with Gear shortly before the announcement was made public, and wanted to learn how it was that LaunchEquity first became interested in MakeMusic. “My personal background is in the product development side,” Gear said. In his career so far, he said, “I’ve been involved in four different companies. In 1999 I developed a product that became TrainingPeaks, which is where I’ve spent all my time for the last 14 years. So I’m a pretty stable guy,” he said, adding that he’s married with a family. “TrainingPeaks is a software company for coaches and athletes to communicate with each other and to help endurance athletes train for an event.
“After 6 years of doing the coding myself, I knew that we were going to have to do something different,” Gear said. “That’s when I became involved with Andy Stephens, who was a customer and was interested in becoming an equity partner. We grew the company over the last 7 years, particularly over the last 3 or 4 years as high-growth period.”
Andy Stephens is now chairman of both MakeMusic and Peaksware. In addition to those ventures, Stephens is a managing director of Milwaukee-based Artisan Partners and a portfolio manager on its Growth team, according to his official bio.
Gear said that “Andy made me aware of his investment in MakeMusic. His vision is to build a broader company with a common goal around developing platforms for deliberate practice. Andy asked me to re-imagine MakeMusic in the way we had built TrainingPeaks. That broader vision is where Peaksware, as the broader corporate entity, will acquire companies in multiple domains — all with a shared strategy of deliberate practice. Our goal is to be absolutely authentic to each domain, whether it’s music, endurance training, or strength and conditioning.”
MakeMusic and TrainingPeaks will continue to run independently, Gear said, but with an ability to “share best practices, resources, and scale. MakeMusic is the brand; that’s what has the brand equity. In the near-term our plans are for as little disruption as possible. In the long-term, our plan is to position the company for the next decade. That is purely our goal: how can we service this industry with the absolute best products possible. We are committed for the long-term,” he said.
Gear said that eventually the MakeMusic offices will move from Eden Prarie, Minnesota, to TrainingPeaks’s home base in Boulder, Colorado. “Right now we’re focused on the back-to-school season and continuing our plans as-is, but we do have plans to move MakeMusic to the same building as TrainingPeaks over the next, say, twelve months,” Gear said.
“We’ll be offering positions to many people existing at MakeMusic already, but by virtue of the transition, we’ll have to hire new staff to re-build and re-imagine the company in Boulder,” Gear said when asked what the move meant for the current staff of MakeMusic. “It’s my goal for the sake of the customers to maintain continuity and the relationships, but we’re very early in this,” he added.
“Michael Good [inventor of the MusicXML music interchange format and MakeMusic vice president of research and development] will definitely be continuing along past the transition; he’s committed for the long-term,” Gear said about MakeMusic’s current executive team, “and we’re working with others — it’s in motion.”
On the MusicXML blog, Michael Good wrote today that “for MusicXML, nothing will be changing,” and he verified that he “will be staying with MakeMusic and continuing to guide MusicXML development and developer support. Both MusicXML and Finale are essential to creating our SmartMusic repertoire and fit with the Peaksware strategic vision.”
I was curious if there was anyone currently at TrainingPeaks with a musical background. “We have a former MakeMusic employee that runs all of our servers,” Gear said. “People that do endurance sports have quite a connection with musicians, as it turns out. The skill and expertise just morphs from the music side to the sports side. We don’t have any professional musicians on staff, but there are a couple of customer support employees that play in bands, and we certainly share a passion and interest for it.”
About the four core products, Gear said that “Finale is something we’re deeply committed to. SmartMusic is obviously another major product for us; we see a lot of opportunity with SmartMusic and the role it plays in education. So they are the two major products, and then Garritan and MusicXML are key components for us as well.”
TrainingPeaks is heavily involved in the web and mobile spaces, and I asked Gear about its implications for MakeMusic’s products. “It’s all on the table,” he said. “I’m a big advocate for being on the right screen, for the right person, at the right time, having the right functionality available. My background [is as a developer] across an entire ecosystem, where we have desktop, web, and mobile products; certainly we’re going to assess those opportunities for Finale and SmartMusic.”
MakeMusic’s products, like those of Avid and other companies that make music software, are used by a wide range of customers: from top publishers and commercial music preparers, to educators and students, to the casual amateur. Feature suggestions often come from the mid/pro user, but in terms of sheer numbers, the vast majority of the customers in the market are generally hobbyists. I wondered if MakeMusic would continue to serve such a wide array of users. “I believe there is a right way to fit a product to a customer, and that’s having the right features for the right person,” Gear said. “If you try to please everybody, you end up with something that doesn’t absolutely nail it for anybody. Right now we’re very committed to Finale as-is, and I look forward to diving in with the team and better understanding who the user base is and how they use the product and other products.”
Today’s announcement comes less than three weeks after an update to SmartMusic that provides compatibility with files created in the new file format used in Finale 2014 and planned for future versions. SmartMusic is the company’s subscription-based interactive music learning software for iPad, PC and Mac.
In November 2013, MakeMusic reorganized, its first significant organizational change after the LaunchEquity acquisition. That reorganization happened less than three weeks after the release of Finale 2014.
Updated August 10, 2014 with additional information about Andy Stephens, chairman of MakeMusic and Peaksware.