MOLA 2018: nkoda aims to bring a subscription model to sheet music

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Note: This week we’re publishing posts related to the 2018 Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association (MOLA) Conference, hosted by the Kansas City Symphony and held downtown Kansas City, Missouri from March 16-19, 2018. In this post, we learn about nkoda, a new model of streaming sheet music via subscription currently accepting beta users.

In 2007, Steve Jobs famously dismissed streaming as a model of disseminating recorded music, saying that “people want to own their music.” The visionary Jobs was prescient in many ways, but on that point, he missed the mark. It’s true that many people still want to own their music collection, but subscription is here to stay for recorded music.

In the world of sheet music, until now it’s been a different story. Generally, if you want sheet music, you must not only purchase it, but with the demise of brick-and-mortar sheet music stores such as Pedelson’s and Colony Records, you must often know the publisher of the music you wish to purchase and head to their storefront to acquire it.

nkoda, a London-based company founded by Lorenzo Brewer, aims to bring a subscription model to sheet music. Development and licensing has been in progress for several years, with many major publishers signed up, including Breitkopf & Härtel, Boosey & Hawkes, Bärenreiter, Music Sales, Faber and more. In 2018 they finally plan on launching their product, with beta signups currently underway.

nkoda’s Shivani Patel and Saaket Arora at the 2018 MOLA conference

More than just a subscription service, nkoda’s ambitious goals include providing unlimited access to sheet music from the 16th century onwards to the present day; covering all genres, including orchestral parts; cultivating a social environment; providing anti-piracy protection for publishers; and offering annotation tools that can be saved and shared with others.

With plans to be available on both iOS and Android, as well as on desktop computers, nkoda has spent a great deal of resources analyzing and cataloging the music from their publisher partners in anticipation of rolling out the service. The interface will be familiar to anyone using a music streaming service such as Spotify. Music can be organized by artists and playlists, with recommendations and trending pieces based on your tastes and interests. A $10/month subscription will give you unfettered access to any scores and parts available in the nkoda catalog.

You can make annotations and save them to your profile, and share them with your collaborators or anyone else using the services. nkoda says that they are currently recruiting testers, “looking for instrumentalists and singers, choirs and symphony orchestras, schools and conservatories and everyone in between.”

A key constituent in nkoda’s universe are the orchestral librarians represented at the MOLA conference. Separate from its subscription service, but using the same technology, nkoda plans on making rental materials available to orchestras through their service — hoping to improve the experience of acquiring music for performance.

 

nkoda’s Shivani Patel said, “From a librarian’s point of view, they have to make their markings for every single part. For instance, if they hired that music, they put in all the markings, and then they have to erase it all out and send it back. Once you’re using nkoda, as a librarian, you make all those markings, you send them out to your orchestra, and they are there forever. You can have different editions for different performances that you’ve done, and it’s all there. Especially if you’re on tour, you don’t have to take the sheet music with you. You can if you like — nkoda doesn’t necessarily have to replace sheet music — but I can imagine it facilitating librarians.”

Indeed, said nkoda’s Saaket Arora, at least initially “it will be a hybrid model. To access music and to make annotations to music, we think nkoda will permeate the ecosystem very fast.”

As far as replacing paper with a tablet, Saaket said, “The biggest hurdle is for the performers to play off of it. To replace a sheet with an iPad, the question is obvious: What if the iPad stops? There’s no answer to it. You just hope it won’t stop. So the biggest leap of faith will be the performer. There’s the access, annotations, and sharing aspects. What nkoda does is make music part of a social ecosystem where I can share my music, I can have followers and follow my music, or I can follow people that I look up to and see what they’re doing in the music space. But the real success will be when people start playing from it.”

It is, of course, too early to measure the success of a product such as nkoda that hasn’t even launched yet. But if we learned anything from Steve Jobs’s misguided pronouncement, predicting how people access their music in the future can be full of surprises.

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