Muse Group acquires Hal Leonard

News

Muse Group, the Limassol, Cyprus-based company which owns music and audio products such as MuseScore.com, the MuseScore music notation application, StaffPad, Ultimate Guitar, and Audacity, has acquired Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Hal Leonard, the largest publisher of sheet music and educational books. The transaction is supported by San Francisco-based private equity firm Francisco Partners. The acquisition closed on December 1, 2023 and was announced today. Terms were undisclosed. Muse Group published a series of FAQs to address immediate questions.

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On the Scoring Notes podcast, David MacDonald and Philip Rothman discuss and analyze the Muse Group acquisition of Hal Leonard and what it means for the industry and users. Listen now:

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The players

Muse Group

Muse Group, which was formed in 2021, traces its history back to 1998, when its CEO Eugeny Naidenov started Ultimate Guitar in Kaliningrad, Russia, as a platform for guitarists like himself to upload tablature and chord sheets. Naidenov, who was born in Kazakhstan, grew the company, eventually adding video courses, reviews, and interviews. In 2018, Ultimate Guitar acquired MuseScore BVBA, the company that produces MuseScore, the free, open source desktop software of the same name that began in 2002, as well as MuseScore.com, a commercial sheet music sharing service.

When Muse Group was formed in 2021, it acquired the free audio editing software Audacity, and shortly thereafter it acquired StaffPad, the pen-and-touch music notation app for iPad and Windows Surface devices. Eventually, Muse Group opened its headquarters in Limassol, Cyprus, and is in the process of consolidating its development of MuseScore.com and the Ultimate Guitar web sites and applications there, while maintaining Ultimate Guitar’s strategic presence in the US, as well as key personnel in London, Berlin, and elsewhere. It no longer has any employees in Russia.

“Our passion for improving the lives of all musicians has always been at the heart of Muse Group — and we’re immensely excited to partner with the Hal Leonard team who share that passion,” Naidenov said in a press release announcing the acquisition.

Hal Leonard

Hal Leonard, founded in Winona, Minnesota in 1947 by Harold “Hal” Edstrom, his brother Everett “Leonard” Edstrom and their friend Roger Busdicker, was purchased in 1975 by an internal management team led by general manager Keith Mardak. Mardak, who had started the company’s hugely successful line of book and audio music instructional products, became CEO and chairman and expanded the company, at one point owning more than 85% of the company.

After setting up a stock option program and reducing his holdings in the company, Mardak sold a majority stake in Hal Leonard in 2016 to Seidler Equity Partners, a private investment firm based in Marina del Rey, California, and company president Larry Morton and other senior management signed long-term contracts to remain in their positions. Larry Morton became Hal Leonard’s CEO in 2019; at that time the company reported annual sales of $250 million. Morton remained CEO — only the third CEO in the company’s history — until May of this year, when he transitioned to a new position as executive board member.

Current Hal Leonard ownership, including Seidler, is selling their stake in the company as part of the transaction to Muse Group. However, Morton and several senior Hal Leonard executives are reinvesting into the combined business.

“This partnership will create more music makers worldwide and will lead to even more advances in music education technology, while also expanding ways creators and rights holders can make their musical works more widely available,” Morton said in a press release. “Hal Leonard and Muse have been working closely together for over fifteen years and have built trust and mutual respect over that time. Combining the strengths of both companies is a truly exciting prospect, full of potential ways to grow the music industry in new direction.”

Francisco Partners

Francisco Partners, the private equity firm supporting the acquisition, has a large portfolio in the technology sector with $45 billion raised in diverse investments representing cloud computing, marketing, event ticketing, health services, wealth management, education, gaming, payment processing, and many more industries.

As a condition of the acquisition, Francisco Partners has supported Michael Richards joining Muse Group as in a new position as chief operating officer. Richards began in that position in August, and was an operating partner at STG for three years before leaving to join Muse. Previously to that, he was a private equity advisory partner at KPMG and Deloitte.

Earlier this year, Francisco Partners was one of two investment firms vying to acquire Avid, according to a report published by Reuters. Avid was ultimately acquired by Symphony Technology Group (STG) for $1.4 billion, in a deal announced on August 9, 2023 and formally completed on November 7.

Francisco Partners’ interest in Avid, and the deal with Muse Group, aren’t their first forays into music. Just last year, in September 2022, Francisco Partners secured a controlling interest in Kobalt Music, the independent rights management and administrative music publishing company that collects and distributes royalties for artists, songwriters, and publishers.

In 2021, Francisco Partners acquired a majority stake in digital music company Native Instruments, combining shortly afterwards with popular audio plug-in maker iZotope. That company was briefly re-branded in 2022 as Soundwide, before reverting back to the more well-known brands.

The deal

Mindful of the importance of brand awareness, Muse Group said, “The Hal Leonard name and legacy as a cornerstone of music education for millions will proudly continue, and all Hal Leonard employees will continue in their current roles.” Scoring Notes has learned that this commitment has been made to extend for a minimum of one year following the acquisition. “The newly expanded Muse Group remains committed to continuing Hal Leonard’s valued partnerships with educators, retailers, distributors, suppliers, content creators and license holders that serve the global music community,” according to the press release.

Jack Sutton, Muse Group’s head of communications, said, “We have no intention of changing or interfering with Hal Leonard’s storied and impressive track record as being the leader in sheet music printing, publishing, and licensing. They have incredible music expertise, especially in the education space, and an incredible catalog of educational resources. The physical side of Hal Leonard’s operations will likely remain autonomous for quite some time; we [Muse Group] don’t have in-house experience printing music or running music stores. There will be two separate headquarters, and the entire Hal Leonard leadership team is remaining in place.”

Although Hal Leonard’s workforce is approximately three times larger than that of Muse Group — more than 600 employees at Hal Leonard, compared to more than 200 at Muse Group — Jack implied that the revenue of both companies is not dissimilar, adding, “Although officially this is an acquisition, we are treating it as a merger of equals. Larry [Morton] saw opportunities to bring Hal Leonard’s catalog to the massive audience of Muse Group, bring our brains together, and future-proof their offering for the next generation of musicians. We had already been working with Hal Leonard, so this felt like a natural progression of the existing partnership.”

The potential

The long-term play for the education market is central to the Muse Group strategy. At the 2020 NAMM Show, Muse Group’s head of strategy Daniel Ray posed a rhetorical question about the vision of MuseScore under the Ultimate Guitar umbrella. “What is the purpose of the company?” he mused. “It’s about music literacy. It’s the idea that we want one billion people on the planet to be musically literate. The definition of that music literacy can be ambiguous, but that’s our objective. One billion people on the planet.”

The Ultimate Guitar web site

Depending on how one crunches the numbers, Muse Group is well on their way to a billion people. Ultimate Guitar now reports 200 million annual visitors, 53 million app downloads, and 30 million registered accounts, with 1.8 million tabs available on the site. MuseScore.com reports 100 million annual visitors, 12 million downloads of the MuseScore desktop app, 13 million registered accounts, and 1.3 million scores.

Of course, only a fraction of those users are paying customers; in an interview at CloudFest in 2017, Eugeny Naidenov said that approximately 10% of users subscribed to the paid tier at the time. Having a large percentage of free users, however, is part of Muse Group’s business model. Daniel Ray said, “We have a philosophy that tools should be free. The best possible tools should be free for content creators, which opens up the audience of content creators who have the ability to learn and develop their skills.”

David William Hearn, the co-founder of StaffPad, echoed that sentiment recently on the Scoring Notes podcast, when speaking about the sound libraries he developed for StaffPad that are now available at no cost in MuseScore through the Muse Hub. “The CEO of Muse Group is very passionate about giving people tools and seeing what they can do with it,” David said. “So, the Muse Orchestra — originally that was going to be a paid product; it just opened up to be free. Playback technology, again, you could easily productize that, but it’s free. The sampler just exists in the background. It’s sort of invisible inside MuseScore. If you get one of the Muse libraries, it just happens as part of that, so there are very interesting tech opportunities. You can write your notes however you write them; get a score, press play, and you’re going to hear something that inspires you, hopefully. At its core, that’s fun. We think most people should experience that, if they can.”

The Muse Hub, on desktop, for use in MuseScore and Muse Group’s other applications

In addition, only a very small percentage of the 1.8 million tabs on Ultimate Guitar and 1.3 million scores on MuseScore.com are available at the paid tier: just 28,000 tabs on Ultimate Guitar, and 44,000 scores on MuseScore.com; less than 2% and 4%, respectively. Muse Group’s Jack Sutton said, “There is an incredible opportunity in the education space. Muse Group doesn’t have as much of this expertise in-house. Hal Leonard have an incredible catalog of educational tools; Muse Group is bringing the tech culture and can move faster.”

Although Ultimate Guitar and MuseScore have had some success with learning, Jack said, their visitors and users “are mostly musicians who can already play.”

The key, then, is to bring more quality, licensed content to the suite of apps and services that Muse Group has been rapidly developing, and to increase the share of both paid users and licensed content on the platforms.

One industry veteran who Scoring Notes spoke with said, “This has the potential to be very good for both companies. Hal Leonard could do more to expand the digital side of their business, and they clearly felt the best way to do that was to partner with Muse Group, who have proven that they have the technical proficiency to execute that goal. From Muse Group’s side, the access to Hal Leonard’s extensive catalog, their publishing agreements, and their important relationships in education are extremely valuable for their technology products, so they can make licensed content available on those platforms and grow their paid user base.”

The irony

Fifteen years ago, few people would have expected Ultimate Guitar to become the parent company of Hal Leonard.

Eugeny Naidenov, Muse Group’s CEO, in recalling the history in the 2017 CloudFest interview said that Ultimate Guitar grew exponentially in its first few years, once they made technical improvements to allow users to more easily automatically upload tabs. Traffic also increased due to search engine optimization updates that made it easier to find songs on the site by simply entering the song title into a conventional search engine like Google, instead of having to first go to the Ultimate Guitar site and then search for the song there.

As a result, Ultimate Guitar started to get noticed, and not in a good way.

“The music publishing industry started to get annoyed by the popularity of services like us, and they were sending cease-and-desist letters to everyone,” Naidenov said. “People started to shut down their web sites because they had no way to license their operations, and to pay royalties. There were these webmasters were sending me emails like, ‘hey, I have this website from Sweden, and you know, I’ve been doing this for ten years, and I need to shut it down. Can you host all these tablatures that I have on Ultimate Guitar, so it’s not completely lost?'”

Indeed, according to statistics reported by The New York Times, Ultimate-Guitar.com had 1.4 million visitors in July 2006 — twice as much as the year before.

Naidenov said that he would “get back home from somewhere, and I checked my email, and I get a cease-and-desist letter from this one. The next morning I get cease-and-desist letter from that publisher. So it was, a crazy, crazy period of time when I was hated by the whole music publishing industry.”

As Naidenov told The Guardian in 2016, “We received a letter from the National Music Publishers Association saying we were infringing on a copyright and as our competitors closed down to avoid taking any risk we turned the situation to our advantage.”

Eugeny Naidenov (left) speaking with an interviewer at the 2017 CloudFest

An open question at the time was whether user-generated tablature of copyrighted songs constituted infringement, and, if it did, how to legally license it under the copyright law. “That was the biggest challenge to solve [at the time],” Naidenov said at CloudFest. “Music publishers said that, ‘we don’t like that you host all these tablatures and give them away basically for free to anyone.’ But at the same time, we’ve been asking them, ‘Okay, do you have any solution? Can we start paying you so we can keep this?’ And they were like, ‘No. There is no standard solution to the situation. There is no such thing as a standard contract to license user-generated tablatures.’ It was a non-existent thing.”

Undermining their position, Ultimate Guitar initially made the case that “it violated no laws because its headquarters were in Russia, and the site’s practices complied with Russian laws,” as the Times reported an Ultimate Guitar executive saying. That argument was specious at best, but legally wrong, according to legal experts. The question of whether guitar tablature was itself illegal infringement, however, was a live ball; Jonathan Zittrain, the professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University, said in The New York Times article that it wasn’t clear that publishers could succeed with such a claim, because there was no settled court doctrine on guitar tablature at the time.

To resolve this issue, Naidenov said that Ultimate Guitar had talk to each music publisher and create a model for paying royalties for user-generated tablatures. “And that’s what basically we did,” he said. “We created this model. Eventually we got all the major publishers on board, and then the smaller ones started to approve this model, and then that’s when it became easier. It took seven years from start to finish, to get this licensed.” As part of that process, in addition to securing licenses directly with major music publishers — including Hal Leonard — in 2010 Ultimate Guitar signed a license agreement with The Harry Fox Agency through which more than 40,000 other publishers can opt-in to allow Ultimate Guitar users to use and share guitar tablature.

In response to an audience question at CloudFest about the possibility of renegotiating the licenses, Naidenov foreshadowed some of what was to come. Renegotiating existing license agreements was difficult, he said, “but that doesn’t mean that you cannot create a new model, a new type of deal. This is what we’re doing right now with our upcoming product, so it will be a little bit more favorable terms for us, yet it will require more work. We’re creating high-quality tablatures in-house. We have some special technologies as a part of this. And because we are spending so many resources on creating this and owning the content, [the publishers agreed to] better terms. So, you cannot renegotiate what’s already happening, but you can create something new.”

In the case of MuseScore.com and fully notated music in sheet music form, the case law and precedent was clearer than with guitar tablature. With its free and open-source ethos, as well as the general impression that the MuseScore scoring application generated inferior results than its commercial competitors Finale and Sibelius, MuseScore’s sheet music sharing service largely flew under the radar prior to 2018, despite the application and web site both being widely used.

When Ultimate Guitar acquired MuseScore, however, publishers realized the extent to which their copyrights were being violated by having their content on the MuseScore.com site, and Ultimate Guitar (the parent company of MuseScore, before Muse Group was created) needed to remedy this.

Although MuseScore pursued licensing deals with publishers, the combination of the sheer quantity of material, the lack of previous attention to the matter, and general user misunderstandings about the nature of copyright meant that a significant amount of unlicensed quantity remained on the site. In response, publishers — yes, including Hal Leonard — issued copyright takedown notices. Users claimed some of these notices were based solely upon a song title match and not the underlying composition, leading to even more confusion.

Eventually, MuseScore entered into licensing agreements with Hal Leonard, and, famously in 2021, Disney, among other publishers, allowed more content to be legally available on MuseScore.com, subject to certain restrictions. MuseScore says that they now have licenses for more than 5 million songs, but under the terms of their licenses, “any use of these works outside of MuseScore.com or the MuseScore app is outside of the scope of anything related to MuseScore, even if the score was created with the MuseScore software.”

In September 2021, MuseScore.com launched Official Scores, licensed from publishers. These scores are only available to PRO+ users under the terms of the MuseScore license, and they are not allowed to print or download these scores.

The industry expert we spoke with said that, “in a deal like this, both sides would have done the appropriate amount of due diligence” to ensure that any licensing agreements would be respected, but it was clear that “the access Muse Group will have to the Hal Leonard partnerships through acquisition is the more straightforward path” to having a large amount of licensed content, compared to doing it on their own via MuseScore.com.

The business

Hal Leonard’s presence in the sheet music business is hard to overstate.

Hal Leonard’s flagship digital sheet music site, Sheet Music Direct, offers more than 1.6 million titles; Sheet Music Plus, which Hal Leonard acquired in 2017, has more than 2 million items; Musicroom, founded in 1995, is part of Hal Leonard Europe, and maintains a sizeable online presence, although its retail stores closed this year, including the flagship London store on Denmark Street.

The flagship Musicroom store which closed in 2023; the Hal Leonard-owned Musicroom.com e-store remains online (Image: Musicroom London)

Hal Leonard’s footprint in the educational market is due not only to the millions of songs it licenses, but also thanks to its method books for learning guitar, piano, band, orchestra, and many other instruments. In these areas where Hal Leonard originates the content, it owns the intellectual property for these, and is the outright publisher. For many other publications, such as those of Disney Music Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, and more, Hal Leonard represents these publishers’ print and digital media rights; in these instances, the publishers often reserve other rights.

Less readily apparent, but perhaps of particular interest to regular Scoring Notes readers, is Hal Leonard’s distribution deals with classical music publishers such as Boosey & Hawkes, G. Henle Verlag, Peermusic Classical, G. Schirmer, Schott, and many more. Effectively, for these publications, Hal Leonard will take stock on consignment, pay income to the originating publisher, and take a commission. This way publishers can leverage Hal Leonard’s vast distribution channels while retaining their rights to the music.

Noteflight and ArrangeMe

In 2014, Hal Leonard acquired Boston, Massachusetts-based Noteflight, a browser-based music notation, creation, and sharing platform founded in 2008 by Joe Berkovitz. Berkovitz, who was also one of the founding co-chairs of the W3C Music Notation Community Group, was one of the earliest entrants into browser-based notation software, and ended up having an enduring impact on the field. Noteflight’s history goes back far enough that the original application was written for the Adobe Flash Player, ubiquitous in 2008 but since abandoned in modern web applications.

Despite the Flash Player’s eventual obsolescence, Noteflight persisted, re-written with a vision of platform independence with scores being as easily accessible online as other browser-based applications — similar in concept to Google Docs, which was first released in 2006. Like those services, Noteflight’s basic offering was available for free, which encouraged user adoption.

Noteflight Basic, running in a modern web browser

In 2014, Hal Leonard recognized Noteflight’s potential and purchased Noteflight outright, while keeping its operations largely independent. In subsequent years, Noteflight Marketplace became more central to the company’s strategy, as it enabled users to not only sell arrangements of copyrighted music — all licensed from Hal Leonard — but also for purchasers to get the Noteflight notation file and adapt it to their individual needs.

Today Noteflight boasts more than 8 million members, most of whom use the limited free offering called Noteflight Basic. Noteflight Premium adds more sophisticated features, unlimited scores, and access to more than 80,000 Hal Leonard digital sheet music titles.

Another important component of Noteflight is its teaching and music creation tool, called Noteflight Learn. Targeting music educators and students, the $69 per user annual fee allows teachers to create assignments and organize classes and ensembles around Noteflight. An $8 add-on unlocks their SoundCheck real-time performance assessment technology, which is also available separately as part of a Noteflight Premium subscription; another add-on grants Noteflight Learn users access to the same 80,000 Hal Leonard digital sheet music titles available through Noteflight Premium.

The Hal Leonard digital sheet music catalog, available in Noteflight

At the 2019 NAMM Show, Noteflight’s then-managing director John Mlynczak said that “Noteflight has been received well, and in fact many times the feedback we hear is that people do not believe this is true. They say this really can’t be ‘legal’, but we are ensuring that all rights holders are compensated on each transaction and we do want to allow the flexibility we have built. The internet will continue to push the boundaries of digital music distribution and we need to be the leaders.”

To that end, in 2020 Hal Leonard launched ArrangeMe, which allows arrangers to sell their arrangements either as PDFs through Sheet Music Plus and Sheet Music Direct, or as interactive titles on Noteflight (but not anywhere else). Hal Leonard has pre-cleared more than 4 million songs on ArrangeMe and takes care of securing all copyrights and royalty payments. The arranger receives 10% of the sales price; the balance goes to Hal Leonard, who then pays a percentage to the copyright holder(s).

The competition

Even before the Muse Group acquisition, Hal Leonard’s main competitor was Alfred Music, and this continues to be so.

If you own sheet music, you probably have titles published or distributed by Hal Leonard, Alfred, and Warner Bros. Publications, which Alfred acquired in 2005

Alfred’s history mirrors that of Hal Leonard, in many ways. Founded in 1922 in New York City by Sam Manus as Manus Music, and renamed Alfred Music in 1930 after acquiring another music publisher called Alfred & Company, Manus’s son Morty took over the business. In the 1950s Alfred developed an instructional series for accordion, followed by books for guitar, piano, and recorder.

After moving their office to Los Angeles in 1975, Morty Manus’s sons Ron and Steve entered the business and expanded the business internationally, and in 2005 Alfred purchased Warner Bros. Publications, acquiring the print rights to the EMI Catalogue Partnership and beginning a long-term relationship with Warner/Chappell, with exclusive rights to print and distribute editions of musical compositions.

Then, in 2016, Alfred was acquired by Peaksware, the same private holding company controlled by Andy Stephens that purchased MakeMusic in 2014 and moved it from Eden Prairie, Minnesota to Boulder, Colorado. In 2015, MakeMusic — now owned by Peaksware — acquired Weezic, makers of an interactive web-based music practice tool from Paris, France founded in 2011. Weezic eventually replaced SmartMusic, which was MakeMusic’s venerated learning and assessment tool.

SmartMusic was an installable desktop application based on Finale, and was becoming outdated as the education market needed to transition to web-based platforms like Weezic that could run on Chromebooks and other devices. Weezic’s co-founder, Grégory Dell’Era, joined MakeMusic as director of technology at the time of the acquisition, and since January 2021 has been president of both MakeMusic and Alfred Music.

Although many people know MakeMusic primarily because of its Finale desktop notation software, the company’s present and future business fortunes are with its MakeMusic Cloud products which, like with Noteflight’s suite and Hal Leonard, involve tight integration with their publishing affiliate, Alfred. Their Music Catalog has a wide variety of interactive titles; their Practice tool enables performers to play along with solo and ensemble parts, with built-in accompaniment, tuner and metronome; a novel Sight Reading Studio generates on-the-fly music for refining skills based on given parameters; and Compose, a web-based music notation tool, is the creation piece.

The MakeMusic Cloud music catalog

Alfred still has its print music business as both a publisher of educational method books and as a music distributor, but because of the licensed content to which it has the rights, it is very much essential to MakeMusic’s overall digital strategy, in the same way Hal Leonard is to Muse Group’s. Finale is still being updated, but it serves a different purpose in the company now — similar, in some ways, to MuseScore’s role within Muse Group, as a fully-featured, affordable desktop notation program within a largely web-based suite of educational products closely married to content. Whereas it used to dominate the market with its power-user features and command a $600 fee, a new user license of Finale — while not free like MuseScore — was recently offered for as little as $89 during their Black Friday sale, a remarkable reduction of 85% from its 2022 sticker price.

Although Muse Group/Hal Leonard and MakeMusic/Alfred are the titans in this newly-ordered landscape, there are other notable players in the Venn diagram of education, content, and interactive notation.

Soundslice is one such platform. Founded and run by Adrian Holovaty, and a fraction of the size of the large companies, Soundslice has its roots in guitar music. In the course of its history, Soundslice has built a regularly-updated web-based notation and tab editor, a store with course offerings, and an enviable experience marrying video and audio learning with interactive music notation.

Soundslice

In the collaborative music notation platform area, among others there is Flat.io, with 5 million members using its service, and there are Newzik and nkoda, with their music reading apps and content partnerships with major publishers.

When it comes to the desktop scoring applications familiar to most Scoring Notes readers, competing with the free MuseScore are paid products, such as MakeMusic’s Finale, Avid’s Sibelius, Steinberg’s Dorico, and PreSonus’s Notion.

In fact, it appears that the companies that make music notation software platforms are now roughly sorted into two categories. One category includes Muse Group, MakeMusic, Soundslice, Flat, Newzik and nkoda, which are strictly software companies (with strong web-based applications) that seek to pair their notation-based products with control of the content that’s used on — and in some cases generated by — their platforms. The other category includes Avid, Steinberg, and PreSonus, whose notation products are part of a portfolio that encompasses professional audio software and hardware, and who haven’t made sizeable plays for the content.

The future

Of all the products that Muse Group and Hal Leonard are responsible for, the most obvious overlap is with their digital offerings — particularly the ones aimed at the education market. Indeed, one might be hard-pressed to distinguish at first glance between Noteflight, above, and the MuseScore course offerings, below.

MuseScore courses

With the apparent similarity of their course catalogs in mind, there are more notable differences in the product lines — chief among them, the notation editor; MuseScore (the application) is an open-source and free desktop application, with all notation features available to any user, while Noteflight, only ever a web-based platform, reserves its premium notation features for its paying customers.

Still, there are far more similarities, and while the products won’t necessarily merge overnight, it’s not difficult to imagine the offerings of one or another start to converge — particularly for such similar products like MuseClass and Noteflight Learn, which appear to directly overlap with each other. Further, Hal Leonard has its popular Essential Elements series, a curriculum for band and strings, with an interactive component that the company says more than 500,000 students access during the school year; there is also its Essential Elements Music Class, launched in 2019 and aimed at the elementary school market, with songs, lesson resources, ukulele and recorder lesson plans.

Essential Elements Music Class, from Hal Leonard

Hal Leonard also has its Digital Books, cloud-based publications in a proprietary streaming e-book format, including the famous “The Real Book” series. (That series, incidentally, originated as lead sheet transcriptions that were notoriously unlicensed until 2004, when Hal Leonard obtained the rights to most of the songs and published the books legally — a story not unlike that of Ultimate Guitar’s experience with guitar tablature.)

Muse Group’s Jack Sutton said, “It’s hard to say what combinations would take place, and that they have “committed to a year of discovery on both sides,” but added, “the digital teams will probably collaborate first.”

For its part, Muse Group has substantial capacity to further develop these digital tools. With its 2021 acquisition of StaffPad, Muse gained cutting-edge tablet-based music composition tools, and, most importantly, the talented David William Hearn and his team.

Among the innovations that StaffPad has introduced — starting with their smash announcement in 2014, when its handwriting recognition application was first unveiled — they have recently released an AI-powered real-time transcription component, called Piano Capture. Not only can StaffPad transcribe real-time audio, but it can be done in tandem with its other recently-added features, like video support.

From the StaffPad video introducing Piano Capture

One can easily imagine a robust cross-pollination between technology, education, and content in the future, and it’s not necessary to speculate: Muse Group is currently accepting job applications for a senior machine learning engineer. The machine learning areas that Muse and StaffPad are pioneering could end up powering the assessment and educational tools, while the music that Hal Leonard controls could provide the data corpus to train future generations of the AI models. The copyright implications in such data are unsettled, but the combined experience that Muse Group and Hal Leonard have in securing licensed content should serve them well as precedent begins to be established in this area.

Comments

  1. Derek Williams

    Thank you, Philip, for this highly detailed account of the fortunes of MuseScore and Hal Leonard. This is a surprising takeover, as I would have expected Hal Leonard to be the conglomerate doing the acquiring. We have bad memories of Hal Leonard here in Edinburgh, where they recently closed down our oldest and largest music store, Rae Macintosh Music Room.

  2. Paolo

    “If you can’t find a deal with them, just buy them!”

    1. Justin Tokke

      This is exactly what’s going on here.

  3. Claude

    Fantastic article and outstanding coverage! You truly covered everything one would want to know about this.

    Thank you immensely!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thank you!

  4. Ernie Mansfield

    I am suspicious of all buy-outs, beginning with the sale of Sibelius to Avid, around 10 years ago. The ultimate pawns in the buy-outs are the professional musicians, who constantly have to fight for their rights, re-learn new technology, etc., while the corporate owners are just concerned with their own bottom line.

    1. Justin Tokke

      Sibelius was bought by Avid 17 years ago.

  5. Adrian Holovaty

    Excellent writeup! Even as somebody who’s been in this tiny industry for a decade now, I always learn from your posts. Thanks for the well-written analysis!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks!

  6. mirabilos

    I had never heard of Hal Leonard before their “official score”s popped up on mu͒sescore.com — I guess they’re only visible in America or something.

    But what I saw and what other site users confirmed is that while Hal Leonard is legendary, it’s legendary for its utterly bad transcriptions of music. Entire well-known pieces cut down to often just three-part harmony set on a grand stave for the piano, no lyrics, nothing, and shortened to boot.

    Their introduction to mu͒sescore.com gave them such a… great… name that I’ll never willingly buy something from their publishing house. (Not that I’ve yet come across anything, being in Europe, of course.)

  7. Ernie Mansfield

    Hal Leonard is the largest music publisher I know of, so I would not base an opinion on one book. Some of their publications are good, some are not so good. In fact, Hal Leonard is the larger umbrella to many other smaller publishing companies, some of whom are better than others.

    1. mirabilos

      It’s not “one book”, it’s every. single. “official score” both I and others have come across on mu͒sescore.com which is utterly bad.

  8. Ernie Mansfield

    <>

    Mirabilos – I believe you, ie, that those scores you have come across are “utterly bad”. I don’t use Musescore, and I am unfamiliar with any of the “official scores” that you mention. My comment was more related to the latest news about the sale of Hal Leonard to some foreign holding company. I use many Hal Leonard books for my teaching and performing, as do millions of other musicians/instructors. They have been around for ca. 75 years. I also know music engravers, arrangers, producers, etc., who have worked for Hal Leonard. For some of them, this was their full-time employment. So I am very suspicious of the sale of this company.

    Since I know that in the past decades their publications have been fairly good (for the most part), I am wondering if this new series of “utterly bad” music is a signal of their demise (?) I hope not, but time will tell.

    1. mirabilos

      Yeah, this could be a demise. It could also not be one, or a partial one, if operations can indeed continue as before… for now.

      It gets worse though once you realise it’s a letterbox company. A quick search shows at least a dozen other companies with the same postal address as Muse Holdings on the first result page alone…

  9. Oriol López Calle

    A must-read article for anyone involved in the sheet music industry like us. Thanks for covering this and for the excellent, insightful commentary!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thank you!

  10. Allan Ward

    A thoughtful and well-written article. As a North American print music veteran of almost 50 years, it is astonishing to see the speed at which the digital transformation has been taking place. Hal Leonard has consistently identified and either partnered with or acquired entities with trail blazing expertise. An example of this is their distribution of Cherry Lane Music who brought Guitar Tab to the masses with the publication of Guns and Roses’ Appetite for Destruction. As someone who uses Muse Groups’ software on a daily basis and with a familiarity of the breadth of Hal Leonard’s massive catalogue, I look forward with interest to seeking how this partnership delivers on its potential.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thank you for these remarks and insight!

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