Note: All this week, we’ll be publishing posts from the 2019 NAMM Show in Anaheim, California. It’s a huge exhibition, so we’ll focus on what we do best: covering the field of music notation software and related technology. Follow all of our NAMM 2019 coverage at Scoring Notes.
In this post, we visit at NAMM with Steinberg’s product marketing manager Daniel Spreadbury and product specialist John Barron to talk about Dorico’s past, present, and future, after a busy year of major updates and rapid progress in the software.
It’s been quite a year for Dorico, Steinberg’s music notation software. Last year at NAMM I sat down with Steinberg’s product marketing manager Daniel Spreadbury and product specialist John Barron for a wide-ranging chat about the software and the state of the field; Dorico was at version 1.2 at that time — an update so massive we had to split our review of it into three parts (you can read part 1, about cues and new notation techniques; part 2, about fingering; and part 3; about percussion).
Barely five months later in June 2018, Daniel visited New York City. He and I had another conversation then, fresh off the release of Dorico Pro 2 and the introduction of the starter Dorico Elements version.
Since then, the Steinberg team hasn’t slowed down. In the past six months we’ve seen two major updates to Dorico 2 (2.1 and 2.2), and another smaller update is promised soon. Despite this whirlwind of activity and their busy NAMM exhibition schedule at the Yamaha booth in the Elite Ballroom of the Marriott hotel, Daniel and John made time to reprise last year’s NAMM visit with me — Dorico NAMM Interview 2.0 if you like — to reflect on the past year and look forward to 2019.
“The reaction to Dorico 2 has been pretty fantastic, with the Dorico 2.2 update released at the end of last year being particularly well-received,” Daniel told me. “Not only has the software received some very favorable reviews from the press, but, most importantly to us, our users have reacted with great enthusiasm to each new release, and especially to version 2.2. The team has delivered an astonishing number of new features in 2018 alone, and our customers frequently express their disbelief at not only the quantity of new features we’re able to deliver, but the quality too. We’re not planning on taking our foot off the gas this year, either.”
Surely the team is proud of all of their accomplishments, and Daniel said that “you could pick more than a handful out of any of the three big releases and I could talk to you for hours about how we brought them to life. Divisi, smart trills, repeat markers, jazz articulations, slashes and bar repeats…” But he was particularly proud of the implementation of flow headings and tacet flows, because of their deep roots in the conception of Dorico. “These were things that we had talked about and started designing six years ago, right at the inception of Dorico, and to see those ideas brought to fruition was really exciting. Those are the kinds of features that are only possible in Dorico, because we were able to dream it up from scratch and design these kinds of capabilities into its architecture from the beginning.”
While many of Dorico’s features will be familiar to users of other software, some features are implemented in different ways, and a good many of them are unique to Dorico. Making those features and Dorico’s workflow discoverable is key to the software’s adoption by users — something that Daniel acknowledged. “I would like to bang the drum for the amazing efforts that [product planning manager and UI designer] Anthony Hughes has gone to over the past year to make a constant stream of videos to help people learn Dorico,” he said. “In addition to the beautiful in-depth videos he produces for the YouTube channel, he produced a short #TipsTuesday video practically every single week in 2018, which were shared on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Those videos are deceptively time-consuming to produce, and there are some real gems among them.” Daniel said that more videos are planned.
Daniel specifically recognized John’s education work. “John is training people either in person or online practically every week of the year, and really helping to get people up and running quickly,” he said. “We at Steinberg understand the value of a direct relationship with our customers, and it’s people like John, and our UK education manager Richard Llewellyn, who build and maintain those relationships.”
Of course, as much as Dorico has delivered over the past year, people always want to know what’s next. “From the development perspective,” Daniel volunteered, “we’re currently getting into the nitty-gritty of designing and implementing some new areas of functionality. Figuring out how to balance a wide range of user requirements with a pragmatic approach to engineering something that not only meets those requirements as far as possible but also sprinkles a little extra something on top is a challenge, but one that we enjoy rising to. In the meantime, there will be a small update coming very soon that is mostly intended to sweep up a few remaining problems in the new features added in the Dorico 2.x series, but which of course does include a few small feature and workflow improvements. After that, we’ll be focusing entirely on tackling some of these bigger areas.”
Although the Steinberg team is focused on Dorico, Daniel has a keen perspective on the wider market of music notation software, with a particularly interesting perspective on the past year’s developments in competing programs. “Of course I’m biased, but I think that Dorico’s rapid evolution and growing challenge to the hegemony in the market that has existed for several years was a hallmark of the last year,” he said. “The acquisition of MuseScore by Ultimate Guitar was of course also a significant event of the last year, and I feel reasonably sure that the accelerated timescale for the release of MuseScore 3.0 at the end of the year would not have been achievable without the injection of capital and resources from that deal. That push to make that release happen in 2018 was impressive. The release of a free tier of Sibelius from Avid was also of course a big moment, and could prove to be a powerful bulwark against its competitors, more so perhaps than any modest feature improvements that they have added. And of course MakeMusic also released the first new paid update to Finale in a couple of years. For such a small niche of the overall music production market, there was certainly plenty to talk and think about in 2018.”
No doubt the music notation space is competitive — but it’s also cooperative. Perhaps nothing embodies this more than the W3C Music Notation Community Group, which develops and maintains format and language specifications for notated music such as MusicXML and SMuFL, used by web, desktop, and mobile applications, of which Daniel is one of three co-chairs. Daniel said that “SMuFL 1.3 is about to be published as a Final Community Report (FCR), which will be the first complete release of the standard under the W3C umbrella, joining MusicXML 3.1, which was published as an FCR at the start of 2018. I hope that we will start to see some additional vendor support for SMuFL in the coming year.”
For those readers interested in more news about the work of the W3C group, Scoring Notes will have a summary and full video coverage of the W3C Music Notation Community Group at NAMM.
“As for the significance of these projects to our work on Dorico,” Daniel continued, “improving our MusicXML export is pretty high on our list of medium-term priorities, so we hope to be making some headway in that area in 2019. Dorico of course leads the way in terms of support for SMuFL, but there are aspects of the standard that we would like to support more fully, which depends on access to more OpenType features, and there’s currently no specific timeline for those features being available to us.”
Daniel, John, and their colleagues maintain hundreds of relationships that span the globe, but as to the importance of attending the NAMM Show, Daniel said, “There’s no substitute for a face-to-face conversation and having the opportunity to show the software to somebody in real time, and we have even more to talk about this year than we did last. Of course I also enjoy the opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends, and there is always an unexpected meeting or new opportunity that you could not have predicted when making plans to attend the show, so it’s important to be open to those moments of serendipity.”