All this week, we’ll be publishing posts from the 2024 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 2024 coverage at Scoring Notes, and on our social media accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
If you come to Scoring Notes regularly, there’s a likelihood that you either use music notation software or know someone who is guilty of the same. And if you know what music notation software is, then you’ve likely heard of Finale. Of the leading desktop notation software programs still in wide use, Finale has been around the longest, with a history stretching back more than 30 years.
Finale may be the oldest product in MakeMusic’s portfolio, but for this Colorado-based company these days, its present and future business fortunes are with its MakeMusic Cloud products, many of which are tightly integrated 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.
Classroom tools, like a gradebook, practice analytics, and connectivity to popular learning management systems like Canvas and Google Classroom tie the entire suite together, making what was once known as SmartMusic the engine that drives MakeMusic’s success.
I spoke with Jason Wick, MakeMusic’s director of product development, about the importance of NAMM, as it is at the intersection of what MakeMusic does. NAMM’s mission is “to strengthen the music products industry and promote the pleasures and benefits of making music.”
“It’s very important,” Jason said. “We are a combination of the MakeMusic products you might know, such as Finale, SmartMusic, which is now called MakeMusic Cloud, the Garritan Instruments, and Alfred Publishing. So when you put all of that together, you have people who create the music, you have people who prepare the music, people who are teaching the music at early ages, and people who are ultimately playing the music. And we are involved in all of those parts of the process.
“Alfred Publishing is our part of our company, and it is the largest music education publisher in the world. A lot of that music is in the side of our online digital catalog, um, either in PDF format or in interactive format. We have this online digital catalog where musicians or students can play along, practice, and get immediate feedback on music from that online catalog. That’s really one of the main relationships where you see the overlap in those two different pieces.”
Jason’s been with MakeMusic for 10 years, starting out as an automated test engineer, writing tests in the Finale user interface to help make it more efficient. As he gradually worked his way through several roles in the company, he’s taken on responsibility for its product development.
“I was very lucky and fortunate to be able to start with MakeMusic and have the position that I had as an automated test engineer,” Jason said. “It was great to be able to find a position where I had Finale knowledge, music knowledge, and technical knowledge, and to put those things together How do we raise issues? How do we raise defects that are happening unexpectedly in the software as a result of engineering changes as quickly as possible? Because each step in the process later, it’s orders of magnitude more expensive and it takes away from delivering more to customers.
“And so for me, I found tremendous satisfaction in having that role. I think we all kind of yearn for growth over time. And what’s happened with me is I’ve just had the opportunity to broaden scope. I love having the vantage point of this breadth at this point. Back to this point of people who come to create music, practice music, whatever it is in their journey, I can really see all those different points of view and in all the different things that we offer to human beings.”
I visited MakeMusic’s offices in Colorado in the summer of 2023, and he appeared as a guest on the podcast in 2021 to talk about the release of Finale 27, but the last time I saw Jason in a public setting was right here, at NAMM, four years ago. The industry’s undergone a lot of changes in that time. One major development was the acquisition of Hal Leonard by Muse Group.
I asked Jason what his perspective was. “It’s a microcosm of what I think has been happening in the music industry, which is consolidation. Consolidation is interesting because you have a lot more power and influence centralized with fewer players. I think what consolidation does is it shows us as businesses how much we have to achieve.”In our 2020 conversation Jason said that “one thing we’re looking at as a set of companies is Alfred, the biggest music education publisher in the world, and our offering of software, and how we can find ways to integrate those things.”
Four years on, that strategy has come to fruition. “”We are in a different place than we are now,” Jason said. “We’ve launched something called MakeMusic Publications, which didn’t exist before. We are doing exactly what we have strived to do, which is release music with a diverse set of composers, and it is print and digital. It’s a great success for musicians. So as long as this consolidation happens with us and with others around us — as long as we are remembering that we’re trying to do this for people and we’re keeping that in mind — hopefully that guides the decision making that we all go through.”
I asked Jason about Finale and what the future is for a product that is still so powerful — and complex — that it must be “conquered” by the user. Jason called it “a love letter to our longtime users, which were bug fixes that were really some of the frictions that we see a lot of our support cases. We really tried to be mindful of choosing some really significantly impactful defects that we could, that we could fix and, and make sure that Mac OS is, is still working okay with Finale. And we just continue to evaluate that philosophy.”
It’s always interesting to read what a company says its values are. MakeMusic’s are “Be deliberate. Be impactful. Be human.” We can read about how MakeMusic embraces and defines those values, but I wanted to know what that value statement meant to Jason to in the work that he does.
“It’s a wonderful combination of things,” he replied. “It’s the perfect place for me to be. Be deliberate. What is it you want to do? The process matters. It’s not just the results; it’s the process. And that doesn’t always yield a good result, or it doesn’t always look good. And you have to go back and get better at that, but be deliberate and really evaluate how you’re doing things, And then being impactful. What are you doing that actually matters? What are you doing that’s for the good of others? If you do one of those too much, one or the other too much, it doesn’t work. If you’re too deliberate, you are never impactful. If you’re only focused on just being impactful immediately, you probably could jump into things so fast that you mess it up.
“I love the combination of those two things. And then to me, to be human is the bedrock of all of that. You’re working with other people, you’re doing things for other people, and you want to handle that with compassion and awareness.”