NAMM 2024: Muse Group’s Jack Sutton on Hal Leonard, MuseScore development and more

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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.


At the 2024 NAMM Show, Muse Group might be the largest company exhibiting that the fewest people attending the show have heard of. But if you mention Hal Leonard, MuseScore.com, the MuseScore music notation application, StaffPad, Ultimate Guitar, Audio.com, Audacity, or Tonebridge, then it’s very likely that if you stopped a random person strolling the floor of the Anaheim Convention Center, that individual would have been familiar with at least one of those items.

I didn’t take a scientific survey to prove it, but judging from the activity at the Muse Group / Hal Leonard booth, it’s a fair assumption to make. I wanted to learn more about what Muse Group was hearing from its customers and constituents, especially with Muse Group’s December 2023 acquisition of Hal Leonard still fresh news.

For this I turned to Jack Sutton, Muse Group’s head of communications, who was not only visiting NAMM for the first time, but the entire Los Angeles area. “I wasn’t quite ready for how much the temperature drops at night here,” Jack said. “It’s got that almost desert thing where it suddenly drops, so that was quite shocking to me!”

The novelty of the visit coincided with the novelty of meeting new colleagues for the first time — especially Hal Leonard, who have literally had a large footprint at NAMM for many years. “We [Muse Group] just have a little bit of a presence within the Hal Leonard booth, but it’s great to have that base of operations. We’re such a different style of business — digital only — so to see how the Hal Leonard team operate — wow, they do good business here! So we’ve really been learning a lot from each other just being here, witnessing that. It’s been very impressive to see.”

Hal Leonard and Muse Group brands (with StaffPad displayed on the screen) at their booth at the 2024 NAMM Show
Hal Leonard and Muse Group brands (with StaffPad displayed on the screen) at their booth at the 2024 NAMM Show

Regarding the buzz about the company, “In many senses it’s business as usual,” Jack said. “There’s a moderate level of excitement, but obviously with everything like this, people are tentative about what it might mean. But I do think most people, and a lot of partners, are actually relatively excited because Muse Group hasn’t had much of a presence at NAMM, but it does have huge audiences. It also brings a little bit more of a tech-forward facing element to Hal Leonard, which is obviously an extremely well-established business.”

When I last spoke with Jack, it was immediately prior to the acquisition in December. At that time, he 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.” I asked him if that was starting to happen already.

“It’s very early days,” Jack stressed, “but there are elements where we both share lots of expertise. One of those is in the world of licensing, and it’s been great, seeing the kind of experts on that on both the Hal and the Muse side really firing off each other. That brings me to one of the things we wanted to try and achieve relatively early on. I can’t give a timeline, but obviously we want to put more of Hal Leonard’s scores within MuseScore, which is a two-pronged challenge.

“There’s the technical challenge of, first of all, how do we bring this stuff over while still maintaining the high quality and the high level of engraving? But it’s also a licensing challenge because we want to support a lot of Hal Leonard arrangements that are done by composers using things like ArrangeMe on the Hal Leonard side, and those deals were set up for one-time purchases from things like Sheet Music Direct, as opposed to a subscription model. So one of the things we’re looking at is how can we work with composers to give them a fair conversation for potentially putting some of their scores within a subscription model like MuseScore. So that’s one of the early things we’re going to be looking at and figuring out. Obviously it’s important to us that the community of composers feel supported.”

On the education side, “We’re looking into ways of potentially bringing that content together in new and interesting ways, with some new technology as well. On Ultimate Guitar we’re launching a new Practice Mode. I know you spoke to David [William Hearn] from StaffPad a couple months ago, and he told you about Piano Capture, which was powered by this AI listening tool that he worked very hard on, which would listen to piano performances and turn it to notation.

“We’ve taken the same concept, but this time listening to people practicing guitar at home, and it tells you which notes you played early or late. So you could definitely see the potential if you started using tools like that developed on the Muse Group side, but with Hal Leonard’s really quality content that has a great track record of being the ones that are used in music education.”

Jack Sutton and Philip Rothman in conversation at the 2024 NAMM Show

One challenge has been the name MuseScore itself, which actually refers to three separate products within Muse Group: the MuseScore.com, sheet music sharing and subscription service; the MuseScore music notation application; and the MuseScore mobile app. Jack mentioned that the desktop app was about to be renamed, which in fact was officially announced yesterday, to MuseScore Studio. “The reasoning behind that,” Jack said, “is just to end confusion. The desktop editor is free — and it’s always going to remain free — and we don’t want people to accidentally be subscribing to MuseScore.com when they actually just wanted to play around with the desktop app.”

We discussed MuseScore more, including the recent MuseScore 4.2 update, which featured support for many new guitar notation and playback features, like notating and playing guitar bends and alternate string tunings, and a new free sample library. Attention then turned to MuseScore 4.3, which Jack said “is actually coming relatively sooner than some of the other updates, and the real focus there is actually going to be on playback. Percussion is very much next on the list, so that’s both in terms of providing more percussion sounds, but also trying to come up with a worthy successor for Drumline.”

Now that Muse Group, by virtue of its acquisition of Hal Leonard, a publisher, MuseScore’s engraving output must meet the publication standard level of engraving. I referenced Simon Smith, Muse Group’s head of engraving, who has been instrumental in shaping the product’s development from a notation standpoint. “I think he [Simon]’s probably the better person to speak to about this, but he’s involved in some projects now, which I can’t quite announce, but extremely high-level engraving projects for publishers you might not expect. And he is using MuseScore (the notation app) to do those projects, and actually it just goes to show how far the app has come. Because in the past, at least from what I hear, people would have looked down on [MuseScore] as something that’s good for beginners, but it’s, it’s not at that like professional top level yet. Simon, in particular, is really out to prove those people wrong, through both working on it internally and improving it, but also bringing it into his workflow as someone who also professionally arranges and engraves.”

The MuseScore community continues to be important as MuseScore evolves. “The MuseScore community is so constructive in their feedback and the criticism and excited,” Jack said. “They do appreciate that we’re giving this away for free, and I think they see people like [MuseScore product owner] Bradley [Kunda] and Simon and [Muse Group vice president of product] Martin [Keary] who know their stuff and are really passionate about it, and I think that passion on both sides really shines through. And I would just say, please continue to give us your feedback and get involved in the forums, and chat to our team. We can’t always respond to everything, but like we do try and listen. So as long as we can continue that going, hopefully MuseScore will keep getting better for everyone.”

Watch my complete interview with Jack on the NYC Music Services YouTube channel.

 


Keep coming back to Scoring Notes for more coverage from the 2024 NAMM Show, and follow us on our social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Comments

  1. Mike Halloran

    I have been following the integration of Hal Leonard with great interest, especially in regards to licensing and seeing that music creators get paid for our intellectual property. Scoring Notes coverage on this has been most helpful.

    I am glad to see that what is now called Muse Score Studio is becoming the in-house notation app—figured that was the logical step when I first read the announcement. This will force the app to finally become good (getting better but not quite there, IMO).

    Thanks for this update!

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