A modest proposal for a Sibelius app store

Opinion

By now you have likely heard about Avid’s plan for Sibelius that includes the promise of more frequent updates alongside a variety of perpetual and subscription licenses. The general reception among users could be characterized as not especially welcoming.

Whatever the merits of the plan and the fairness of the reaction, it’s clear that Avid is seeking more regular revenue from Sibelius. That’s not a bad thing on the face of it; you need to make money in order to continue to develop a product: an authority no less than Sibelius co-founder Ben Finn told us that. But users don’t want money for something if there’s no perceived value for them — for example, why pay for the Annotations feature if you don’t own a Surface?

What if there was a way for users to pay for options they want, customize the software to their liking, make sure that it was updated regularly, and support the developers, besides?

There is, of course. It’s the fundamental way an app store works. I kicked around the idea in an interview I gave with SoundNotion recently, and it’s been rattling around in my brain ever since. Here’s how and why a Sibelius app store could work so that users could buy plug-ins, sound sets, and other add-ons to enrich their experience.

Sibelius is already extendable, but it could be made more user-friendly

Plug-ins have been around a long time in Sibelius, but it was only starting with Sibelius 7 that users could download and install plug-ins from directly within the program. Before that, you had to go to the hard-to-navigate plug-in area on the Sibelius web site. The you had to follow the instructions to locate the plug-in, download it, unzip it, and locate the esoteric folder on your drive in which to place it (which may be hidden on your system by default).

It wasn’t really very difficult to do, but it wasn’t obvious until you figured it out, and you had to know what you were looking for in the first place. That’s why Sibelius 7 was a great step forward in making plug-ins discoverable and easier to install from directly within the program. The caveat is that any plug-ins offered officially through Sibelius have to be offered for free — if you’re a plug-in developer and want to sell your work, you have to find a way of doing that on your own, and the user has to install them in the old-fashioned way.

Sibelius 7 added the ability to install plug-ins directly, but there's more that could be done
Sibelius 7 added the ability to install plug-ins directly, but there’s more that could be done

Likewise, for other extensions such as sound sets, you have to go to a third-party site and find what you need, perhaps create a separate account, pay, and make sure that you’ve followed the correct download instructions.

In all cases, even for plug-ins downloaded directly through Sibelius, there are no automatic update notifications the way that there are for, say, iPhone apps, or even for Sibelius itself. So you have to keep on top of any updates, and if you want to keep your extensions, you must also make sure that you transfer the correct folders and files with you if you install Sibelius on another computer.

How it could work

Imagine that Sibelius worked like iTunes or your smartphone. You navigate to a Store tab on the Ribbon. From there, you browse a variety of extensions, or “apps” designed to work with Sibelius. In addition to the plain-text description that currently exists for plug-ins, you could view screenshots and write and read reviews. As is the case with other app stores, some apps could be free and some could be paid.

Could Apple's App Store be a model for a Sibelius app store?
Could Apple’s App Store be a model for a Sibelius app store?

A pricing model could be established where Avid handles payment processing and delivery of the app, and takes 30% of the cost of the app, with the developer keeping 70%.

In addition to different categories of apps, it would be great if a better classification existed for plug-ins. Right now, apps are assigned to categories corresponding roughly to major Sibelius concepts such as text, layout, notes and rests, and quite a few more. But those categories aren’t sorted further, and they can get bloated. As of this writing, for instance, the Text category has 80 plug-ins.

Instead, what if each plug-in was tagged in many ways across categories? For instance, Position Rehearsal Marks could be tagged not only as “text”, but also as “positioning”, “parts”, “jazz”, etc. The idea is that you might want to do something but not know exactly how to describe it, but with the right set of tags, you could hopefully discover it in the store.

What could be in the store

Plug-ins. For all the obvious reasons, plug-ins are the natural fit for a Sibelius Store. There are more than 400 plug-ins currently available for download from the Sibelius web site, not to mention commercial plug-ins by Roman Molino Dunn and others. I know some Sibelius users that are quite advanced with the software but barely even bother with plug-ins. But if the plug-ins were easily searchable and discoverable, that would likely change.

Sound sets. Sound sets have been around since the early days of Sibelius, although they were re-done to accommodate the major playback improvements in Sibelius 6. A sound set is an XML file that tells Sibelius how to use a given MIDI device or virtual instrument (for example, Native Instruments Kontakt, or East West Play). Sibelius comes with many sound sets as standard, but it’s also possible to install custom ones.

The foremost developer of sound sets has been Jonathan Loving’s Sound Set Project. Although he has not been very active recently, there are many sound sets available for major sample libraries. Imagine if these were all discoverable within Sibelius and could be automatically downloaded, installed and updated as necessary.

Sample libraries. Sound sets are great, but only if you own the sample libraries too — otherwise the sound set is worthless. So why not offer sample libraries for sale as well? The ideal candidate for this is Wallander Instruments’ NotePerformer, which is expressly designed to work exclusively with Sibelius. NotePerformer is more than just a sound library; it’s a complete playback solution that takes advantage of special Sibelius features.

But other more conventional libraries would be equally appealing. MakeMusic and Avid fiercely compete in the notation space, but remember that MakeMusic also owns the Garritan brand of sound libraries — all of which are perfectly compatible with Sibelius, through VST and AU. What if Avid became a reseller of Garritan sounds, allowing you to easily find, purchase and install, say, JABB without leaving Sibelius? It may open up Garritan’s market to Sibelius users that maybe weren’t aware of it before. Now that would be irony and harmony.

What if you could simply purchase these libraries directly within Sibelius?
What if you could simply purchase these libraries directly within Sibelius?

House styles and templates. If you do any work with a consistent type of ensemble or a publisher, you’ve probably taken advantage of the capability in Sibelius to create your own house styles and manuscript papers, so you don’t have to spend time re-creating a similar type of file for each score. You may have even spent, cumulatively, hours or days fine-tuning your settings, exploring the depths of esoteric areas like the defaults for Magnetic Layout, System Object Positions, and percussion maps, and tweaking each and every font style and size to get it just right.

Maybe you’ve really got the perfect template. You could certainly keep it to yourself, but if a store existed where you could sell your wares, you might place it online for others to discover. The proceeds probably wouldn’t fund your retirement, but they might help offset all the man-hours you spent setting everything up — and you might discover a few styles and templates from other users that save you more hours of tedious work.

Fonts. Every Sibelius user has the fonts that ship with Sibelius, but other fonts exist as well. They’re often hard to find, though, because each font developer must sell and distribute their fonts on their own. For instance, there’s Robert Piéchaud’s November, Stephen Carisse’s Urtext Fonts, and of course, Norfolk. Wouldn’t be nice if you could browse all of these Sibelius-compatible fonts in one place?

Related products. Although technically speaking, Neuratron‘s scanning and sound transcription products PhotoScore and AudioScore are standalone applications, they would be natural fits for a Sibelius store, having been designed to work in tandem with Sibelius. Imagine with a few clicks being able to upgrade from the bundled “lite” version of PhotoScore to the Ultimate version, all without having to leave Sibelius.

Services. This is thinking outside the box a little, but as regular readers of this blog know, I’ll post news about training workshops as best I can. In addition to workshops, there are a number of excellent trainers that offer private consultations on Sibelius, either in-person or online. Need personalized help getting up and running with Sibelius, or assistance with some of the vexing areas of the software? You could browse for the ideal instructor in an area of the Sibelius store. Avid could act as a gatekeeper by only listing certified instructors.

Personalized Sibelius help and training could be available only a click away
Personalized Sibelius help and training could be available only a click away

Why it could happen

Avid Application Manager. Along with the new subscription and perpetual license places is the introduction of the Avid Application Manager, an app that communicates with Sibelius to manage your license and updates. With this, the company is already tying your Avid account details more closely with your day-to-day Sibelius operation. So if you’re already logged into Avid’s system while using Sibelius (with easy access to your billing and product information), why not have it be more useful by making it easy to purchase many of the items mentioned above.

Then, put the Application Manager to work by not just managing Sibelius licenses, but all your other add-ons. This way, everything is kept updated, and if you switch computers or get a new one, you can download your setup and pick up right from where you left off.

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Avid Marketplace. Avid has announced a marketplace as part of Avid Everywhere, the company’s vision for “helping content creators and media organizations connect with consumers more powerfully, efficiently, collaboratively, and profitably.” It’s hard to tell where the marketing fluff ends and the meat and potatoes begin, since a lot of the vision doesn’t appear to have fully materialized yet.

Avid does already offer a wide range of plug-ins for sale for its Pro Tools, Live Sound, and Media Composer family systems. It’s unclear how much of the Avid Everywhere vision and Avid Marketplace were developed with Sibelius in mind, but it’s not a big leap to imagine Sibelius add-ons fitting in quite nicely. In any case, some infrastructure already exists for the sale of add-ons to Avid products through its site.

What do you think?

I don’t know if anything resembling this idea is in the works. Surely it’s not a trivial matter to set up such a store with even a fraction of the functionality described herein. And the economics of it are an open question. Would such a store lead to revenue significant enough to justify its development and maintenance? Would third-party developers be willing to sacrifice a commission to Avid in order to potentially get their products out to a wider market? Ultimately, in the end, would users benefit?

The idea was nagging at me enough that I had to get it out there, so I appreciate you reading through the description of the concept. Let me know in the comments if you think there’s any potential for something like a Sibelius store.

Comments

  1. David

    It’s an interesting idea, one that might work well with the right company. Unfortunately, Avid’s credibility at the moment is slightly lower than the US Congress. I envision a scenario where the $89 yearly “fee” still stands, yet comes with nothing (like it does at the moment). Any new features would be a la carte, instead of included as something purchased with the $89. 3rd party developers in the past have been paid for things like plug-ins that get included in the software, which is what the consumer gets with their money. I fear an App store would just solidify the lack of development with Sibelius.

  2. Bernie Cossentino

    Sounds like a logical marketing progression to me. But I fear this approach may also give Avid the excuse (opportunity…) to just let plug-in developers add more “add-on” value to Sibelius while they sit back and just watch (and possibly continue to delay much-needed updates to Sibelius’s core).

    I hope I’m wrong…

    1. Gregory Winters

      Bernie:

      I believe you’ve expressed a valid concern. I’ve noticed that there is an extraordinary number of Sibelius plugins which are not simply feature-enhancements, but actually represent marked improvements to Sibelius functionality *which we have already paid for*. Example: decrescendos. If the plugins would serve as wake-up calls to Avid’s developers and they would catch up the core code as it went along, then this would be OK with me. One would have to believe that core would represent something more sophisticated and stable than a plugin. However, if as you speculate, plugins will remain the ‘go-to’ approach for valid feature-function in Sibelius, then this new ‘strategy’ will amount to little more than a money-grab.

  3. itzhak yaron

    I agree with Sibelius Co-Founder. In a free market you pay for value or perceived value AFTER you experienced and/or realized the want need of such goods. In the Avid model ( Unfortunately other providers too) you pay AVID a salary/consistent stream of revenue and they provide added value after they enjoyed the income/paid their stock holders…
    Look at Pro Tools For Example…playing catch up with Logic so what do you think will happen to Sibelious?
    Very expensive proposition to the user. What exactly do we ‘own when paying subscription?
    I predict that history of the technological revolution will tell that we are intelligent consumers. I predict that this wave of ‘job security’ model will die as the heads of initiated this should be long forgotten.

  4. mhch

    Same reaction as the one above. Until Avid proves to be credible, no need for such an app store managed by Avid

    I would rather suggest something independent of Avid so at least those who do the work get most of the money, including those managing the store

    Even better, this notation app store could serve other tools, and I wonder if it wouldn’t be a better idea to partner with Steinberg ,…

  5. Peter Roos

    An interesting idea, a couple of points: 1. a lot of Sibelius users loves to hate Avid so the concept of “monetizing” anything will meet with resistance; 2. it should be independent of whether people have a support plan or not or which version they are using; 3. it should recognize which plugins / sound sets are already installed; 4. for paid plugins it would be nice to have a trial period; 5. some people have been developing plugins for years, for free as far as I know; if Avid now starts selling them as apps everyone should benefit, including people who hitherto have been developing plugins for free; and 6. the plugins that currently come as free downloadable should continue to remain free.

  6. Wheat Williams

    The bottom line for me and the new Sibelius is simple: I’m a Mac user. I have an iPad and an iPhone. I’m in the Apple ecosystem. I’ve used Sibelius on Mac since Sibelius 5. The new features in the new Sibelius are practically all Windows- and Microsoft Surface-related, which tells me that Avid is not thinking about their customers on the Macintosh platform.

    Sibelius 6 for Mac was well-adapted to the Mac platform. It was the last version of Sibelius that I enjoyed using. In that era Sibelius treated Mac and Windows users equally well and they took the time and (considerable, I am sure) expense to write custom code and user interfaces optimized to each platform.

    I own Sibelius 7.1 for Mac, and I do use it, chiefly because it has a good Mixer layout. But for me, Sibelius 6 for Mac still works better overall.

    I am not inclined to go further with purchasing Sibelius upgrades now that everything seems to be coded and optimized and marketed toward the Microsoft Windows ecosystem to the neglect or exclusion of further new development that could be pertinent to the Apple ecosystem.

  7. Tim Parkin

    Excellent article Philip and the fundamental basis of an great strategic document. As a heavy Sibelius and Pro Tools HD user, like many across the world at the moment, I think the main concern is Avid’s credibility. Like many, although Sibelius is my principle scoring program I also use Finale when a client insists. Although I don’t want to really have to learn another notation program, once Steinberg release their offering I will almost certainly go down this route as I have every confidence in the team. Likewise, I don’t really want to have to learn another really want to have to learn another alternative to Pro Tools, which I know well, however, I, like many am not happy with Avid’s credibility and like many others, am now seriously thinking about going down alternative routes.

  8. Brian

    This web subscription business for a non-cloud/networked product is a bad idea in my opinion. As long as there are other options out there (and Sibelius is quickly getting matched and surpassed by competing products, particularly among more casual users…I.E. a teacher who needs it a few times a year to write, or import and tweak purchases…but really doesn’t need or use it daily. Sure, the worksheets are super nice, and worth it for those who use it….but for this kind of money s/he can buy published materials and not have to mess with the headaches of building and printing!)

    If it were a true cloud application, that could be used at any time, from any place, with a standard web browser, it might be different. In that sort of scenario, it’d actually be worth a monthly subscription fee, as many schools refuse to let teachers install their own software, but will at least review a web-site and unblock it so the teacher can use a browser to access it. Also, in that sort of scenario, Avid would actually be providing a service for the money (server time and cloud space).

    I seriously wonder if this company is even remotely ‘in touch’ with the needs of working musicians. They seem to be pushing models and ideas intended for really large business markets, where people actually have budgets and the ability to file purchase orders and have their ‘company or school’ pay for it.

    Well, this simply isn’t the case for much of the music world. People pretty much do this on the side…with their OWN MONEY. Even among Educators, at least 4 out of every 6 Sibelius users I know could NOT get their school to buy it for them (no computer to run it on in the first place!)…so they had to raise the money for it some other way.

    Now, I know someone is going to argue that this new model is BETTER for teachers…because you can just activate your account ‘when you need it’, at a mere X dollar amount a ‘month’. Well, for many educators…that’s going to put them in an even bigger position where they’ll have to ‘pay out of pocket’ with even less hope of getting reimbursed by their school. Many places only push through Purchase Orders at certain times…and it’s really difficult to pre or post date things where money is concerned and not end up censured or going to jail for doing it!

    So….I hate to say it Avid…but forcing a monthly-yearly payment to keep up with Sibelius is really going to cost you in the long run. Educators will be forced to choose between dropping Sibelius like a hot potato so they can buy reeds, pay Harry Fox for copy-writes, and keep their instruments playing (maintenance), or sending this company set amounts of money monthly or yearly. At least in the past, we could post-pone software upgrades a year or two if needed, and NOT lose upgrade eligibility after skipping a version or two.

    Rant over…looking way more seriously at competing products now.

  9. Philip Rothman

    Interesting comments. Thanks, everyone for the replies thus far. I originally had this idea when Avid Everywhere and the Avid Marketplace were announced last year. It’s been kicking around ever since. In theory, the same concept could work with Finale or other programs. It was just surprising to me how many people never used plug-ins because they didn’t know about them or were too complicated to install, even after Sibelius 7 made it easier to do so.

  10. Steve

    The idea is very intriguing but even better is the suggestion in the comments above that maybe Steinberg might be the better one to implement this, not least because they could integrate this concept from the get go instead of having to patch it in late in the game. Credibility of the development team being another good reason I would rather see this with Steinberg rather than Avid.

  11. Laurence Payne

    Just in case amyone didn’t catch Philip Rothman’s little joke, the original “Modest proposal” was Jonathan Swift’s satirical advice to famine-struck Irish families that they might sell their children as food. Quite unlike the way Avid treat’s its “children”, of course.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Well-spotted, Laurence!

  12. Brian

    In Steinberg Products you don’t really need ‘plugins’. They give you a common sense logic editor that anyone who understands a simple Boolean structure can master in a short time. I.E. Grab the third of every chord in a track/staff and drop it an octave. I.E. change all CC1 events in bars 7 – 15 to velocity messages and add a random value between 5 and 11. You don’t need to go to some other set of tools to invent your scripts…then ‘install them’. You simply open the ‘Logic Editor’ and set up your presets with a combination of simple drop down menus and data entry keystrokes…save as VST Preset if you like (that can even be assigned to any key or MIDI remote control you like), and it’s done. It already comes with a pretty impressive set of VST presets for the Logic Editors ready for use, and also to serve as great examples in expanding them or making your own from scratch. In the case of CuBase, you get both Project and Track level logic editors, as well as 4 slots to run parallel or serial ‘real time’ Logic Editors. These sorts of Logic Editors have been around in Stienberg products since the early to mid 90s.

    If Steinberg were to gut these powerful logical editors from their products and move to some kind of plug-in and app-store model…it’d be a really sad day in my opinion. A huge step backwards for anyone that’s spent much time in apps build around the Nuendo/Cubase engine. I’d even be tempted to pull stuff like Ataris and Acorns from the 1990s out of the closet in order to get some real work done without having to pony up crazy amounts of cash to accomplish anything so simple and basic.

    The current catch to trying to do serious scoring with something like CuBase is…engraving flexibility and quality is currently nowhere close to something like Sibelius or Finale. There are still big chunks of the XML protocol that it doesn’t ‘import and translate’ yet (in terms of play-back), so you have to make your own Expression Maps (a good set of tools are provided, but one still needs a few more tools in the Expression Map builder to match the power of Sibelius Dictionary), and save your own Logic Presets to convert the score symbols into MIDI events…or pop them in by hand…but these matters could be addressed easily enough (Particularly since they now have some some of the all time Masters of computer based notation engraving on staff).

    One of the big pluses with trying to score with traditional notation using something like CuBase is that its ease of use now rivals stand alone scoring packages (if you’re willing to spend a little time mapping out keys and putting stuff where YOU want it), and it has full blown VST3 support. Right now there’s not many synths/samplers (nor nice libraries for Halion) that support it out of the box, but already, it can free you from the limitations of ‘channel messages’ and let you put all that kind of data on each individual note for true divisi expression on the same staff (I.E. pitch bends, expression, etc.).

    Sadly, one of the growing trends in the software world is to cripple things we’ve had since the late 1980s, and take us BACKWARD in order to gradually pull us into the pay-per-use cloud model. Even our browsers are becoming so push-centric and out of the ‘user’s control’ that it’s down right disgusting.

    As for the advantages of expanding the economy and so forth….we already had that as well. We used to spend a few minutes looking in the excellently written and well organized documentation that someone got paid to write (few products come with it anymore, and companies depend on user wikis instead), and if that wasn’t enough, we paid for a tutorial or an expert ‘in person’ to get us on track. Time and frustration required to complete task was no more than hunting the right plugins, trying demos, and whipping out the cash to pay for said plugin.

  13. Laurence Payne

    Steinberg offer plenty of paid add-ons for Cubase, though the emphasis is on sounds rather than functions. An exception is the Groove Agent “drum machine”. Beware of Groove Agent 4, which does not build on the useful functionality of Groove Agent 3 but is merely a pattern-selector, and lacks any jazz/swing patterns at all!

    1. Brian

      Yes, VST Plugins for the DAW Side of things. These can be used in any app that supports VST plugins.

      Sorry, I was referring to the Sibleius plugins for doing simple things like building crescendo, automating the insertion of an articulation on a passage or several like notes, changing chord voicing, converting or adapting CC messages, quantization or humanizing passages on attack and relase times, etc…

      To do that sort of stuff in Sibelius, you learn a new scripting language and install them as plugins (and pretty much have to reboot the entire program to get it recognized…so every little change requires a restart…frustrating as heck).

      To do it in something like CuBase, you just open Logic Editor, and use your mouse to select event types and occasionally type in values to make a VST preset.

      1. Brian

        P.S.

        Actually, I forgot that in many cases you can drag and drop to the logic editor in Steinberg products if you prefer that to using a drop down menu…….

        It’s kind of hard to explain here. One would just need to see it in action.

        There’s a kind of work flow going on. If you want to automate a certain editing or composition process, and you don’t already have a preset for it…it’s quite easy to pause and build a kind script on the fly, as you need it. It’s not long before your library of presets grows to fit your work flow.

        I should have been more clear what sort of ‘plugins’ I was talking about.

        Here at home, I actually use quite a few Steinberg VST plugins with Sibelius. Mainly Halion, and occasionally GrooveAgent when I need to throw together a quick non-standard drum kit.

        1. Brian

          On using VST plugins, or external MIDI devices with Sibelius….

          The Expression Dictionary, and SoundWorld is capable/powerful. I don’t even mind that I need a separate editor to work with SoundWorld (They offer an XML editor to get you started…but for me just using a text editor is easiest). What drives me nuts about it, is that I have to close Sibelius and restart it to get any changes to register for testing! So….building soundsets for Halion in Sibelius is something I have to take in small sessions….as a dedicated task. I can’t just integrate it into a normal work flow without having to ping-pong between apps and restart Sibelius several times.

          There are also some serious gaps in SoundWorld…as in you can’t simply have a switch to send to a different channel on a given port (at least not that I’ve found yet). Its key switches, CC, or nothing. It also lacks the ability to define if key switches are toggle style or need to be ‘held down’ for a complete passage. Then there’s not really a way to scale key velocity for a given ‘patch’ either. I.E. A string patch that has spicatto at high velocity, and arco at low velocity.

          Many users (if not most) rely on VSTs that come with sound sets and expression maps for Sibelius. Going outside the box is where the third party soundset really comes in handy.

          More than once I’ve shelled out as much as $50 for a third party Sibelius sound-set (before I knew I could make my own)….and they were pretty bad :( Some of them made really good hardware synths/samplers or software VST plugins come across as really bad instruments (fortunately I knew better).

          Oh well…there ain’t no Utopia, and every product has long lists of pros and cons.

          Avid is just forgetting how stiff the competition is, and wants to charge more for less.

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