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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.