Finale, Sibelius, and knockouts

From the Finale blog, last week
From the Finale blog, last week

The good folks at MakeMusic have a lot to be excited about recently. This month, the company received a cash infusion from a private equity firm, taking the company private (while Avid, for less fortunate reasons, may also be delisted from NASDAQ). Also this month, acting CEO Karen VanDerBosch was officially named the CEO, and the popular education suite SmartMusic gained an iPad app.

MakeMusic has also recently gained valuable talent like Michael Good, the inventor of the hugely successful MusicXML open interchange format for music notation, acquiring his company Recordare and its products like Dolet which allow files created in different proprietary programs (like Finale and Sibelius) to be shared. The company acquired popular virtual instrument and sound library maker Garritan and has steadily been offering new and improved products to the Garritan line.

On top of all that, MakeMusic’s beautifully designed new web site and re-branding was launched recently, which (I hope) is a harbinger of good things to come for its flagship product, Finale, which has remnants of code and bugs dating back more than 20 years. For the first time in 13 years, there was no yearly release of Finale in 2012 (Finale 2012, the current version, was actually released in 2011), and Finale’s representatives have promised a thorough overhaul of the software.

So with all of this momentum, and with the future of Sibelius looking uncertain thanks to the talent loss of its UK team last year, a new blog series appeared over at the Finale Blog. (Incidentally, the Finale Blog is officially corporate-owned and operated, while the blog you are reading is not.) The series is entitled “Finale vs. Sibelius – The Battle of K.O. Kings”.

Is Sibelius on the ropes?

The first post, since retracted, claimed that only Finale was capable of creating small or cue-sized staves, while in fact Sibelius does so quite well. Post no. 2 featured Finale’s Shape Designer, which, although being a Finale mainstay, is a terribly inefficient drawing tool compared to dedicated graphics programs (and the blog post acknowledged that using such programs and importing the results may indeed be a superior approach). The third entry, posted a few days ago, touted Finale’s seamless integration with SmartMusic, which, well, is no surprise, since they’re both MakeMusic products.

I’m curious whether the series was a careful and strategic attempt to woo Sibelius users, or if it was more of a fun marketing ploy (or perhaps both). I think such a series could actually be useful to readers if it highlighted real differences between the programs. Having used Finale on many projects, large and small, since version 2.0 (from 1994), I offer a few genuinely useful Finale features that Sibelius could stand to gain:

  • Managed (linked) parts with voicing support
  • Custom page ranges for page-attached text-items
  • Flexible brace, bracket, and sub-bracket groupings, including nested groups
  • Custom smart lines that allow text (not just symbols) for the continuation and right end of a line
  • Glissando lines and other “smart shapes” that automatically snap to notes, including across multiple staves
Who wins in a Finale-Sibelius knockout? (from Wikipedia)
The Louis-Schmeling matches symbolized the fight against tyranny, but what is the meaning of a Finale-Sibelius battle? (photo from Wikipedia)

Of course, there are many excellent Sibelius features that I would love to see implemented in Finale. But in general, I think the notation “knockout wars” are misguided — although there was indeed a time just a few years ago where this blog got quite passionate about such things.

It is worth noting there are reasonable alternatives to both programs. MuseScore, while not nearly as powerful or sophisticated as Finale or Sibelius, gets better with every release (not to mention it’s free). LilyPond and other programs have small but devoted user bases. And of course, having been treated recently to a taste of things to come with their new Bravura font, the music community eagerly awaits what the Steinberg team — the brains that once brought us Sibelius — will produce.

I don’t wish for the competitive ingenuity and robust debate to be stifled — done right, it can improve products — and there is genuine concern for what the future of Sibelius will hold. But if this series goes all twelve rounds, here’s hoping it will focus less on knockouts and more about making excellent tools that allow users to create the best music possible.

Louis-Schmeling image copyright attributed to Bettman/CORBIS via Wikipedia


  1. Neil Sands

    Wise words, Philip.

  2. Peter Aderhold

    And the different page sizes in the same score are sometimes nesessary…. I would like to see this in Sib too…

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