Chris Swaffer’s Notion of where music notation software is headed

Scoring Notes
Scoring Notes
Chris Swaffer's Notion of where music notation software is headed

Notion is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous music notation software products available today. With its roots stretching back to Musicprinter Plus, a program invented in the 1990s, to today, with native apps on virtually all major desktop and mobile operating systems, Notion has always been at the vanguard of music notation software. Notion was one of the first applications to include high-quality orchestral samples with their software, and appeared on the iPad more than a decade before we saw Dorico and Sibelius release iPad versions of their products.

Notion’s product manager Chris Swaffer has been there for most of those developments, and he joins Scoring Notes podcast co-hosts Philip Rothman and David MacDonald to tell us more about what Notion is, who it’s for, and where it’s headed — particularly in the aftermath of its acquisition by Fender, Notion’s second such move, after first being acquired by PreSonus. We first learn about Chris’s early days in the field and how he came to work on Notion, and how his experience as a composer and conductor informs his very important role. We also hear how Notion has been steadily upgrading its codebase to align with its Studio One DAW, and why its versatility is important for the product’s strategy in a very crowded marketplace.

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  1. Bill

    Musicprinter Plus was my first piece of music software!

  2. Philip Benjamin

    Great to have Chris as a guest!

    A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. And a notation feature within a world leading DAW is worth two notation features outside a DAW for those who want to work in an all in one app. Or if not almost.

    A person with the same app needs as a Hollywood film composer (audio and notation) may yet end up with the ultimate all in one app with which to do their work if Presonus keep heading where they are heading. There is no product which a person with detailed audio and notation needs can use to do everything currently. Want to add eight bars to your score and add those bars to your audio mockup? You may need to export/import to do that – twice.

    Studio One is after the 6.5 update perhaps the leading DAW in the world (unless one needs to do specialist audio tasks like repair or restoration – or deep and iterative interaction with video people – in which case Nuendo is the way to go). Its owners constantly make immaculate design decisions. And such MUSICAL decisions. For example when editing one is able to constrain the note grid to modes and various scales – how musical is that! The quantity of right decisions and the complete lack of mistakes has seen Studio One emerge in a crowded and mature market. This isn’t an accident – I believe it arises from the fact that Presonus is the only company who is creating with ONLY the customer’s concerns in mind. (Steinberg has done a huge amount of workto advance audio and notation – they have indeed changed the world – however they have admitted that Dorico and Cubase remain separate products for commercial reasons – they don’t present any case for why it’s a better thing for the user. And if they did what would they say? There is no reason why DAW features need to be an obstacle to a notation person who doesn’t want to use them – nor any reason why notation features need to be an obstacle to the DAW user who doesn’t want to use them).

    What Presonus have just done with Studio One 6.5 is absolutely amazing. The work involved to change to immersive audio – including converting all their plugins so they all work with immersive audio – was huge. And the user response (we are talking about a group of very opinionated and passionate musicians here!) was absolutely supportive. I haven’t read a single negative comment about the massive update. Referring back to what I was just saying they introduced immersive audio as a free update so no user who didn’t want the features could complain – and they added the functionality to the app in a way that ensured that users who don’t want to do immersive audio don’t have to. Smart – very smart.

    It’s clear that the foundation work of getting Notion on the same code base as Studio One is now done – evidenced by the fact that there is now a steady flow of improvements to Notion and also to Studio One. Maybe the next update will see Notion (as distinct from Notion Mobile) built entirley from the new code base (and its new features added to Studio One?) – and then it’s full steam ahead on adding new features to both Notion and Studio One to enrich both apps.

    To use one further analogy – in the DAW notation fairy tale Presonus may be the tortoise not the hare. It is later in adding immersive audio – and it hasn’t got a deeply featured notation app yet – but as I said above at some point one has to consider where these companies are actually heading. What is the end goal? I believe that five years from now many people will have come to realise that Presonus (alone?) was aiming to do what they actually needed.

    The podcast discussion centred repeatedly on the issue of enlarging the market – finding new users. Let me point out what may be obvious but deserves mentioning – if you make the best DAW in the world – and a host of young people start using it – and that app has rich notation capabilities (better than any other DAW) – is there a better way to create new notation users than that? I can’t think of a better way.

    PS Note that Studio One 6.5 included a new file format – “DAW project” format. Chris – if you are reading this I hope before things get too far down the road that Presonus and Bitwig can ensure that notation data (MusicXML or the format currently being worked on to improve it) becomes a required part of the DAW project format for any DAWS which have notation capabilities – so that DAWS exchange the notation along with MIDI data).

  3. Alexandre Dunis

    I must say that what would prevent me from continuing to use “Notion” is the absence of all the notations used in the world of music (like those that are regularly found in jazz for example) and which frustrates me a lot in the arrangements/compositions.

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