Digital sheet music on the rise in Belgium

Last Thursday at Concertgebouw Brugge, Muziekcentrum Vlaanderen organized the latest edition of the Staten Generaal van de Klassieke Muziek, bringing together many people and organizations active in the professional classical music sector in Belgium.

One of the sessions of the day was on "digital scores and innovation".

I already knew the three companies that were presenting, but found it quite interesting to hear them explain their goals and strategies in one single session. As the moderator Roel Vanhoeck noticed: there seems to be a lot of activity and innovation going on in this domain in our very small country. Not sure if we can speak of an "expertise hub", but it is certainly remarkable!

Here is a short overview:

MuseScore
MuseScore's goal is to make sheet music more accessible to everyone. Through their musescore.org website, they provide the free and open source "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" software application MuseScore for creating digital scores on Windows, MacOSX and Linux, with a feature set comparable to the main commercial score editing packages Sibelius and Finale. Their musescore.com website allows composers and musicians to upload and share their scores with the MuseScore community (public and private sharing is possible). On the mobile side, they have a sheet music player for Android and are working on the iOS version right now.
Revenues are generated by selling pro accounts for musescore.com (premium model with extra storage and features compared to the free version) and by selling mobile apps. Their business model is similar to SoundCloud or Flickr.
More info: http://www.musescore.com and http://www.musescore.org

neoScores
neoScores only incorporated as a company during summer this year, but has been active for some time. It received quite some attention around the end of 2012 when it teamed up with the Brussels Philharmonic and Samsung for a concert in which two pieces were performed completely on Samsung tablets, without the use of paper scores. neoScores provides an OS and device independent web application that dynamically renders sheet music.
Their strategy is to position itself in between the traditional music publishers and the end user. This way, they can offer the music publishers an extra sales channel, and the end user gets his sheet music in a more flexible and modern format. Their business model is similar to the iTunes model.
neoScores is currently in pre-beta stealth mode (beta expected end of January 2014), with an official release planned for March 2014.
More info: http://www.neoscores.com

Scora
Whereas both MuseScore and neoScores seem more focused on a mass market, Scora in contrast seems to be focusing specifically on the market of professional orchestras. Founded earlier this year, Scora provides a complete hardware and software digital sheet music solution for orchestras, where the setup consists of one big master console for the conductor (who needs to see all parts of the score) and many musician tablets that follow the flow of the conductor. As the conductor swipes his screen, the tablets of the musicians automatically follow along. Musicians can make annotations or setup a score view they prefer, and the conductor can push his annotations or navigation commands through to the other tablets so that everyone is (literally) on the same page.
Scora's business model seems to be more of a B2B and service model, with a clear focus on the pro market and attention to not only software, but also hardware, thus offering a complete pro solution.
In December, Scora will be demonstrating their system during 2 public concerts in Leuven.
More info: http://www.scora.net

SGCM2013_group_photo.jpg
Original photo by Benjamien Lycke. From left to right: Jonas Coomans, Bob Hamblok and Bart Van der Roost of neoScores, Jan Rosseel of Scora, Thomas Bonte of MuseScore.

Two other people (Paul Craenen and Benjamien Lyke, both composers and music makers), were invited at the table to discuss this new technology from another viewpoint.

One remark was that (for now?) these innovations seem to be aiming at replicating what sheet music on paper has been up to now, and the question was raised on how this shift towards digital music notation could have an impact on the artistic performance itself. Having easy access to your scores on a tablet is one thing, not having to turn the pages manually is nice to have too, but perhaps synchronizing images or videos to a live performance (which becomes possible once scores are available in a digital format) could add that little extra in an artistic sense? This is where our music following technology might come in handy ;-)

A concern that was brought up from the audience was that "paper remains paper and can still be read in 30 years", whereas digital goods run the risk of becoming unusable over time when the software that is used to handle them is no longer supported etc... This indicates that some people are indeed aware of the fact that buying digital sheet music is an investment, and that there needs to be a way to make sure you can keep using your digital sheet music in the future. This is why a company like MuseScore has been advocating and adopting the open source software model (where the software itself is free to inspect and use by everyone, so anyone can jump in if the company would stop working on it) and why MusicXML, a standard format for digital sheet music, is so important (also with respect to inter-operability between different programs).

Another question from the audience was concerned with self-publishing: are these platforms also providing a means for composers to publish and sell their own works without having to try and convince a publisher first? Traditional publishers may not feel inclined to publish your works if they don't see a fit (be it artistically or business-wise) with their existing catalog. A platform for self-publishing might offer composers a way to build their own audience, although it needs to be said that some extensive marketing will still need to be done (by the artist her/himself?) in order to reach the right people. On MuseScore, a composer can already distribute his/her scores online, but there is no "shop" concept at the moment. For neoScores, it seems like they are first aiming for the publishers, and the self-publishing use case might come after that. For Scora, it was not entirely clear to me if they want to focus their attention on the distribution side as much as neoScores and MuseScore are doing.

In any case, these are exciting times for this (typically quite traditional) sector. I'm looking forward to seeing how things evolve over the coming months/years!

Comments

It is nice to hear that companies are keeping the spirit of sheet music alive. Digital is really a nice investment, if you are a composer and always working on a new tune. There are very few people who still rely on traditional sheet music in this digital world. But after the popularization of digital sheet music, I am sure sheet music will not die.

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