Finale 2014: Looking Back, Looking Forward

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Michael Good, third from right, in West Bay Opera’s L’elisir d’amore. Photo: Otak Jump

Since I’m new to this blog, let me introduce myself. My name is Michael Good, and I invented the MusicXML format for sharing digital sheet music. I joined MakeMusic in November 2011 as director of digital sheet music when MakeMusic acquired the assets of my previous company, Recordare. My first project was to design and develop MakeMusic’s new notation file format. Shortly after MakeMusic went private, I was promoted to vice president of research and development, where my responsibilities now include Finale product strategy. Musically, I sing tenor in opera and symphony choruses. I sang on the San Francisco Symphony’s SACD recording of Beethoven’s 9th conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. Above is a photo of me in the chorus of West Bay Opera’s 2014 production of L’elisir d’amore. You can find more about me on my blog and on Twitter.

Last week’s SmartMusic update, supporting MakeMusic’s new notation file format, marks a major point of closure in my work over the past 3 years. In May 2011, Beth Sorensen, MakeMusic’s vice president of products, and I had dinner at Madhuban Indian Cuisine in Sunnyvale, California. Recordare had been contracting with MakeMusic for 9 years to supply Finale’s MusicXML import and export software. Based on that experience, Beth asked if Recordare would be interested in contracting on a new forwards and backwards compatible file format for Finale, SmartMusic, and any new notation apps that MakeMusic might create in the future. I asked if MakeMusic would be interested in acquiring Recordare, and the rest is history.

Finale 2014 introduced this new file format to our customers for the first time. Until the next version of Finale comes out, people won’t enjoy the full benefits of including both forwards and backwards compatibility within the file format. However, we used the same technology to allow export of Finale 2014 files to Finale 2012 format, fulfilling one of our most frequent and long-standing customer requests.

Finale 2014 also exports custom SmartMusic accompaniments in this new notation file format. This meant that we once again had the problem that the latest version of Finale created accompaniments that SmartMusic customers could not use until the SmartMusic application was updated to support the new Finale file format. This year, customers were at least able to export Finale 2014 files to Finale 2012, which could then create custom SmartMusic accompaniments in the old format. Now that SmartMusic for iPad, Mac, and Windows all support the new file format, we won’t have this problem in the future. Accompaniments created in a newer version of Finale will be able to be opened in an older version of SmartMusic.

The new notation file format has additional benefits beyond compatibility between versions. The format adds flexibility for supporting new features for Finale, SmartMusic, and possible future applications. We hope to roll out some of the new features enabled by the new file format in our next major release of Finale.

The new file format was only one part of the tremendous amount of software modernization that took place in Finale 2014. Another huge effort was making the transition on Mac OS X from the old Carbon technology to the current Cocoa technology. This transition provides a more modern appearance for Finale on Mac, and allows full support for native Mac features like full screen mode and pinch to zoom. We also changed Finale’s audio engine to provide better performance and a stronger technical foundation for the future. We added better integration of Human Playback into Finale with a centralized preference control.

Along with all these technology improvements, we also focused on new features that offer better productivity. Keyless scores allow for much faster creation of music without key signatures, with features designed for specific situations like atonal scores, tonal scores, or instruments that traditionally show without key signatures like horns and timpani. Linked Parts now allow many more adjustments between score and parts, particularly in the formatting-specific details of Finale’s special tools. Beat-attached Smart Shapes add more musical intelligence to hairpins, trills, and other shapes.

For the future, MakeMusic looks to extend Finale’s role as the most powerful tool for creating high-quality music notation, extending our capabilities for “music notation perfection.” The sheet music world is in the midst of a major transition from creating music for print to creating music for both print and digital applications. MakeMusic’s experience with both the MusicXML format and creating repertoire for SmartMusic gives us unparalleled insights into the issues behind this transition. In particular, our improvements for keyless scores and Linked Parts are models for where we see many of our future improvements coming. We also plan to continue our work in technology modernization.

We also look to maintain Finale’s preeminent position in standards support, including our industry leadership support for the MusicXML format – both the format itself, and its import into and export from Finale. Many digital sheet music app developers tell us that MakeMusic’s free Dolet for Sibelius plug-in exports MusicXML files better than Sibelius’s own built-in MusicXML export. Finale was also the first music notation program to export files in the standard EPUB format for electronic books. We have also been actively involved in the development of the Standard Music Font Layout (SMuFL) standard for music notation fonts.

The past two years have been a tumultuous time in the music notation software industry. MakeMusic’s move from public to private ownership has only enhanced our focus on music notation and literate musicians, both in music creation and music education. When our ad campaign invites you to Own The Future by using Finale, we really mean it.

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