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Saving Sibelius: Software in peril

By Meghann Wilhoite


You may not have known it, but July was a pretty stressful month for the composers of this world. Or at least several thousand of them.

The life of Sibelius, one of the leading music notation software programs, has seemingly come under threat of dissipation as Avid (who owns the software) has recently shut down Sibelius’ UK office, simultaneously laying off the software’s core development team. While Avid insists that Sibelius will continue to receive the attention it needs, one commenter on the change.org petition “Avid Technology: Sell Sibelius!” (signed by close to 7,500 people as of the writing of this post) states that without the UK development team, “the product is doomed.”

Originally developed by Brit brothers Ben and Jonathan Finn in 1986, Sibelius has a history about as old as our modern day personal computers (tablets?). The first public release of the program came in the early ‘90s, running off of a floppy disk and designed for the now defunct Acorn Computers. With the 2011 release of the latest version, Sibelius 7, the software seemed on a fair way to becoming the preferred notation program for composers and other musicians.

A close composer friend has expressed to me more than once how much improved the latest version of Sibelius is, allowing him greater flexibility to create his hybrid staff notation/graphic scores. Another composer friend recently tweeted that he’d stop using Avid audio recording product Pro Tools and switch to another, non-Avid product if Sibelius were discontinued.

Twitter isn’t the only place where people are expressing their dismay over the closing of Sibelius’ UK office. The outcry has also found voice on the website Sibelius Users (Sibelius users of the world unite!), as well as a Facebook group called Save Sibelius.

The firing of Sibelius’ UK development team has even got those of us who work on Grove Music Online here at Oxford University Press a little concerned, since many of our musical examples were created using Sibelius.

For now, Sibelius users will have to wait to see what the final outcome will be for the program. Will the software be able to continue living on the cutting edge of electronic music notation without its UK team? Will Avid sell the product to “to a viable new owner…so as to avoid a diaspora of its development team” as the change.org petitioners have requested? Only time will tell.

Meghann Wilhoite is an Assistant Editor at Grove Music/Oxford Music Online, music blogger, and organist. Follow her on Twitter at @megwilhoite.

Oxford Music Online is the gateway offering users the ability to access and cross-search multiple music reference resources in one location. With Grove Music Online as its cornerstone, Oxford Music Online also contains The Oxford Companion to Music, The Oxford Dictionary of Music, and The Encyclopedia of Popular Music.

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16 August 2012; 10:15 am ET: An earlier version of this post stated that all of Grove Music Online’s examples were made with Sibelius; only some of the examples were set in Sibelius.

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Recent Comments

  1. DJ Young

    At a cost of around $600 (US), this software is killing itself – the online notation service, Noteflight, in comparison, is around $50 (US) for a year’s subscription – and its free version isn’t bad, either.

    While services like Noteflight do not compare with all of Sibelius’ features, they are, often, more than good enough (and easy enough) for composers to use, and gives them a free forum to share their work.

    Publishers are seeing the end of their most expensive products, such as hardbacks, in the face of cheap e-books; music files can be downloaded inexpensively or even for free. To remain in business, Sibelius should take a close look at the Noteflight model for inspiration – it would be a shame to see such an excellent product fade away.

  2. Open Source Advocate

    Lilypond (http://lilypond.org) creates amazing, beautiful scores suitable for professional publication, and is completely free.

    Another free alternative is MuseScore (http://musescore.org/), which is easier to use but less powerful.

    Both can replace Sibelius, and bring with them all the benefits that open source software can provide.

  3. David Gerard

    MuseScore has hit usable maturity, and is open source. There is no earthly reason to pay $600 for Sibelius for new work.

    If you put the free MusicXML plugin into your Sibelius, you can export in that format and open it in MuseScore.

  4. Justin Tokke

    Ahem…. as a composer I own Sibelius because it can do things notationally and aurally that lillypoond, Musescore, and Noteflight can’t even come close to. Noteflight cannot extract a proper score, nor parts for an orchestral piece. Lillypond is ridiculously unintuitive (I’m sure programmers love it, however) and Musescore doesn’t have the features or the engraving precision of Sibelius (or Finale). Just because it’s open source doesn’t mean it’s a good program. I say $600 is a bargain for all the contracts that Sibelius has allowed me to receive over the years.

  5. Paolo T.

    I wonder how Sibelius can be replaced by either MuseScore (for power and extent) and Lilypond (for ease of use, especially when composing). I would be happy to see some examples exceeding the poor, basic scores I could see around made with MuseScore; or hear of a way to quickly enter complex music in Lilypond, that can make me be confident a composer or publisher can really live without Sibelius or Finale. It would be really great if this was confirmed.

  6. N Weber

    For those who criticize the $600 price tag – that is the inherent issue with creating technically complicated software for a niche audience. Adobe was recently able to lower the cost of their photo software because digital the photo editing has exploded to include a huge range of people beyond amateurs.

    Sibelius is one of the most complex (and certainly the largest in terms of sheer HD space) programs I run. Yes, there are much cheaper (or free) programs which allow for basic music notation, but the range of features in Sibelius allow for most any musical scenerio, and Finale is its only real competitor.

    It is clearly a difficult model to sustain, but what is the alternative? The cost comes from the sophisticated code being make for a relatively small group of people.

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  8. [...] music blogger, and organist. Follow her on Twitter at @megwilhoite. Read her previous blog posts: “Saving Sibelius: Software in peril” and “The king of instruments: Scary or sleepy?” Oxford Music Online is the gateway [...]

  9. [...] music blogger, and organist. Follow her on Twitter at @megwilhoite. Read her previous blog posts:“Saving Sibelius: Software in peril,” “The king of instruments: Scary or sleepy?” and “John Zorn at 59.” Oxford Music [...]

  10. Nancy

    I am searching for Sibelius 7 Music Software Online Course and found this :

    http://www.wiziq.com/course/3200-master-sibelius-7-software

    Please confirm me whether this will help me OR not. Your comments will surely help me a lot.

  11. Oleg

    I just read your comments and had to comment myself. Why don’t you try Forte (http://www.fortenotation.com/en/)? It’s an excellent alternative to both Sibelius or Finale at almost 2/3 of their price – $229, and it’s free to try for 30 days.

    It’s a great competitor that it’s developed by musicians so they clearly know how a composition software should look like.

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