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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Open Letter to AVID, parent company of Sibelius

An Open Letter to the board of directors of AVID, the parent company that owns Sibelius music notation software.

Dear AVID Board of Directors,

My name is John Oliver. I am a professional freelance composer. I have been commissioned to write music for the Canadian Opera Company, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, National Arts Centre Orchestra, St. Lawrence String Quartet, and others. I have been using computer music notation software since 1989.

Your dismissal of the Sibelius software development and support team from Finsbury Park UK, and your lack of appropriate response to the outpouring of complaints from Sibelius customers sends a message to me that you do not have plans to continue the investment of time, energy and imagination to keep this software great.

By displaying a lack of interest in the thoughful and mindful shepherding of Sibelius software into the future, you do a great disservice to professional, educational, and amateur music makers around the world.

Here is the impact that your decision will have on me. I came to rely on Sibelius software for all of my professional notation work about a decade ago, after holding out with Logic Pro for over a decade, and rejecting Finale because it seemed to be designed for publishers, rather than composers. In 1989 I bought my first computer, an ATARI STe, and used "NotatorSL", the precursor to Logic Audio and Logic Pro software on the Apple Mac computer. I used the notation component of that software to write my first opera, as well as all my music in the 1990s, including 4 symphonies and three concertos. I innovated a number of specialized workarounds to get the notation I needed. When Apple bought Logic Audio in 2002, the very first thing they did was to focus on audio production; the notation component became stagnant. Where Logic had become too limited in its possibilities, Finale software was aggravating in the workflow and interface design. All that changed with Sibelius.

As soon as I adopted Sibelius, writing music became almost as easy to get from the imagination to the music paper as in the past with pencil on paper. Sibelius offered me, as a professional composer, the means to create professional materials with ease, yet with sophistication and depth. The software developers clearly understand the needs of professional composers and publishers and, significantly, designed their software so that both composers and publishers could concentrate on their respective tasks with the software. Sibelius allows for the best workflow, version management, score development, intelligent layout, professional delivery of parts to orchestras with easy replacement of parts when changes are made during rehearsals, incredible plugin architecture and community of developers who have contributed much-loved additions to Sibelius (notably Bob Zawalich).

But it's not just the software alone that I admire and that keeps me using it as the principal tool for music writing. The presence of Daniel Spreadbury and other experts on the Sibelius Forum, who were always there to help with issues that would arise with this very complex software, kept my faith and kept me upgrading. When an issue was a serious one, Daniel would always respond in a timely fashion with depth of knowledge and customer service that was astonishing in content and excellence.

Due to this combination of excellence in programming and customer support, I have been a vocal advocate of Sibelius software since I began using it. Sibelius is the core software that enables me to maintain the highest standards of excellence in my own professional work as a composer.

When AVID attacks the very foundation of Sibelius software success - the combination of excellent programming and stellar customer support - I feel as though AVID is attacking my profession.

I urge the AVID Board of Directors to consider the serious negative impact your decisions around firing the staff at Finsbury Park will have on thousands of professional lives, the customers of your software. I am not alone in informing you that my own faith in Sibelius software disappears with the staff who have been let go. I will no longer be able to recommend Sibelius software to my friends and colleagues. I will not purchase any more upgrades because I do not believe that your decision will result in the coherent continued development of Sibelius.

To maintain any position of respect in the field of professional music, AVID would do well to consider the impact of their decisions on the professions that they service with their products. As a corporate strategy, I can see no financial long-term success resulting from the current plan with regard to Sibelius software. If anything, your blatant disregard for an entire professional sector cannot bode well for your repectability in other sectors. The music producers in Hollywood will not be happy with the grumblings of the composers and arrangers coming in to a recording session with ProTools.

There are only two courses of action that would restore my dedication to Sibelius software:

1] reinstate the design and support team in the UK;
2] sell the software back to the Finn brothers or, failing that, to consider any public offer that serves the interests of music in art and education, and to do so before the development team have all gone to other employment.

Sincerely yours,

John Oliver, D. Mus.
past Composer-in-Residence: Canadian Opera Company, Vancouver Opera, Windsor Canadian Music Festival, Music in the Morning.