As industry giant Avid reorganizes, user fears about the future of popular notation tool Sibelius continue to mount. The chief rival to MakeMusic’s Finale, Sibelius is widely used among composers, musicians, arrangers, engravers, and educators. Those users now fear not a dead Sibelius, sold off to some other party, but an undead tool. In this scenario, they contemplate the loss of the core development team that would provide essential ongoing updates.
Despite the staying power of tools like Venue, Pro Tools, and its flagship video software, Avid has been on a steady skid in profits and share value. Consecutive quarters have seen losses and the company has seen major recent executive team changes, overseeing a company that sits stop a dwindling cash supply. In an attempt to return to profitability, Avid divested key brands earlier this summer – most notably M-Audio – but retained notation software Sibelius and the accompanying iOS apps. In statements about its financial situation, Avid numbers Sibelius among the assets the company says can return it to more ample black ink.
Now, we have two conflicting narratives about what’s going on with Sibelius. Avid has already told CDM that Sibelius will remain a key product, and echoed this sentiment in communications with the Sibelius community. But reports from inside Sibelius suggest that the entire UK development team is being gutted. Reporting for ZDNet, Jack Schofield has a nice write-up of the latest sequence of events:
The response from the community, expressed in 200 comments, appears to be that without Daniel Spreadbury and his British development team, Sibelius is doomed. [Ed.: Spreadbury is Sibelius’s Senior Product Manager, and has been with the company since 1999. -PK]
Following what he called “the outpouring of concern on forums and social media,” [Avid audio vice president Martin] Kloiber followed up by saying: “I want to personally give my assurance that Avid is deeply committed to developing Sibelius moving forward. Our plan is to integrate Sibelius development more closely with the rest of Avid’s audio development teams in California, and I’m confident we can leverage our innovative development teams and continue to raise the bar in the future.”
To which John Murdoch responded in a comment: “Who among your audio development teams in California has experience generating PostScript Level 3 code? Don’t know what that is? Sibelius is far more of a desktop publishing application than an audio application.”
Schofield also notes that the Finn brothers, creators of Sibelius, are concerned enough that they say they tried to buy back the tool from Avid, but were turned down. The whole article is a good read:
Users petition Avid to sell Sibelius music software arm [ZDNet]
As rumors fly, I have been able to acquire some information I believe to be accurate. A source close to the Sibelius UK operation confirm to CDM that the primary office in Finsbury Park, UK, is closing, though some of the details have been muddled. 15 employees worked at the UK location, including the entire development and product management team. Nine of those employees finished work at the end of July; the source says that six people remain in the office, and will leave with the conclusion of the building lease at the end of September. While Avid says it is “integrating” Sibelius development in California, there are no reports that any current Sibelius development staff will be retained.
Avid has declined to comment on internal staffing.
I can attest to the value of continuity in development – both in Sibelius, specifically, and in complex music software, more generally. I’ve talked to the Finn brothers and Mr. Spreadbury in the past about the importance of their development team, and, indeed, Avid and Sibelius commented on just how essential these individuals were to the operation when the company was acquired several years ago. Complex tools of this sort have complex code bases. With no continuity in development, it’s almost inevitable that future updates would suffer. Sibelius itself had, until last month, kept a continuous thread of software developers back to the point when it was the Finn brothers’ student project in the early 90s.
Users are banding around the software, in an attempt to pressure Avid to sell the tool. sibeliususers.org is the primary rallying point. Derek Williams of sibeliususers.org identifies the people behind the organizing:
As regards the rest of the current pressure group, it is made up of a flotsam of disaffected Sibelius devotees, ranging from myself as campaign organiser, (www.derekwilliams.net) through former Sibelius programmers such as Simon Whiteside, web developers, such as Mark Sealey, lawyers such as Peter Roos and several others who cannot be named because they have close ties with Avid. For all that, we are well connected and highly motivated.
Those whom I have named are among those who can be identified publicly as key players in the campaign to rescue Sibelius. All of us are outraged by the pillage of Sibelius by its Wall St speculator owners, Avid Technology. We are doing everything in our power to wrest our beloved Sibelius loose from these marauders.
The “Wall Street” term here may be a bit of a stretch; a quick look at Avid’s current Board of Directors suggests a financial and business background, though not necessarily New York Wall Street finance specifically. sibeliususers has also not yet responded to a request for additional sources to some of the claims about Avid’s corporate situation, though you can easily confirm that a number of the changes to Directors and Executive Team have taken place. (Avid is publicly-traded, and therefore discloses a lot of this information.)
In the meantime, because of the user reaction, and because user faith in a tool is so vital to its health, I believe the burden of proof now lies with Avid to explain how Sibelius’ development can continue without any of its previous developers. It’s difficult to imagine Sibelius as we now know it continuing without the guidance of its creators.