Sure, it ain’t pretty. But Audacity’s extensive feature set and free status have made this audio editor an essential tool across education and sound production. And now it’s been acquired by the emerging Muse Group. So, who are Muse, and what does this all mean?

As the “Muse” part of the name implies, Muse Group is the moniker for the company that now owns MuseScore, the free and open source notation software. And as such, Audacity and MuseScore seem ideal stablemates. It also means as an owner, Muse – erm, now Muse Group – has a natural investment in open source. (They claim as much on their site.)

The question of what Muse Group bought and from whom is murky not so much because Audacity is open source software – free software is owned and copyrighted, too – so much as because the Audacity website is murky. But a private entity called Audacity Team owns the trademark and source code, then places it under a license.

Oh yeah and – that guy who complained about MuseScore having a terrible UI, only to get hired by Muse to fix the problem? He’s now in charge of Audacity.

The terms of the deal aren’t clearly delineated, but then that’s not unusual for a private acquisition. The fact that it’s open-source is incidental in that sense. The major difference is that there are open source contributors – listed in Audacity’s credits – and Muse will have to keep those folks happy if they want the community contribution to continue. That said, they have done that with MuseScore, so it means they have some experience. And as anyone who has ever managed an open-source project will tell you, that is always a major commitment. The good news is some expanded resources.

About Muse and Ultimate Guitar

This whole story actually begins in the 90s, back in the days when no one used the word “onboarding,” the idea of a phone that was also a Mac was just a fantasy, and AOL was still popular for messaging (RIP AIM). It was even before the most actively-traded music commodity was a pirated MP3. Back then, what made a community successful was guitar tab – see also Harmony Central, which got ints early fuel through similar means.

And so in 1998, Ultimate Guitar was born, the pet project of Kaliningrad-educated Eugeny Naidenov. That site has since grown to some 12 million registered users at last count. Naidenov struck gold again by releasing a companion mobile app back in 2007.

Since then, the company has been on an acquisition spree, launched Tonebridge, a guitar effects platform for iOS, Android, and desktop with tons of free effects, and acquired MuseScore notation (in 2017).

So now we see the basic formula here: build a big community with free tools. (Hey, no argument there.) MuseScore seems to have thrived under the company’s ownership and continues to be, as far as I know, a first-class open source citizen and a key part of free and open options for score making. Alongside other fine choices for open source notation, MuseScore has a uniquely polished interface and feature set that’s friendly to newcomers. And it’s alongside a tool that promises to manage music class assignments, too, MuseClass.
MuseScore, which has evolved into a mature music notation tool and a key element of the larger open source music creation landscape.

It’s all an ambitious menu of offerings. In turn, it’s expanded to support around 100+ employees in a 100% remote-work arrangement. (The company is officially headquartered in Limassol, Cyprus, but employees are scattered internationally, mostly in what appears to be Europe and North America.)

And they’re hiring. Current job roles are engineering focused, with a C++ audio dev wanted for Audacity and ton of development on MuseScore’s core application and the communities and MuseClass platform.

I have to say, I’m pretty bullish on the company’s strategy. Companies at around 100 people are big enough to serve these kinds of ambitions without necessarily being overly cumbersome. The track record is solid. And it’s great to see a music software company so focused on community and these free tools.

If they’re successful, it’s even something likely to benefit the music software industry at large – which can even be said of Audacity already.

I just wish I immediately saw “UI/UX” and “user testing” positions on that Audacity board. Keep an eye out for that, as that would make good on the company’s promise to invest in the tool. At least Martin Keary, MuseScore head of design, was the one who announced the acquisition.

And yes, they promise to manage Audacity “in partnership with its open-source community.” There’s precedent for that, before people freak out.

Audacity is a really great tool in some ways, hampered by a UI that is, uh, let’s say charitably “90s UNIX chic.” It’d be great to see it rise to the level of some of Muse’s other tools.

I don’t think anyone in the open source music software community would argue that it’s easy to maintain these products without resources. So if Muse listens to users and open developers, there’s a real future here, and one that could demonstrate the business possibilities in open source tools for musicians and audio makers.

Stay tuned.