Author: Kevin Clark

Interview with Daniel Spreadbury of Dorico

The moment we’ve been waiting for is finally here. Three years ago Daniel Spreadbury and the Sibelius team left Avid, and shortly thereafter work began on a new scoring application for Steinberg, the German company behind Cubase, among other music products.

Last week at a conference in Helsinki the product was announced. It’s called Dorico, named after a Roman music engraver, and will be released in the fourth quarter of 2016. There will be a cross-grade discount (€299) available to qualifying Finale and Sibelius users for a short time after launch.

Hopes for Dorico are high in the field, following a few difficult releases in the other major commercial applications. We were thrilled to be able to ask Daniel Spreadbury a few questions during this busy week about his work in open source and web standards, some of Dorico’s most exciting features for composers, and how Dorico users will benefit from the larger Steinberg ecosystem.

KC: What Dorico features do you think will make composers want to become Dorico users?
DS: Dorico takes a fundamentally different approach to how it thinks about music than existing scoring programs; its music model is much closer to the way that a sequencer or DAW thinks about music in MIDI terms. In a sequencer, a single MIDI note can give rise to a variety of different appearances in the sequencer’s integrated score view, based on the display quantization in use: it might appear as a single note, or as a sequence of tied notes. As the music is edited, the notation is effectively recreated on the fly. Scoring programs don’t tend to work that way: instead, once a note is created, it becomes a rather concrete thing. For example, if you create a quarter note on the last eighth of a 4/4 bar, the scoring program will correctly interpret that as two tied eighth notes either side of the barline. But if you cut and paste that music such that those notes both end up in the same bar, those tied notes won’t be recombined into a single quarter note again.

So firstly Dorico does think about music more like the way a sequencer does, and as you edit the score, the music will be renotated to the simplest and clearest rhythmic notation. However, it wouldn’t be any good if Dorico decided to combine those two tied eighth notes into a quarter note if they ended up, say, crossing the third beat of a 4/4 bar, because as every good music theory student knows, in time signatures with a half-bar, unless you have an established syncopated pattern going, you should always show the beat at the half-bar, so in that case that quarter note should remain as two tied eighth notes. In a nutshell, this is what Dorico does: it has a deep algorithmic understanding of the way rhythm and meter works, so it’s able to produce clear and unambiguous rhythmic notation in any situation.

Add to this that Dorico also provides tools to allow notes to be lengthened or shortened, and for music to be inserted in the middle of an existing voice, all of which keeps the music notated clearly at every point, and this is hopefully a big improvement for composers. Composers who would like to be able to do some composing directly into software and who would prefer to work in notation rather than MIDI from the start will find Dorico a much more welcoming and accommodating environment for their work than other scoring software. Our philosophy is that the user should not be penalised for changing his or her mind at any stage in the compositional process.

KC: You’ve made major contributions to open source and web standards projects for music notation. How does that work relate to Dorico, and what might be possible in the future?
DS: We have been working on the SMuFL standard for music fonts since a few months after we joined Steinberg, and SMuFL is now being developed under the auspices of the W3C’s Music Notation Community Group, which is also now the steward of the MusicXML format widely used by hundreds of music notation applications. As one of the three co-chairs of the group, I’m hoping that we will be able to build upon the strong foundations of both SMuFL and MusicXML to enrich the way music notation is encoded and to open up new possibilities for interactive applications, digital music distribution and consumption, while hopefully making it easier for software developers to handle this stuff.

As for how this relates to Dorico, a lot of the W3C work is forward-looking, so it’s not yet possible to draw too many conclusions about exactly how this will impact the software. In the short to medium term, we aim to have great support for SMuFL, and good support for import and export of MusicXML. In the longer term, we’re excited to see where the community takes the work on standardising the representation of music notation.

As an aside, I’ve been thrilled to see how Bravura, the reference font for SMuFL and Dorico’s default music font, which we released under the Open Font License a couple of years ago, has taken off: it’s now being used in a variety of music applications both on the desktop and the web, and it’s also starting to be used for publications by some of the biggest publishing houses, which is a great endorsement for the aesthetics and practicalities that have gone into Bravura, and I’m excited to see what people can do with Bravura when they get to use it in Dorico, which it was initially designed for.

KC: How will Dorico users be able to benefit from the broader Steinberg ecosystem?
DS: In the first instance, the inclusion of Steinberg’s world-class audio engine as used by Cubase and Nuendo is an obvious advantage. You’ll be able to use any VST 3-compatible virtual instruments and effects in Dorico – and certain VST 2-compatible plug-ins, too, since we know there are widely-used plug-ins that have not yet been updated to the new VST 3 standard. Our vision for Dorico’s playback features is that you will have the most direct control over how your music is realised by virtual instruments of any scoring software, and we’re doing that by borrowing some of the idioms more commonly found in Cubase, such as showing the music in a piano roll view, and allowing graphical editing of real-time controller data.

Over time, we hope to build powerful workflows that allow you to move projects between Dorico and Cubase with ease, since especially in the field of music for media it is not uncommon for a project to start in the sequencer and end in the scoring program if there is a live session to record, or indeed to start in the scoring program and end in the sequencer if a mock-up or virtual realisation needs to be produced.

Steinberg also makes some great virtual instruments of its own, with some new and exciting things coming up in the near future, and the UR series of audio interfaces has both top-notch build quality, audio quality, and solid drivers, too.


KC: NewMusicBox is a new music publication. Are there extended techniques that Dorico will handle particularly well, for instance microtonality, aleatoric notation, or unmeasured music?

DS: The first version of Dorico will not have every possible contemporary composition technique covered, but I hope that what it will demonstrate is that we are willing to tackle some of these areas. Dorico is the first GUI-based scoring software to truly support writing in open meter: in fact, when you start writing in an empty project, by default you get no time signature, and so Dorico doesn’t put in any barlines. You can go back and add a time signature at any time, and soon you’ll be able to simply insert barlines wherever you like to divide up a passage of unmetered music. You can also create a system break anywhere you like – even in the middle of a set of nested tuplets, if need be!

We have pretty good support for microtonality too: although the user interface is not yet finished, our engine has support for tuning systems with arbitrary equal divisions of the octave, so you can easily work with 24-EDO quartertones, 53-EDO Turkish maqam music, or set up your own 72-EDO system. You will be able to define your own system of accidentals, including specifying the number of EDOs that a given accidental should raise or lower the unmodified written pitch, and set up custom key or mode signatures that use those accidentals in any combination. We’re not yet sure exactly how playback of these kinds of microtones will be handled, but the semantics and the graphics will be there from the start.

Dorico also has support for many of the different conventions employed through the last century for accidental duration rules – so if you want accidentals to apply only to the note on which they are first written, and show naturals on all unmodified notes, or not repeat accidentals if the same pitch is immediately repeated, and so on, Dorico has all of that covered.

We don’t have great support for arbitrary graphical notations in the first release. There is so much complexity to producing really beautiful conventional music notation that we haven’t yet been able to focus on the kinds of convention-busting notations that have been used through the latter half of the 20th century and into the new century, but hopefully we will be able to build on our foundations in this area as the application matures. I think it’s worth saying that Dorico’s focus is on music that can still largely be written using conventional staff notation (and eventually tablature) rather than completely arbitrary graphics. I think other software will provide better tools for scores whose requirements barely include any conventional elements at all.


KC: Lastly, is there a way to apply to beta test Dorico?

DS: We are not quite ready to start beta testing Dorico just yet. We have already been inundated with literally hundreds of requests from prospective users from all sorts of musical fields who are interested in helping to iron the kinks out of the first version of our software, and that is incredibly encouraging. We will certainly not be able to accommodate everybody who has expressed an interest, and might even end up with some kind of a lottery system. If I haven’t managed to dissuade your readers from expressing an interest altogether, then of course they are free to get in touch with me, either via the new Dorico forum on the Steinberg web site, or via the Making Notes blog.

*Updated 5/24 at Spreadbury’s request to clarify his orginal comment

William G. Baumol and You: (Broader Economic) Context Is Everything

pills and money

This is the first publication of a line of research I’ve been working on for more than a year. I’d like to thank the New Music Gathering, the San Francisco Conservatory, Peabody Conservatory, and most recently Seattle Pacific University for giving me opportunities to speak about this research. Video of my talk at Seattle Pacific is embedded below. I’d also like to thank the more than a dozen artists, administrators, and economists who’ve shared their experiences with me and helped me make sure this work isn’t only theoretically sound, but also of practical use for working artists. Last but not least, I’d like to thank NewMusicBox for helping me reach out to some of those working artists last year, as I was preparing this material for January’s New Music Gathering. I’m still at the beginning phases of this work, so if you’re curious about it, have a use for it, or want to participate, please get in touch: [email protected]

pills and money

The music industry is changing really fast. Nobody knows what’s going on, or what’s going to happen next. Nobody’s career is like anyone else’s, and we’re all making it up out on our own. But there’s this one piece of economics that can help make sense of what’s going on, help us make better decisions as artists, and even help us make long-term plans.

That piece of economics? Baumol’s Cost Disease. In the 1960s Baumol noticed that some kinds of work get more productive because of technical advances. These are things like manufacturing, calculation, and robotic factories: anything where new technology makes things faster and cheaper. For Baumol, this is the “productive sector.” Then there are categories of work where technology doesn’t make it faster. No new iPhone app is going to make it take less than four worker-hours to perform a one-hour string quartet. The usual grouping of such industries is healthcare, education, and the performing arts (us). We’re the “stagnant sector”.

As things in the productive sector get cheaper and cheaper, stuff in the stagnant sector gets more and more expensive (by comparison) to produce. So it gets harder and harder to keep paying artists, teachers, and doctors well for producing, by comparison, less and less. That’s cost disease.

In the popular arts press, cost disease usually gets invoked to justify shrinking the orchestra or firing the dancers. It’s presented as a bogeyman, a bad thing that happens to our field. But it’s actually an observation about relative productivity that touches the entire economy and has implications for everyone, both good and bad. If you’re interested, Baumol wrote a second book during the debate over Obamacare. He talks about what people have gotten wrong about his work over the years (quite a lot), and he talks about how the problem isn’t just with things getting too expensive. There’s a problem when things like guns and fossil fuels are getting cheaper, too.

He makes one brilliant argument about how the forces moving these prices all exist within the context of a single economy — the rate of inflation governing all of this is an average of all the prices. No matter how high the costs of healthcare, education, and the performing arts grow, we can afford them as a society. Maybe we can’t afford them as individual businesses, but with enough political will, we can have the things we want.

There’s one thing Baumol doesn’t do–and I haven’t seen any other economists do it either–and that’s extend this work into the realm of the individual artist. Honestly, we’re too small a segment of the economy to get that much attention.

It’s well established how cost disease forced us out of the institution and into working on our own. But once we got here, Baumol kept being useful. Because suddenly, we were like big orchestras with mixed staffs of productive office workers and stagnant musicians. As independent working artists, we’ve got our artistic practice (stagnant and not being made faster by technology), and all the extra administrative work that we didn’t have to do before, like marketing, finances, taxes, business incorporation, etc., etc. (productive and being made faster by technology).

Baumol does provide a good account of businesses like this, with mixed inputs, including orchestras and individual artists: we’re called “asymptotically stagnant.” That is, as the productive stuff gets faster and faster over time, it will shrink to practically nothing as part of our cost of doing business, and we’ll eventually become mostly about the stagnant side: in our case, the actual art.

Publishers are a great example to show how this works. Originally, publishers were important because they had the means to print paper. They owned the machine. That made them important and powerful. They also had a bit of a distribution network and a promotional system, but that was less important than the engraving and printing. Over time, the cost of printing has dropped. Now most of us can make professional-level scores ourselves, and we can play with PDFs off of tablets. But publishers are still important, although more for their distribution networks and marketing capacity than for the actual means of production. The cost of the physical printing has dropped so low that it’s a negligible fraction of the cost of running the business, or of the value publishers add; the only thing left is the human labor part: that network. It’s taken a long time, and the process isn’t finished, but it is inevitable: the part of the work that can’t be automated will be all that’s left.

Piracy in the WSJ

Sample coverage from the Wall Street Journal

It’s not just publishers, either. Most of the businesses that artists encounter as counterparties in our lives are being strongly influenced by the relative productivity changes that Baumol describes. Record labels, venues, agents, merchandise makers, PROs, orchestras: everyone’s getting their business models messed with by the same economic forces, and when one of these institutions starts to implode, as happens all too frequently, we can use cost disease to tell a quick and dirty (but very useful) story about what’s going on.

All you have to do is sort the things that institution does into two piles: stagnant and productive. Once you’ve done that, you know what’s getting cheaper and what’s getting more expensive. This can explain very dramatic changes, largely because of how powerful compound interest is. The difference between a 1% growth rate (below inflation, so getting cheaper in real dollars) and a 3% growth rate (above inflation, so getting more expensive in real dollars) can get very big in just a few years and lead to dramatic consequences. This is possibly my favorite feature of cost disease analysis: you don’t need to know what something costs, or even in most cases how fast its price is changing. You just need to know whether it’s automatable or not, and that tells you whether the price is going up or going down. That’s really all you need to know. Then you can usually tell where the pressure is coming from, and what someone’s trying to do about it. This can help you read the news, and it can help you figure out when the person you’re negotiating with has a weaker position than they’re letting on.

Individual artists are like that, too. Our artistic practice will never get more productive, but everything else can get faster and faster and faster over time thanks to technological advances. This leads to one of the first lessons of cost disease for individual artists: expect the way you do office work to change rapidly. You’re not going to find the right tool for travel booking or promotion early in your career and have it be the best tool for your whole life. We can keep our art-making habits the same, but our business habits should change.

We even know something about how they’ll change: they’ll get cheaper. Instead of buying an ad and printing signs, we can send emails and host a website on a cheap server. Instead of paying a travel agent, we can use an interlocking set of search sites and calendar applications to organize tours. And while we still might need to pay an accountant with experience in the arts to do our taxes, we can make that job faster and shorter by documenting our accounts with metadata in something like mint.com. And we can expect those things to keep getting cheaper and faster over time.

There is a part of our marketing work that won’t get faster, though. In truth, marketing and communications have components in both the “stagnant” and “productive” sectors. We still have to write the email, even though we can inexpensively send it to thousands of people. There’s a core of communication that isn’t going to get faster, even though new telecommunications technology has changed pretty much everything in the last few decades.

When we look at those non-art making tasks and see their financial costs going to zero, we can start to see what’s really important in deciding how to do these things: time. You’re not investing dollars in that new ad campaign, but the time you’re committing to it is more important, and increasingly expensive. So when you’re picking a platform to promote yourself, think about how easy it is for you emotionally to use Twitter or Tumblr or Pinterest or whatever comes next, because if you commit to a platform you hate, you’ll be wasting all that time psyching yourself up to post, instead of naturally taking an Instagram photo of your lunch without giving it a second thought.

As artists we have very unpredictable financial lives. But we know that our weeks will have the same number of hours in them for the rest of our lives. So when we make long-term plans, it’s a lot more effective to base them on the time we have than the money we hope to earn.

Most people go through their careers at regular jobs earning an average of 4% more per year over the course of their lives. That’s how our economy prices labor. That’s how much more valuable our time gets year by year, and that’s how much our pay should be growing: significantly faster than the 2% inflation target set by the Federal Reserve.

For me, that’s a strong way to advocate for the arts. I don’t like to base my arguments on increasing test scores, economic development, or personal enrichment–although those things are awesome and do come from the arts. When I’m forced to justify the arts in a narrow outcomes-based context I feel like I’ve already lost, because the reason art is so interesting is how hard it is to pin down to just one dimension.

I like to argue like this: we need to make a commitment as a society to paying health care workers, educators, and artists enough to support them as well as any typical worker in our society. Baumol’s analysis shows that we can have as much of these things as we want. We just need the will to commit to paying for them.

What Are You Trying to Decide in Your Career?

Composer-musician speed dating.

Composer-musician speed dating at the 2015 New Music Gathering in San Francisco. Photo by Shaya Lyon.

I’m giving a talk at the New Music Gathering in Baltimore this January, and I need your help. More specifically, I need your problems. I want to hear about a big decision you’re trying to make in your career as a musician. My talk is on how understanding a few economic principles, specifically Baumol’s Cost Disease, can help us make decisions in our careers as artists. I’d like to use real world examples if I can, which is where you come in.

If you’re on board and have a decision to make, please drop me a line and include a brief description of the issue you’re facing: [email protected].

If you’re curious about what on earth I’m talking about, then read on.

I gave an early version of this talk at last year’s New Music Gathering at the San Francisco Conservatory, and it was a big hit. We talked about some of Baumol’s original work from the 1960s, his updated book from the debate over healthcare reform, and positioning the performing arts alongside healthcare and education as part of advocating for new music. We talked about building a community as an artist, and how to think about the relationship between fans of your work and your bank account.

But the core of our discussion was about time and productivity. Baumol’s key insight was that some work gets more productive over time as a result of technology, and has done so at a fairly consistent rate since the industrial revolution. That would be things like manufacturing, etc. Some other work, like playing an instrument, doesn’t. It takes just as much time for a string quartet to play a piece as it did 200 years ago. Since making art doesn’t get more productive, in the context of the whole economy it gets more expensive over time.

This has all kinds of neat implications that economists have studied for big businesses, but almost nobody has thought about what it means for individual working artists, much less about how understanding this corner of economics can help us to thrive.

That’s what I’m trying to do with this talk at the next New Music Gathering. Right now the music industry is changing so much, and so fast, that nobody has “the answer”. Nobody’s business model seems appropriate to anyone else. But I don’t want us all to have to stumble around in the dark. And the economics of cost disease makes some fairly reliable predictions about how our art making and the business stuff we all have to do these days will relate to each other in the future.

In an arts ecosystem that’s changing as much as ours, I’ll cling to anything with as much predictive power as cost disease seems to offer. And I’m trying to use it to help artists feel confident making big decisions.

Should I get on Spotify? Should I work with a publisher? How much time should I devote to teaching? How much should I work on contest submissions? How many LPs should I press? How much should I charge for my work?

If you’ve got a big decision about this or any other question, I want to hear about it. I want to understand how you’re thinking about it, and try to help. If you’re willing, I might share a version of your story in my talk next month.

I love helping artists (this is part of why I work at New Music USA in the first place), and hopefully our conversation will be useful for you. After the New Music Gathering, I’ll report back on what I learned.

Thanks in advance for your stories and your help! I look forward to hearing from you: [email protected].

2015 New Music Bake Sale Line-Up Announced

New-Music-Bake-Sale-2014-Press-Photo-1The New Music Bake Sale has been a staple of both New York City’s new music community and of cookies, brownies, and the occasional dumpling, for more than five years. This year’s event is taking place on March 15 from 4-11 p.m. at Roulette. Tickets are $10, and inside you can visit the tables of dozens of ensembles and organizations, hear their music on a playlist throughout the event, and eat their baked goods.

The event has become a real tradition, and provides a real hub through which new and established members of the new music community can connect. That’s why this year New Music USA is proud to be once again the lead sponsor of the New Music Bake Sale.

Every hour, on the hour, live performances will happen on Roulette’s stage:

Can’t make it in person? The Bake Sale has made a Soundcloud playlist of music from the performers selling baked goods during the event. As more music comes in, more tracks will be added to the playlist through the date of the Bake Sale itself:

For more information, visit newmusicbakesale.org.

Classical Music Has Open Data Sets?

Back in October, the Washington Post offered some blog coverage of Suby Raman’s first big data and the arts post. While the dramatic headline made it sound like Raman had written a death knell for opera, what he’d actually done was taken reams of detailed data about the Metropolitan Opera’s performances and analyzed it for trends. Because he’s a composer, he knew what to look for in the data and what would matter to people. Because he’s a programmer, he knew how to handle the big data set itself.
In that data, he found a lot of really interesting stories to tell–not about the death of opera itself, but about how the Metropolitan Opera has been producing more and more works by dead composers. As the repertoire has solidified, the average age of a composition has gone pretty far up. At New Music USA, we find that less than awesome, and we’re grateful for the clear explanation, complete with charts and graphs and labelled axes. (The labelled axes are incredibly important.)

The chart from

The first of 10 charts created by Suby Raman based on data culled from Metropolitan Opera performances over the past century.

Some of the criticism lobbed at Raman in, mostly, various comment threads, attacked him for only looking at this one opera company instead of the entire field. That position completely misses the reality of what data science in the arts is actually like. Suby Raman didn’t pick the Metropolitan Opera out of a hat, try to say it’s a representative opera company, or argue that it’s more important than any other house. He picked it because they’re the ones who released all their historical data in a neat and usable package. Here’s his own disclaimer:

About the data: data was acquired from the Met Opera Database, in a timeframe from 1905 to present. One “performance” is a night of an identifiable opera performance. Opera performances data was scraped from the HTML and matched up to scraped composer/opera data from Wikipedia. The process of scraping/matching may have introduced some error.

Data may be big and getting bigger, but it’s not exactly thick on the ground in the performing arts. There is no IMDB for string quartets, composers, ballets, or even plays (though in theater there are some who are trying to make one). Where clear data sets exist, there’s a lot we can learn from them, and we should definitely encourage our big institutions to make more of their data transparently available to the public. A better headline for that Washington Post piece might have been “Holy crap, even the Metropolitan Opera is opening up their data?”
While the data available for analysis are limited in scope, they are still valuable, and Suby Raman did some great science by being clear about the limitations of his method, and about how more could be done with more information.
Plus he used a lot of animated gifs in that blog post. Who doesn’t love a good animated gif?
If you want more evidence of Raman’s competence to analyze data in the performing arts, check out the disclaimer text from his most recent blog post. This one’s on the gender diversity of major American orchestras:

Note: Dataset is 1,833 unique orchestra performers, taken from current orchestra roster pages. “Laureate” and “Emeritus” musicians were not included. “Top 20 Orchestras” was defined as the top 20 orchestras ranked by base salary. Librarians and other personnel were not included; you guys are fantastic, but this just examines musicians. I will post the dataset to GitHub in a few days, check here for the link.
Because of variances in doubling vs. unique performers, “ancillary” instruments like piccolo, English horn, etc. were included in their more common section (flute, oboe, etc).

He’s brought both a good knowledge of data scraping and a good knowledge of the inner working of orchestras to the job. I can think of few data scientists with the music background to let them do this. My one quibble, and it is not insignificant, is that there isn’t anything in here about how the gender of each player was determined. Was it by name? By appearance? It probably wasn’t by self-identification, and there do seem to be only two kinds of gender in this analysis, which is its own problem. But the stories Raman is trying to tell here are also clear, also compelling, and also a strong, evidence-based call for change. One particularly good point, revealed by proper analysis like this, is how many principal flutists are men, despite most flutists in the study’s orchestras being women. Wow. This post only does have one animated gif, though.
Did I mention that Raman also writes music?

Broken Notions of Why Art Matters

broken tape measure

Photo courtesy of Ian Muttoo on Flickr.

Diane Ragsdale’s newest Jumper post responds to a discussion about the values and motivations of arts organizations that includes Doug Borwick of Engaging Matters and Lyz Crane of ArtPlace America:

Doug Borwick has a new post (inspired by comments made by Lyz Crane at the Creative Placemaking Summit) on the “central disconnect” between arts organizations and community engagement. The cornerstones of his argument appear to be that the “art world” exists to do what it wants to do (in contrast to most of the social sectors that exist to solve a problem or need); that arts organizations, therefore, depend upon true believers that are willing to support them in their self-interested pursuits; that community engagement requires seeing art (not as an end in-and-of itself but) as a tool for social change; and thus, ipso facto, given their we-want-to-do-what-we-want-to-do orientation there is little possibility for arts organizations to extend their reach and work to advance their communities.
I’m a fan of Doug’s writing on Engaging Matters, generally, but I’m not sure I buy the argument in this instance.

I am too, and I don’t either. A simple but flawed way to look at this problem is through what Ragsdale rightly identifies as a false dichotomy: serve the art or serve the community. Crane and Borwick rightly identify an external perception problem: it can seem to people that arts organizations do something more inward looking and speculative than useful.

However, it’s important not to over-read that possible perception problem as reflecting some deeper truth about the field.
It might seem to some that serving art is in conflict with serving the community. And certainly it’s possible to imagine making mistakes while prioritizing the one over the other. But underneath that observation there’s no deeper pattern about the nature of arts organizations. Valuing art at the expense of community is a serious error, but that’s all. It’s not the tip of the iceberg, it’s a tiny iceberg.

But why is it a false dichotomy? When you look at how you’re using the terms “art” and “community” in this context, you pretty quickly run into some suspect thinking.

Let’s take a closer look at what sort of an image we conjure up when we think of organizations that make these two mistakes, to see what they can tell us about what we mean by those terms:

Too focused on “what the organization wants to do”

Let’s imagine an archetypal arts organization that is serving the “art,” or “doing what it wants to do” instead of serving the community, and has got itself into trouble. The organization has been around for about 30 years, was moderately prominent in the community in the ‘90s, took a beating in the culture wars, and hasn’t won back its pride of place. It probably has the same white male executive/artistic director that it’s had for decades, and relies on a dedicated but dwindling group of funders, subscribers, etc. to keep the place running. There are educational programs, but they’re staffed with entry-level “half-time” workers who have too much on their plate and too few resources to do good work. Every now and then someone says something about “community engagement” or “digital initiatives,” and maybe they try some stuff sometimes, but it’s always peripheral and the leadership’s heart is clearly not in it. The quality of the art presented has started to suffer, in part because there’s less money, and in part because there’s just less energy about the place.
This is a pretty drastic story, but it’s not an unfamiliar one. You can probably find a piece of this hypothetical in the actual experiences of a lot of organizations, and saying that they’re valuing art over the community, or doing “what they want to do” instead of something more useful isn’t entirely unfair.
But the issues in an organization like this go way deeper than a focus on art vs. a focus on community.

Too focused on “serving the community”

This story is perhaps less archetypical, but we can imagine an organization with both presenting and educational arms–for instance a concert series and a community music school. The series may have been what started the organization back in the 1970s. Local corporations helped underwrite bringing major touring artists to town. As the world changed and the leadership changed, the organization created a community music school. After all, the staff could easily handle both, and the network of freelance musicians they had built for performance could also teach and earn extra money.

As mission creep starts to set in, the series brings in fewer and fewer touring artists, and the audiences start to be made up of families with students in the music school. The programming shifts to performances by teachers and star pupils. The mission statement says something about “world class artists,” but they aren’t coming any more.

It’s pretty easy to see this story as a “mistake” in terms of the original mission of the organization, but in broader terms…. it’s hard to make that argument. There still is in some way an “overemphasis,” and the students in the school won’t get to hear as many top-level performances or attend those masterclasses, but it’s hard to complain about a thriving music school.

Similarly, this story and others we could imagine that embody the same error, seem to represent fewer organizations than the first hypothetical (based on a study by…I’m totally making this part up; feel free to disagree with me).
This is perhaps part of why it’s easier to focus on the other mistake.

*

Certainly these are two dangers faced by many arts organizations, and they’re worth considering when making long term plans. But these two are clearly not the opposite ends of a spectrum that can explain big trends in our field. The organizations in these hypotheticals could only ever be stand-ins for a tiny fraction of arts organizations. For a lot of organizations, this is simply the wrong framework.

First, not all communities are towns. And so the elision of “community service” with education, outreach, and public art can be very, very misleading. New Music USA, for instance, serves a nationwide community of artists. Our community is spread out around the country and is made up of all sorts of people who make, listen to, and produce music. And since our community has far more artists in it per capita than any municipality, what service to that community means is nothing like what it means for most organizations. For us, serving “the community” and serving “the art” are completely identical.

If you’re a presenting organization with a venue, your ticket buyers are local (and therefore your community is in one place), but if you’re almost anything else, from a school to a touring ensemble to an advocacy organization, your physical location isn’t the determining factor in how your community is structured, or in what it means to be of service. In those cases, the dichotomy breaks down entirely, and we can see how a restricted definition of “community” can get you into trouble.

Second, notions of “serving your community” can be too focused on too small a set of community benefits. Direct economic impact is easy(ish) to measure, and it’s easy to use to lobby government and others for support for the arts. But the tricky part of advocating for the arts is that the really important parts are harder to put numbers on. This shouldn’t be surprising; the awesomest parts of art itself are the parts that are hardest to quantify.
If you stick to just the benefits that are easy to measure, you’re going to wind up supporting only the artistic activity that produces that limited set of benefits. And you’re going to miss out on the benefits of other kinds of art.
There are indirect economic impacts that are nigh impossible to measure properly, from the increased prestige of a city or town to incremental increases in rental prices and home values that are indistinguishable from the background noise of the market.
There are new connections made among talented and dedicated people as part of any artistic endeavor, and even counting those connections and attributing them properly is a challenge, much less measuring their value.
And of course there are the direct benefits of amazing art to everyone who experiences it. It’s hard to quantify, and research into the “transformative arts experience”–though definitely a step forward–is also (and totally understandably) trapped by its own research questions. The “art that changed your life” is worth researching, but there’s a long tail of artistic experiences far fatter than the long tail of e-commerce.

Because these things are hard to measure, they’re hard to support, hard to promote, and hard to do. It’s what makes art an interesting career. But that difficulty in measuring also makes it hard to include these benefits in a definition of service to a community. With restricted notions of what can count as engaging a community, you wind up with restricted notions of what art is good for, and listening to a concert can become something exclusive and elite instead of the core benefit an arts organization provides to a community.

A Contest for Fake Musicians

OMOLOGOThe Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians is hosting a contest for lies.
There’s a long history in dictionaries, encyclopedias, and even atlases of including false and funny entries to protect from copyright infringement. If someone steals your encyclopedia, all the actual entries will look fairly similar, but the entry for Lillian Virginia Mountweazel will give the game away.
The Grove has had some classics over the years, and now they’re giving the rest of us the chance to write some ourselves:

In honor of the co-existent traditions of accuracy and humor in the history of Grove Music, the Grove Music editorial staff would like to encourage the proliferation, not of Mountweazels per se, but of the dedication to the stylistic standards that support the content written by thousands of scholars over more than a hundred years. It is therefore my pleasure to announce the first (annual?) Grove Music Spoof Article Contest. Do you have what it takes to write a convincing Grove Music Mountweazel? Then read on.

You have until the end of the month to craft your imaginary entry in accordance with the Grove style. So now’s your chance to compile a complete telharmonium discography or explain undecaphonic polyphony. Good luck!

Keeping Score: Spreadbury Speaks on Sibelius Team Transition

Daniel Spreadbury

Daniel Spreadbury

Daniel Spreadbury worked on the Sibelius notation software for years, both as a product* and community manager. Then, last July, the software’s parent company, Avid, announced a restructuring, and the Finsbury Park office in London that had been home to the Sibelius team was closed. News came last week, however, that the team is now opening a new office in London to work on a brand new notation program–this time under the auspices of Steinberg, a German company known primarily for the sequencer Cubase. Here’s what Spreadbury had to say about the new project:

Kevin Clark: First off—the question on everyone’s minds: what are you working on and when can we buy it? Of course things are in the very early stages, but any news would be very exciting.

Daniel Spreadbury: Obviously we shall be working on a brand new music notation and composition application, which will sit alongside Steinberg’s other products.  All other aspects and strategies are currently under discussion and will be communicated in due time.

KC: Are there any existing Steinberg technologies that form a good basis for your work?

DS: Certainly – though we’re not sure which just yet. Steinberg has a rich portfolio of technologies, and we can’t wait to get to know our new colleagues and learn from them about the ways in which components or technologies from other products can enrich our new program.

Steinberg logo

KC: Is your team still intact at Steinberg?

DS: Yes, as far as was possible. Steinberg have been fantastic, and were clear from the outset that they wanted to bring the whole team over if they could. However, after it was clear that our office would be closed, a few of our former colleagues took up other jobs and subsequently chose not to re-join us. But the team is definitely intact, and between us we have decades of experience in designing and building great software for musicians, and we are looking forward to combining that experience with the know-how of our new colleagues.

KC: How would a music notation product relate to the rest of Steinberg’s software? Would it be a part of the core business or a separate direction?

DS: Speaking as somebody who has until recently merely been an observer of Steinberg, it has always been my belief that Steinberg is totally committed to providing great products for creative musicians. I see our new application as fitting right in with this ethos, but perhaps targeted at musicians who are more comfortable working with music notation than with sequencer or DAW workflows.

KC: On a separate note, what’s it been like to go through this change for your whole team?

DS: We have been welcomed with open arms by Steinberg. The company’s leaders have shown a real commitment to our team in opening a new office for us in London, and we couldn’t be happier. Many of us have been working together for more than a decade, so the prospect of the team breaking up was pretty distressing, but now we are able to look forward to working together for years to come.

KC: Lastly, what can the community do to help? Any new product will take a while, but in the meantime, if your community wants to help, what should they do?

DS: Right now, it’s very early days. We have a lot of work to do before we can really engage directly with the community in a structured way, but we plan to once our plans are a little firmer. Watch this space!

* An earlier version of this article listed Daniel Spreadbury as a former programmer on Sibelius. He was not. He was a product manager. We regret the error, although we’re glad the actual Sibelius developers got a laugh out of it.

This One Goes Out To the One I Love

PA

Thanks to services like Facebook and Spotify, you can’t throw a rock these days without hitting a piece of social media revealing the preferred playlists and listening proclivities of family, friends, and associates stretching across several degrees of separation. And it turns out that most people mostly like pop music. But your personal feed might be a bit different. For fans of new music, social listening can be a bit frustrating. When was the last time Spotify told you someone was listening to Charles Ives or John Cage? What about less famous, living composers?

Now it’s our turn to grab the bullhorn by the “on” switch and give a shout out for the adventurous music we wouldn’t want to live without. Why do you love new music? What piece of music has inspired you the most? Why does the world need contemporary music? Pull out your smartphone, fire up your webcam, or turn on your video recorder and start counting. Then upload your video and we’ll add it our list, giving the internet every reason to keep listening.