Notation Software: 5 years on

October 31st 2012 was a pivotal day in the world of notation software

The London office of Sibelius closed its doors for the final time, following Avid’s unpopular summer announcement that development was to be moved to the US and Ukraine.  Alongside the emotional goodbyes, there was a genuine fear amongst Sibelius users that this was the end of the road for productive notation software, such was the proficiency and imagination of the product management and development team that had been let go.

Things got a lot more interesting on 9th November 2012, when it was announced that the now former Sibelius development team were being kept together, now under the employ of Steinberg to develop a brand new notation software package.  This became Dorico, released in October 2016.

In the meantime, Sibelius has received more attention from Avid than some feared, but gained a very controversial new pricing structure in the process.

Five years on from the day that the Sibelius team left Avid seems as good a time as any to review what has gone on within the field in a turbulent five years.

Sibelius

Let’s begin with the product most directly affected by the London team’s departure, Sibelius itself.

It was announced in 2012 that Bobby Lombardi, longtime Product Manager of ProTools, would take over the management of Sibelius, from Avid’s HQ in Daly City.  Sam Butler remained as head of Sibelius support (based in the UK) and took on some of Daniel Spreadbury’s role as the ‘face’ of community interaction.  As revealed during the summer of 2012, a newly-hired development team began work from Ukraine.  In January 2013, an IdeaScale site was set up to crowdsource ideas for future releases, although promised regular blogs from the new development team were never forthcoming (and after just one introductory blog, David Tobin never took up his role as ‘official guest blogger’).

2013 was a very quiet year on the Sibelius front, and it was in January 2014 that we saw the first release from the new team, as documented on this blog at the time.  It was widely considered that Sibelius 7.5 contained code that had been developed by the former team prior to their departure and was, as such, a ‘grab bag’ of features.  Indeed, some of them were not implemented correctly, as ‘offline bounce’ support for audio export was lost as part of the introduction of Sibelius First’s sharing features.  In fairness, the 7.5.1 release ironed these issues out and was one of the most stable releases of Sibelius that there had been to date.

From January 2014, the Sibelius team was re-jigged, with Sam Butler taking on the role of Product Manager and Joe Pearson becoming Product Designer.  Bobbi Lombardi was shortly to leave Avid altogether.  A further development team was assembled in Montreal.  It was interesting to note the appearance that Avid had realised the need to have those familiar with the London Sibelius operation running the show, rather than integrate the product management into Avid’s audio stable at Daly City.

As I stated in my review of Sibelius 7.5, it was what was to come next that was the big challenge for the new team, as they developed featured of their own without relying on existing code.

The next release of Sibelius was therefore hugely disappointing.  My blog post about it received a number of hits (including within Avid) and most respondents agreed with me that the introduction of a new licensing scheme (aligned with practically zero new features) was a poor way to treat users who were already wary of Avid following the events of 2012.

However, since then the Sibelius team have rolled out a slow stream of small (yet useful) updates.  All the Sibelius 8 releases have brought together the following features:

  • Rest collision avoidance in multiple voices
  • Improvements to line alignment
  • The ability to ‘slide’ notes along their rhythmic position
  • A redesign of the Inspector panel
  • Custom staff sizes on a system-by-system basis
  • Magnetic glissandi
  • A new Cloud Sharing platform, replacing the legacy Scorch plugin
  • Various other small improvements and bug fixes

This is not the work of an Avid team that is merely ‘treading water’ as some feared would happen post-2012.  The development team is not merely keeping the application compatible with current operating systems and leaving aside all other development.  There is a product management and development team who are trying to improve Sibelius and acting with the best interests of the product at heart.

Unfortunately for them, the two factors which count against them are the slow release of features, in comparison to the old set-up which knocked out a major release every two years and none of the new features in Sibelius 8 could be compared with the ‘knock out’ features that we used to see in major versions, and the addition of (sometimes quite serious) bugs with the new code.

Nonetheless, one can look at the situation with Sibelius reasonably positively.  The worst case scenario (a full-on asset-stripping of the product by Avid) has not happened, although development over the last five years cannot have said to have gone by entirely flawlessly either.  It will be interesting to see what happens to the product over the next five years, as the new development team can only get more familiar with the codebase and the product.  The product team is being run by good people with the best of intentions.  However, they do now have some stiff competition…

Dorico

Unbeknownst to the general public, whilst the outcry against Avid’s decision to shut the Sibelius office was in full flow, the highly regarded team of developers, testers and product managers were quietly being signed up by Steinberg, makers of Cubase, Nuendo and many other audio technologies.

Daniel Spreadbury, former Product Manager of Sibelius and now Product Marketing Manager for Steinberg began regular blogs about the new software’s development in February 2013.  Gradually, prospective users saw mouthwatering details emerge – of notation details hitherto unexplored in computer engraving and the sheer beauty of Spreadbury’s new ‘Bravura’ font, alongside details of workflow and interface.  Occasional interviews fleshed out details, and it would be fair to say that expectations for this new software package were sky-high.

An announcement of the new software’s name (Dorico, after Valerio Dorico, a sixteenth-century engraver) and release date came in May 2016, and the first version was released in October 2016, after just fewer than four years of development.

Dorico’s key concepts of ‘flows’, ‘players’ and ‘layouts’ enable a far more flexible manner of devising layout than previously.  Additionally, the manner in which the application ‘thinks’ about music is lightyears ahead of Sibelius, with a strong algorithmic understanding of meter and rhythm.  The user interface is very quick, with text-driven ‘popovers’ allowing for quick entry of all musical symbols and notations.  And the final result is simply gorgeous, with minute details far beyond the capabilities of other programs, and with very few tweaks required before print-ready scores and parts.  Of particular note to me, as somebody who frequently has cause to typeset keyboard music, is the deft handling of multiple voices on a staff with deep support for ties and slurs across voices and staves.

Having said this, there were certain elements of the very first release that appeared unfinished – the selection tools were incredibly basic, there was no transpose dialogue, and there were certain operations which ran very slowly.

But there have now been five releases since ‘day one’ and each one has added functionality and stability.  The significant release was 1.1, which brought with it chord symbols, piano pedalling and a whole host of improved editing techniques for Write mode.

Version 1.2 is imminent, bringing with it support for unpitched percussion, cues and fingering, alongside other exciting smaller improvements.  It has been stated that following this release, the team will begin working on Dorico 2.0, which will be a paid update.

I would implore everybody to try out Dorico.  Whilst there are elements of relearning required from Sibelius, I have have found it very intuitive and powerful software, capable of absolutely brilliant results.  Whilst there are still features that Sibelius has and Dorico does not, that gap is narrowing with every release, and when the Dorico team approach a new feature, they knock it out of the park.

If we consider how much Dorico has come on within just one year post release, then it is not hard to imagine what can be achieved in the next few years.  It is very exciting indeed.

It will be interesting to see if Dorico can disrupt the share of the market that Sibelius holds.  It is pretty much ubiquitous in the UK, especially in the educational setting, and whilst Avid has not delivered great improvements over the last 5 years, Sibelius is still a very mature and competent product.  It will take a great effort to displace it as the scorewriter of choice, and I am fascinated to see how Steinberg succeed in taking their place in the market.  Let’s not beat about the bush – Dorico deserves to be front-and-centre and I very much hope they achieve it.

It will be very interesting to see what occurs over the next five years – will Avid stick with it for the long haul, and will we see an upward curve for Sibelius updates?  Or will Dorico take over number one in the UK market?  One thing is for certain – there is going to be more updates available to users available in the next five years than the previous five (as Sibelius regrouped with a new team and Dorico was built from scratch) – and I can’t wait!

 

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Why and how we should take notice of the BBC’s ‘star’ pay

This is a very different blog post to the one that I thought I would write on the matter of the BBC’s payment to their ‘top talent’, revealed yesterday as part of their Annual Report. I am a staunch defender of the BBC, gladly pay my license fee, and consider their output in so many different spheres to be unparalleled.  I thought that I would be writing an article defending the ‘talent’ fees, saying that I was uncomfortable with their release and defending the BBC’s actions.

Whilst there’ll still be a bit of that in the article below, as I look for caveats and explanations for the cold numbers, the one aspect of the reveal that genuinely shocked me was the wide gender pay gap.  This is unacceptable in 2017 and it is my hope that the forced reveal of the BBC’s fees can lead to reform in the BBC and across the media industry (as, let’s face it, the BBC will not be alone with this terrible disparity of payment between men and women).  Whilst we will come onto this in due course, let’s begin by ‘zooming out’ and looking at the background to yesterday’s announcement.

Why the reveal?

It is widely considered by the industry as a whole that the forced ‘reveal’ of talent fees (as part of the new BBC Royal Charter) is unhelpful – it will lead to inflation across the board of what talent is paid.  There are two sides to this particular argument – on one level, you have to accept that the BBC (despite its status as a publicly-owned broadcaster) exists in a private marketplace alongside ITV, Sky and many others.  Therefore, it simply must operate on the same terms to these broadcasters when it comes to ‘commercial’ properties – sports rights, talent and other such things.  ITV are beholden to their shareholders only – if they feel it is right to pay And & Dec more than £12 million per year, and their shareholders agree that this is the correct course of action for the business, then that is what will happen.  Whilst the BBC’s funding model is different, it exists in the same market as ITV and thus it needs to play by the same rules.

The alternative argument is that if the BBC is using public money, that public money needs to be justified.  They have revealed executive payments for a number of years (ever since Mark Byford’s pay-out back in 2010 has executive pay been a burden for the BBC’s public image) and the Conservative government has now dictated ‘talent’ fees to also be revealed.  ‘The public needs to know to whom their money is going,’ the argument goes, and whilst there is an element of truth to this,  I think it is not controversial to say that this is a policy brought in to deliberately weaken the BBC against commercial rivals.  John Whittingdale (former Culture Secretary, responsible for this Charter Renewal negotiation) clearly believes that the BBC, as a public broadcaster, should be smaller, leaner and less competitive with commercial rivals.  That is his (and his party’s) ideological position and it is from this background that we saw yesterday’s announcement.

Whilst it is perfectly desirable that the BBC is given a greater degree of scrutiny, this scrutiny should not directly lead to a weakening of the BBC in the commercial marketplace in which they operate, and there is a very real chance of the ‘talent’ reveal doing this.

Why so much money?

Let me tell you a true story.

The year is 2006 and Chris Evans is returning to the public consciousness following his well-publicised fall from grace in the early-00s.  He currently hosts a weekly show on Radio 2, which is becoming well-received by the listeners.  All is going swimmingly, when he is called into a meeting by his agent.  As Evans documents in his 2010 book Memoirs of a Fruitcake, it is with an unnamed commercial radio manager:

In a nutshell, [the radio station manager] wanted me to take over the reins of something that was once great but was currently fading, in an attempt to make it great again. I thought about what he had said for all of a second before informing him that though I was honestly flattered, I was very happy working for the BBC and although I was only appearing on a weekly basis, I hoped it would lead to more. It wasn’t about the money so much as the platform. Unpeturbed, he then told us about the money. Suddenly it did matter. No wonder he had been cocksure, with that showstopper up his sleeve.

Now here is the thing. I loved my Radio 2 show. I’d received more-than-favourable reviews and I could feel the audience beginning to forgive me my mistakes of the past. I also felt a deep loyalty to Lesley for believing in me, not to mention a growing bond with Helen, who had given up the chance of working on much bigger shows to help me with mine. But the job the man was offering was one of the best in the land, and for a truckload of cash.

Evans, Chris. Memoirs of a Fruitcake (pp. 243-244). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.

To cut a long story short, Chris Evans went to his Radio 2 bosses (the aforementioned Lesley Douglas and Helen Thomas) with news of his offer from commercial radio.  In return, they offered him the daily ‘Drivetime’ show with the opportunity to take over from Terry Wogan at breakfast if all went according to plan – and the rest is history.  There is no doubt that Evans was offered less money by the BBC, but he remained at the Beeb because he enjoyed the platform and loved the radio station.

(It is widely considered that this unnamed radio show was the Capital Breakfast Show, then the domain of Johnny Vaughan.  As it happened, Vaughan remained as host of the show for a number of years.)

It’s quite clear that had Evans taken the offer from commercial radio, he would have been paid more than he is even today by the BBC.  In order to remain competitive with star talent like Chris Evans, the BBC do need to pay fees that are ‘in step’, if lower, than commercial media.  The BBC have the platform and the reputation, but those alone are not enough for talent.  Talent do need to be paid a competitive rate, or they would all desert the BBC for commercial pastures.


This is where I thought my article would finish – as you can see, I don’t have any particular problem with the money paid to ‘talent’ by the BBC, given the way the media industry operates.  But I didn’t account for the astonishing pay gap between men and women.  I was shocked to see the figures, and was determined to do some further analysis behind these disquieting figures.


The Gender Pay Gap

The headline figures do not look good.  They do not look good at all.

  • Chris Evans (the highest paid male at the BBC) earns over £2,000,000
  • Claudia Winkleman (the highest paid female) earns below £500,000
  • Winkleman is joint eighth in the ‘rich list’
  • The top seven are all male

It’s worth spelling those facts out because there is no excusing them.  They are shocking and I hope the level of public outrage that has been seen over the last 24 hours will encourage things to be rectified across the media industry as this is simply not good enough.  End of.

But, for my sins, I am naturally inclined to think critically about these kind of emotional reactions (as I had when seeing the figures), and the first question that springs to mind is, ‘are there any reasonable justifications for this’?

The first obvious answer is that Chris Evans works very hard and does more hours than Claudia Winkleman.  He is contracted to Radio 2 for 35 weeks a year to do a three-hour breakfast show.  It is the most listened-to breakfast show in Europe and the highest profile programme on BBC Radio in the entertainment genre.

In addition, for the year that the report covers, he was responsible (as lead presenter and creative lead) for one of the BBC’s most important entertainment franchises, Top Gear.  Naturally, this role would have been well-paid.  The BBC needed Chris Evans to take over Top Gear more than Chris Evans needed the BBC to ask him.  Given all the utter nonsense that he had to put up with from the press with regards his private and professional life in the first half of 2016, you can see how this figure begins to be justified.  Evans was beginning work at 6am at Radio 2, finishing at Top Gear at 3.30pm, all whilst doing lots of high-profile filming abroad and the press reporting his every move in a negative light.

We now, of course, know that Top Gear with Evans did not work out and he is no longer responsible for the show.  It remains to be seen whether or not this will impact his earnings when next year’s report comes out.  Equally, we know that Matt LeBlanc was paid by BBC Worldwide for his part in Top Gear, as he does not feature in the list.  Therefore, it is possible that this figure for Chris Evans is only for his Radio 2 work and he was paid for Top Gear through BBC Worldwide.  I would consider this unlikely, but we will only know for certain when next year’s report is released.

In comparison, Claudia Winkleman hosts Strictly Come Dancing for three months a year, she is regular host of the Film programme and hosts a weekly Radio 2 arts programme.  I am sure that she has other commitments, which I don’t know of, but she is hardly as ubiquitous as Evans and nor is her work as high-profile, although Strictly is clearly a very important show for the BBC.  In a sense, this excuses the pay differential.

Except it doesn’t.

Why isn’t there a female across the BBC with the portfolio and profile of Chris Evans?  Or Gary Lineker?  Or Huw Edwards?

I am convinced that the problem isn’t really that women are paid less than men at the BBC to do the same job (although I have no doubt that this does go on and is inexcusable).  No, the problem is that men are still being given the ‘plum jobs’ and are being rewarded handsomely for it.

The second critical question to these figures that I asked myself was, ‘Is this an anomaly?’  ‘Has there previously been a female who has earned more than Winkleman does now?’

I can’t think of one (if you can, please comment below!) – whilst previous doyens of BBC light entertainment such as Jeremy Clarkson and Terry Wogan would have been on this list in years gone by, I can’t think of a female who would have been.

Therefore, I see the pay as a symptom of women not being given the same wide portfolio as men at the BBC.  And when they do, they must be paid equally.

Now, gender isn’t the only gap here.  Gary Lineker is clearly paid more than other BBC Sport presenters because he is a former England footballer, doesn’t ‘need’ to do the BBC job (he is not a journalist by trade) and he has become a very important BBC face.  Whilst Sue Barker is an excellent television presenter (technically superior to Lineker in many ways), she does not have the same profile and therefore it is unexpected that she would not quite receive the same pay packet.  This is a sad indictment of the profile of women’s tennis (the sport from which Barker is a former professional) versus men’s football.  But Barker should be high up on that list as a principal presenter for BBC Sport and she isn’t, which is deeply disquieting.

I am not pretending, incidentally, that gender is the only problem.  The lack of BAME personnel is also disturbing and the BBC needs to address this in the same manner as the gender gap.

Solutions?

It’s easy to say that the solution to the ‘talent list’ gender problem is simply to ‘pay women the same as men’.  Well, yes, of course.  I am not arguing against that.

But if the BBC paid their female talent the same as they pay their male talent on a pro-rata basis, then the list wouldn’t look hugely different.  The real problem is one of superiority of profile for men.  Chris Evans is paid the most because he is the most high-profile (on a pro-rata basis) BBC entertainment presenter.  Why isn’t there a woman with a similar portfolio to him who earns the same?

That is the question that needs to be answered.  We can’t see a solution overnight, but we have to hope that with each passing year of the BBC’s Annual Report being published, the disparities decrease.  And, moreover, we need to see more females in high-profile entertainment and news positions across the BBC – and we need to ensure that they are paid properly for it, too.

Eurovision woes

So I have an admission to make.  I really, really like the Eurovision Song Contest.  It appeals to the broadcasting geek in me, I enjoy the format and I like the variety of different songs from across Europe (and the opportunity to be sarcastic whilst watching it).  It’s become a little ritual for me to discuss the virtues (or otherwise!) of our entry each year with a very good friend (the man responsible for getting me interested in Eurovision, in fact).  This year we had a disagreement – I thought our song was our best entry in years and would finish at least in the top-half.  He didn’t.  Guess who was right.

To be fair, though, I felt my position shifting as soon as I saw the performance on the night.

 

Let’s hand it to Joe and Jake – they delivered an excellent live vocal and a passionate performance.  They couldn’t have given it any more.  But the staging and, more importantly, the television direction was straight from a contest 15 years ago.  As you saw the other acts, many of them used the floor projection very effectively.  Many used a front-projecting screen (aping the winning entry from last year, but Russia did go beyond beyond that and I’m not surprised that their innovative staging coupled to a not un-catchy song won the televote).  Others used very fast cutting and DVE effects that looked like an MTV concert edit from the late-90s.  But, still, they grabbed your attention.  They told a story.

Compare the edits and staging from other entries in this recap video to our entry above.  All of a sudden, the lack of engagement with the televote audience made sense (we did reasonably alright with the juries which backs up my argument that this was a decent pop song well performed).

The staging first up.  Whilst the fuzz back lights are snazzy, and look particularly good from the low angle, there is no development in the staging beyond this.  The pictures behind Joe and Jake are apparently selfies that the boys took during their promotional tour.  This isn’t obvious, and looks incredibly amateurish in comparison to how other countries were using the back-projected screen.  It reminds me of how countries were using the back screens when they were new on the scene a decade ago.  Whilst I don’t mind the concept of the two drummers being on the stage, there is again no progression in their part of the act.  The whole staging just boils down to the two boys singing the song, basically standing still in one place.  There’s no direction to the performance.

So, onto the shooting script.  The television direction needed to tell a story, it needed to engage the viewer with Joe and Jake.  Unfortunately, it did precisely the opposite.  The mix-through to the one-shot at the start isn’t bad, but when we get to the chorus, there are too many cuts from close-ups to mid-shots, seemingly at random.  What’s worse is that when we get to the ‘drop’ at the second chorus (1.43 on the YouTube video), we have a crash-zoom away from the performers, cutting to a wide shot and slow zoom in on the spider-cam.  Surely, this is precisely the opposite of what the direction should be doing.  There are too many flying wide-shots during this chorus and the same happens at the third chorus.  There should surely be a cut into a mid-shot as the pyros go off, then cuts alongside the pyro flashes at 2.45, rather than just tracking a mid-shot.  Then the embrace of the performers at the end into the close-up is just cringeworthy.

Compare this direction with the quick cuts of Cyprus or the use of the floor projection by France or Lithuania, to name but two.

It’s interesting to note that the same problem befell us in 2014.  We sent a strong song, one that was expected to do very well.  But the staging was very lacklustre and the shooting script suffering the same issues.  (Plus, I don’t think Molly delivered her best performance on the night).  This video discusses the issues with the 2014 shooting script.

Last year’s entry from the UK, whilst being a little quirky musically, had a more innovative approach to staging and shooting script.  Which is why I am disappointed that we appear to have gone back to square one this year, especially as we had advanced in other ways.  Sony were on board to assist with promotion, therefore one would have expected the song to have received decent radio airplay across the continent (vitally important to cementing the song in the ears of the audience before the night itself).  The song was A-playlisted on Radio 2 (in comparison to Electro Velvet, which only got C-listed last year), although it’s worth noting that it hasn’t charted yet – although that may change now the contest has taken place.  Keep an eye on the Top 100 on Friday, folks!

It’s also worth pointing out the old adage that we are on an island.  Our musical exports go across continental Europe 364 other days a year.  Whereas the Scandinavian countries will know of each other’s Eurovision entries, have got used to supporting each other’s songs.  It’s a shared culture that we in the UK are slightly apart from.  It’s not ‘political’ for the Eastern European counties to give each other televotes, nor the Scandinavian countries to do likewise.  Nor, indeed, for Ireland, Malta and Australia to give us points (the only three countries in the televote to do so this year).  It’s cultural similarity, and our culture doesn’t quite fit into the Eurovision culture as much as those other countries.

The only time in recent years when Britain has done well is 2009, when we sent Andrew Lloyd-Webber (we came 5th) and then 2011, when we sent Blue (we came 11th, but would have come 5th based on the televote – there are rumours that Blue performed poorly in the jury-marked rehearsal which affected the outcome somewhat).  When we have sent names that people know, we have done OK.  But sending a fresh artist clearly has not worked.

I would defend ‘You’re Not Alone’ musically.  It was a decent song (the kind of thing we should be sending), well performed.  I maintain that our (yet again) poor showing was a result of the poor staging and shooting script and the fact that our culture is cut-off from continental Europe in many ways.

Whatever happens, I am not one of those who advocates pulling out of the contest.  It’s a terrific night’s entertainment, discussing the post-mortems of yet another British embarrassment is part of the fun, and it would be nowhere near as engaging without British participation.

Onto 2017, I guess.  Your go, Ukraine…

Life is a Carnival – the story of the 1999 Cricket World Cup official song

When a cricket aficionado talks about England’s early exit from their home World Cup in 1999, it is a cliché to refer to the host nation being knocked out ‘the day before the official song came out’.  But the song itself has been rather hard to track down – whilst a recycled version of the song (more on that later) has been widely available on YouTube for years, only yesterday did I finally stumble across the original music video.

The song is infamous for selling dreadfully – it failed to chart (whereas the unofficial Barmy Army single ‘Come on England’ did at least reach number 45) and it became part of the unsuccessful tournament’s legacy when nostalgic fans talk about organisational difficulties.  Having said that, the music was used by Sky Sports as the theme tune for their tournament coverage (the BBC sticking with the traditional Soul Limbo) and Sky wheeled out the music again for World Cup campaigns in 2003 and 2007 and for the 2004 Champions Trophy (hosted in England).  Cricket writers at the time sneered at the song for failing to mention cricket or the world cup tournament at all.  In fairness, the song does echo the tournament’s stapline (the ‘Carnival of Cricket’) and it does have a catchy and rather jaunty feel to it (if you ignore the dreadful treatment of ‘Ode to Joy’ running underneath).

This article from the Independent’s Stephen Brenkley reveals the organisational naïvety of the ECB, allowing the song to launch after the tournament’s group stages and in failing to secure a live performance of the song as part of the opening ceremony.  (To be fair, given the appalling PA system at said ceremony, had they booked Dave Stewart to perform he would have been inaudible anyway.)

The press conference in which the music video was revealed is discussed in Marcus Trescothick’s autobiography (as Trescothick was not an England cricketer at the time, this was presumably an anecdote that ghostwriter Peter Hayter was very keen to include in the book!).  Apparently, the collected gathering of Her Majesty’s Press was stunned into silence by the utterly bizarre visuals that unfolded in front of them.  And, having finally found this unusual piece of English cricket history last night, I can see why.

I do not know what on earth the tournament organisers were thinking allowing this piece of film to be the official music video of the ‘Carnival of Cricket’.  Whilst it is supposed to be a parody of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the visuals are grotesque, horrible and (arguably) offensive.  Carnival of cricket, indeed – let’s celebrate the great game by showing a group of caricature ‘patients’ from a psychiatric hospital invading a cricket pitch, running away from doctors and nurses and finally seeing the lead singer being led away in handcuffs as police sirens scream.  I would love to have been a fly on the wall in the meeting in which this music video was revealed to the ECB.  I wonder which hapless executive signed it off.  They are lucky that it was not more widely aired – I think it is an utterly disgraceful music video for such a tournament, and it was certainly misguided, to say the least.  (To think, Shaggy’s Game of Love and Unity release for the 2007 tournament was derided – at least it was innocent and naff!)

But that’s not the end of the story where this song is concerned.  Apart from its continued airings on Sky Sports whenever a global cricket tournament came along, the song was rewritten to be part of the soundtrack to the 2004 Disney film Around the World in 80 Days.

A more conventional music video this time.  And this is the version that has been available on YouTube for years.  No more mention of life being a carnival, but the ‘all over the world’ hook is, of course, suitable for the storyline of the film.  The film was a box-office flop and received very poor reviews from the critics, which seems somewhat fitting with the song’s origins at the 1999 Cricket World Cup.

Coincidentally, the theme music used by Sky (and the World Feed) for the 2011 World Cup sounds like it could be a development of this version of the song (although I am pretty sure it wasn’t a deliberate choice at all).

So, there you have it.  One of English cricket’s more bizarre pieces of memorabilia.  And the next time a cricket columnist discusses the 1999 World Cup song (I suspect it will come up once or twice in 2019, when the tournament returns to England), here is all the information you could ever wish to know about it.

Sibelius’ new pricing arrangement – my reaction

UPDATE: Following the publication of this article on Saturday night, Sam Butler (Sibelius product manager) has been good enough to comment regarding the issues raised.  His full comment is below this article, but I would like to draw your attention to this part of his reply, which confirms that part of the post below is actually incorrect:

You mention there’s a decision Sibelius users have to make at the end of this quarter. That isn’t quite right. Of course, they can upgrade to get the latest features for £70, which will include a year of upgrades and support, or they can wait for more features we release over the coming year. When they upgrade then, they will receive a year of upgrades and support from that point on. There’s no hard cut-off date coming at the end of this quarter.

With regard to the potential problem with changes to the file format, we are planning infrastructure that will mean this won’t be a problem and will be completely seamless to the user so anyone can open any version of Sibelius file (after v7.5 of course and we’ll keep in the ‘Export to Previous Version’ for those users).

For major changes to Sibelius to update the core technology we use and to introducing big new features, we are already fluid enough to split the development team so some will work on the next point release and others will work on the next release after that (or even further down the line). We’ve already tried and tested this with splitting the team across our two major projects, Sibelius Cloud Publishing and Sibelius itself.

Thank you to Sam for taking the time to reply to this, and I am grateful for the flexibility being shown here, which wasn’t initially evident from the page on Avid’s website where I took my information from.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:

It has been announced tonight that a Sibelius update is being released this quarter, alongside a change to the licensing arrangements.  It is a massive change and, in my view, entirely for the negative.

Before I begin, let me state that I have an immense amount of respect for both Sam Butler or Joe Pearson (the main twosome behind Sibelius these days) and I don’t wish for this article to come across as an ad hominem to them.  They are both honourable men with the interests of the product and its community at heart and Sibelius users are fortunate to have them at the helm, following the events of 2012.  But I have no positive words to say about today’s announcement.

In short, Sibelius is moving in line with Avid’s policy (following similar propositions from other software vendors) of offering a subscription licensing option.  That is fine by me – the cost of £23 per month or £190 per year to use the software seems pretty fair (given the £550 price tag for a full license), and users these days welcome this flexibility.  Indeed, far be it from me to decry Avid to give users further licensing options. But the manner in which the ‘perpetual licence’ (i.e. a permanently licensed version of Sibelius, as Sibelius Software and now Avid have sold for the past 16 years) is being treated is, quite frankly, a disgrace. In short, those who own Sibelius will need to make a decision when this new pricing is launched later this quarter:

  • either you elect there and then to pay an annual support and maintenance fee of £70 per annum (which will entitle you to all updates)
  • or you choose not to and never have the right to an upgrade again, without either buying a new subscription outright or paying the full £550 again for a perpetual licence.

If the user ever chooses not to pay the annual fee then they never have that option again – they are either obliged to go down the subscription route (paying £190 per annum for use of the software and the right to use the software expires at the end of that year) or buy an entirely new licence outright. Frankly, this is incredible.  After the 2012 debacle, Avid have just about managed to keep users on-side, largely owing to the good natured manner of the Sibelius community.  Sibelius 7.5 has been a stable and successful release (bearing in mind the caveat that the majority of the features were developed by the old team before their dismissal, and were just polished up into a new release by the new team), with few bugs and a good level of support.  But, with this move, Avid are destroying users’ confidence again at a stroke.  They are saying to all users – many of whom have used Sibelius for many, many years – that they don’t care for how long they have held a licence, they don’t care how often they have upgraded to new versions and how much this has cost.  They don’t care – they just want their money.

The Update Paradigm problem

Much of this problem stems not from the introduction of the subscription pricing, but from a new paradigm of managing updates.  Instead of releasing a new, numbered version of Sibelius every other year, which has been the way in which the software has been managed since the release of Sibelius 2 in 2001, Avid now wish to release smaller updates more regularly.  The headline version numbers will become a thing of the past.  Quite aside from any debate about pricing, I am not a fan of this system.

I would far rather have a nice package appear every two years – it has always been the case that some new features within a new version would appeal to some users and others wouldn’t – but the user has known where they stand.  Every odd-numbered summer, Sibelius would release a new version, there would be an element of relearning the program required, and we could expect the world (just about) to move on with us.  Now it is going to be far more haphazard.

Take the file format with regard to version numbers.  If they go down the road of Chrome and Firefox, moving up a whole version for a tiny change, who will know when the file format will change with it?  At the moment it’s straight forward – the version number is part of the brand of the product, so everyone knows which Sibelius version they have.  “Are you on 7, yet?”  can be met with a knowing reply of “Nope, I’m still on 6” or “No, I’m lagging behind on 5”.  You could easily ask a colleague or collaborator, and – boom – one export later you were sorted out.  How will it work now?  “Ooh, I’ll just need to check my software package – where will it tell me, again?” Plus, the proposed steady drip of features suggests that game changing features, the type for which Sibelius was once known, will be few and far between.  Take Dynamic Parts – a key innovation that revolutionised scoring software – you can’t really imagine that just dribbling down in an update one day, can you?  Or Magnetic Layout?  Or a massive UI change and full rewrite, like Sibelius 7 was.  Although the reaction to 7 has been mixed, it was entirely necessary to rewrite the entire software package for the early 2010s.  Another rewrite like that will be necessary one day.  And it will be really hard to achieve if the objective is to push out small updates every few months.  Such a model works with a web browser or small app.  It (in my view) does not for serious productivity software. I would prefer the developers to work on a new ‘package’ and release it that way with a major version number.  Although perhaps I am just stuck in the noughties with my update preferences.

If today’s pricing announcement had come along with a killer update, then I might be more amenable to it.  Had twe seen something that could be reasonably called a major update, including widely-requested notation and workflow features (features such as better tuplet integration, tidying up of lines, more flexibility when it comes to staff sizes, smart dynamic parts) and released that alongside a new pricing structure then, you know, I might have jumped in feet first.  But what do we have.  Some cool touchscreen and tablet stuff, sure.  But I will never own a Surface, so all those features (although they do look flashy) are useless to me.  New updates from the Neurotron team – well, I’ve never used either of those products, so those are useless to me.  I’m on Mac, so the Windows DPI scaling feature doesn’t affect me. What will I be getting? Just multi-touch gestures and slightly redesigned UI elements (the keypad and transport panels, specifically) for my troubles.  We used to get more than this in a .1 update from the old team! I remember Sibelius 6.2 that brought in a whole host of features – none of them headline, all tweaks – but loads of things that were really useful.  And the only feature I am getting with a new pricing package is a new keypad view?!  It doesn’t bode well, does it?

The Pricing problem

It is this new approach to updating that has caused the licensing options to go awry.  For, if there is no longer going to be a major update that one would purchase outright (whether that be as a new licence, or as an upgrade), how do you monetise a series of smaller updates?  This is where the subscription package comes in.  Plus, if one were to cancel their annual updates fee (following the purchase of a perpetual licence) and only re-purchase once an update they wants comes along, this would hardly be fair to other users who pay the bill annually whatever. It needs to be said that the addition of the subscription model does not significantly change the perpetual license model that we have had for many years.  It would be perfectly possible to come up with a price point whereby the users who elected to pay a monthly or yearly subscription would be paying more overall than those who purchased a perpetual license and then purchased the upgrade licence for new versions. No, it is this new ‘accelerated update’ paradigm that is driving this pricing change.

What offends me is the two-fingers up to users who have used the software for many years.  If we elect not to pay £70 in June (or whenever this change will be made) then the only option to upgrade to a new Sibelius version is to either buy the product again from scratch or effectively do the same via the subscription model. I have already stated that I will be a day one purchaser of the new Steinberg application (being worked on by Daniel Spreadbury and the rest of the team that used to make Sibelius, before Avid let them go in 2012) and this has just made me more determined to do so.  Having said that, however little I want to, it is financially prudent for me to pay the £70 per annum fee, just in case Sibelius 7.5 is one day broken by a Mac OS update or similar.  Or to keep up with file format changes.  Or, you never know, there might be a killer feature turn up one day. But I am sorely tempted not to and to refuse to upgrade Sibelius again.  Frankly, I think that’s what Avid deserve from this.

It could be argued that Sibelius died in 2012.  It has been kept on life support since then.  Today might just be the day when the ventilator was turned off.

England at the Cricket World Cup

And I am actually fairly positive about the 2015 World Cup.  For once, England are not coming straight out of a tiring Ashes campaign and the Australian conditions should play to their strengths.  If England can keep this same band of players together, bringing in new talent and developing the youngsters (such as Jos Buttler) then they have a real chance of at least making the final, I would say.

Me, June 2013

Not my finest prediction. Whoops.

I set this blog up almost exactly four years ago to have a moan about England’s World Cup performances last time around.  And I wrote a post that discussed past performances and how England have attempted to move things on after each failed campaign.  So I won’t rehash that again.

But, I do want to examine where this four-year cycle has fallen apart.  England turned up to this World Cup with a captain who was appointed in December, who had no say over his squad and with (what can politely described as) a muddled selection policy.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  Don’t forget, the Ashes cycle was disrupted in order to aid preparation for this tournament (so that England didn’t go from an away Ashes tour straight into a World Cup).

It is not a new phenomenon for a desire for rebuilding after a failed World Cup campaign – I detailed a number of them in my post four years ago.  Notably, Michael Vaughan deliberately selected a young team in the 2003 NatWest Series in order to put together the rump of a side that would challenge in 2007.  And then, after the unsuccessful 2007 campaign, a separate ODI captain (Paul Collingwood) was appointed to build towards the 2011 tournament.  Of course, neither plan really came to fruition.  Michael Vaughan’s injury problems meant that he came into the 2007 tournament without having built the team around him.  And then, Paul Collingwood’s resignation in 2008 meant that the test team came first once again, as a united captaincy was seen as the way forward for a fractured dressing room.

Alastair Cook’s appointment in 2011 was a blatant attempt maintain a connection the Test and ODI sides.  Cook was the heir-apparent to Strauss with the Test captaincy and the ODI team was seen as a way for him to gain some leadership experience.  Many people remarked at the time how it seemed wrong for a player who had not even been selected for the World Cup was now appointed captain of the team.  The alternative argument was that with Strauss’ retirement, Cook would fulfil the same role that Strauss had played at the top of the order.  It was fair enough to give Cook a chance, and the initial results were good, with series wins over Sri Lanka and India.  It, of course, was the case that in the mid-00s, England would periodically perform well in their own conditions, so this was nothing new, but at least the team was playing well.

England’s 5-0 series loss in India in late-2011 was a blow, and a sign that this was a team that were not quite world beaters.  But, the side was depleted (with players who played across formats being rested), and England at least righted wrongs against Pakistan (in the UAE) in 2012.  A series win against the West Indies, and a drawn series against South Africa at home in 2012 led England to the top of the ODI world rankings.

At this point, England’s ODI cricket appeared to be in decent shape.  A team was evolving, based around Cook and Trott anchoring the batting (with flair players batting around them), and bowling from Anderson, Finn, Dernbach and others.  Whilst they were playing a particular ‘brand’ of ODI cricket that didn’t always come off, they were at least being successful more often than not.  At this stage in a World Cup-cycle, England appeared to be in a good shape.  This was reinforced by their 2013 Champions Trophy showing, where they were runners up, and arguably should have won a close final against India.

But, I would suggest that this was where things began to go wrong, half-way through the four-year World Cup cycle.  Australia beating England in the ODI series at the end of the 2013 summer was a blow, but English cricket as a whole was blown away by the mauling by Australia in the 2013/14 Ashes.  Unfortunately, this had ramifications to the ODI team, as well as the test team.  Cook’s confidence was shattered as captain, and the whole England team were falling apart.  Destruction at the hands of Australia, was followed by a poor showing in the 2014 summer.  This is when England should have acted and replaced Cook as ODI captain at the start of the 2014 summer.  At this point, it was far enough away from the World Cup to be a viable move, and it would have regenerated the ODI team ahead of the World Cup build-up.

What has happened in the recent months has been well-documented.  However, it seemed that between 2011 and 2013 England were going in the right direction with their ODI cricket (as I argued in the quoted blog post from June 2013).  It has been the last year in which the damage has been done and, again, England will crash out of the World Cup, in all likelihood without beating a test playing nation.  Once again, the four year cycle has not ended the way it was intended to – England’s plans have gone awry.

So, what next?  I strongly feel that the ODI team should be run separately to the test team, with a different captain and not necessarily the same players.  Morgan should stay on as captain, at least for now, and mould the team around him.  Get an attacking brand of cricket going.  Then, at some point before 2019, if it looks like Morgan will not last the distance, replace him as captain with Root.  Players can come and go within the cycle, that’s fine, but get the brand of cricket established and don’t let the fortunes of the test team get in the way.

The 2019 World Cup will be the first held in England for 20 years and wouldn’t it be good if England could compete for the first time since 1992 on the biggest stage of all?  The foundations need to be laid now, and England shouldn’t be distracted from the course by the fortunes of the test match team.

End of 2014

Exactly five years ago, I was sat at this desk reading through a welter of Facebook posts celebrating the end of a decade.  Such milestones inevitably draw one’s thoughts towards the future, and I was acutely aware that not only was I unsure of where I would be in 10 years time, I also had no idea where I would be in just 12 months time.

Well, five years on, I can safely say that the last five years have been utterly fantastic.  From finishing off my A levels at Ipswich School, to an immensely fulfilling gap-year at Tewkesbury Abbey to student life in all its glories at Worcester College.  I could not have imagined that I would have had so many wonderful experiences in just a few short years.

This year was particularly special – my time at Oxford drew to a close with a madly busy six months for the Chapel Choirs of Worcester College – two recordings, a broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and a concert at St John’s Smith Square were the special projects, alongside daily music making with treasured friends and colleagues.  A tour to Rome finished my time with the choirs, and it is somewhat surreal to consider that my final ‘gig’ with Worcester College was directing the Boys’ Choir at Mass in the Vatican!  And just as special are weekly pattern of evensongs, the regular socialising with many great people, the chance to study a subject that I love at this level.  Oxford was everything I hoped it would be, if not more so.

Over the last four months, I have enjoyed being part of one of the country’s leading cathedral music departments, at Wells.  To observe such fantastic musicianship at close quarters has been fantastic and I have learnt so much already from the superlative musicians who are present.  I am looking forward to my remaining six months at Wells a huge amount.

So this half of the decade ends the way it began – I have no idea where I will be in twelve months time, let alone a few years.  Time to hang on and enjoy the ride again – here we go, 2015!

Have a good one! x

Apologies for the navel-gazing post. There won’t be another one for at least another five years. Promise.