SmartMusic 10 M.I.A.

For months, MakeMusic has been saying SmartMusic 10 is coming. The amount of hype they have been making is akin to Microsoft and it’s “new” Vista operating system. MakeMusic hasn’t even updated the current version of SmartMusic to handle files generated by Finale 2007 which was released way back in August. To create files, you need to have 2006 still installed on your computer.

The other day, I received a packet from MakeMusic. I was shocked. It looked like SmartMusic 10 had been release. Alas, it was not. Instead of spending money getting the stupid program out, they chose to spend quite a bit of money to continue the “hype” of the vaporware SmartMusic 10. This packet probably cost $10 to put together. Perhaps more.

Let us examine the contents of this “hype” package….

First, there is the letter by John Paulson, CEO of MakeMusic. To paraphrase, he’s pleased to introduce version 10 and it’s FREE web component SmartMusic Impact. Yada Yada. No Child left behind age. Post assignments, email alerts when due. It will assess their performance and manage grades and recordings. (Oh joy, I can’t wait to see how they do this…..they have such a great interface in version 9).

Nothing really gleamed from his letter.

Next piece of paper, SmartMusic 10 Fact Sheet. SmartMusic 10 includes

  • 200 new concert band, jazz ensemble and orchestra titles that use professional quality audio recordings. That should be interesting. Plus, they come with on-screen notation and tempo control. Sounds great. I’m keeping the fact sheet to keep you guys honest MakeMusic.
  • New content every month. “Look for at least 60 new ensemble titles every month. More advanced repertoire schedule for this summer.” Whoa. Since SmartMusic 9’s repertoire has languished for a while, this will be interesting. Can they really deliver what they promise? I’m thinking not, looking at their track record so far.
  • MakeMusic is going to provide free, secure servers use for teachers and students to transfer files back and forth. No email. To me, that sounds a little funny. What about privacy? What about making sure MakeMusic doesn’t do anything with any of the recordings that are stored there? There are a lot of details that are left out.
  • All of SmartMusic’s repertoire can be made into assignments. Now that should be interesting. A lot of the accompaniment files, in fact, a majority of them, do not have on-screen notation. How are people going to make assignments off of those? Should be interesting.
  • Easily save recordings and assessment information to create digital portfolios. On your computer? On MakeMusic’s secure server? No details.
  • Finally….SmartMusic can play any recording at any speed and any key. You can make a recording of your ensemble and play it back at slower tempo to study technique and ensemble issues. Ok. Considering I could not get my MOTU 828 firewire interface to work with SmartMusic, but could get it to work with every other program on my Mac, is MakeMusic expecting users to use that crappy little microphone they sell? Seriously? It is March 25. MakeMusic, April 1 is still a week away. The slowing down of audio, pitch and key control sounds good. But, there are a ton of programs ranging from Free to $50+ that do this very, very well. Are users going to be able to save the files? Store the files? Is SmartMusic 10 going to support MP3 files? Non-protected AAC files (ie: music ripped in iTunes MP4 (AAC) but not bought from the iTunes store (no DRM))? WAV or AIFF files? Directly from CD?
  • Shipping in the next several weeks. Can we be more vague? April? May? June? No idea. The MakeMusic forums don’t hint at anything either.

Looking at MakeMusic’s Fourth Quarter And Fiscal Year 2006 Results, it seems they are hopeful of success. What I would like is a program that works better. For all the things I have generated in SmartMusic, are they going to sound better? Am I going to be able to hear real instrument samples playing them now? Doubtful. Am I going to be able to use Garritan or something to generate the sounds? Doubtful. I think the existing SmartMusic library will still be hobbled by the 90s video game sound library they use. Upgrading the sounds that SmartMusic 10 uses would have been a huge update, and probably touched upon in the Fact Sheet.

I would be happy if they redid their crappy user interface. If anything screams Microsoft more than MakeMusic missing shipping dates and promising everything, is the user interface. Slow, poorly thought out. Major attention needs to be focused to it.

I would also be happy if they could get other interfaces to work with the recording part of SmartMusic. Like I said, my MOTU 828 will not record at all in SmartMusic. It plays through it fine. No recording.

I’m not hopeful that I will see SmartMusic 10 anytime before June. It really is starting to sound like a Microsoft product, promising the world, but giving you a grainy fax copy of a bad picture of the world. I would be delighted to see them actually deliver what they are promising.

4 thoughts on “SmartMusic 10 M.I.A.”

  1. MakeMusic has been demonstrating SmartMusic 10 at educator conferences, and as someone who has seen it, I can attest to it both not being vaporware as well as it having the features the mailer you received claims. The ensemble audio accompaniments alone will make this the most helpful upgrade to date for teachers. SmartMusic Impact (the assignment web application) seems like it will be a great way to acquire and manage student recordings.

    A few points on your comments:

    1. Considering that the company has for years been trusted with credit card numbers for payments, worrying that the company is going to steal recordings (mostly) made by students is probably unwarranted.

    2. The feature for adjusting tempo in your audio recordings is not limited to recordings you make in SmartMusic, so no, you wouldn’t have to use their microphone (or any microphone at all for that matter). The typical use they demonstrated for this feature was to take a recording from a CD, make an assignment out of it on Impact, and then that recording and assignment gets sent to all of your students. The students then practice/perform with the recording and submit their recorded performance back to Impact. If this works like it seemed to, it will be a great improvement on the old days of creating 150 CDs for your students and then having them create 150 CDs and tapes of their own to give back to you.

    3. I don’t know if they’ve changed any of the soundfonts beyond the nicer ones they added for SmartMusic 9. If you want to use better sounds, you can edit the soundfont to replace the sounds with whatever you want. As for allowing use of something like GPO or GJBB to play the sounds, I suspect that would violate agreements they have with publishers in the same way that allowing output to any MIDI device could. If you allow that, it’s easy to snatch that MIDI data and then convert it into notation. Keeping things internal protects publishers and in turn likely makes them willing to include their music in SmartMusic.

    4. If you look at the number of songs currently in SmartMusic and divide that by the number of years and months the program has been around, you come up with a figure much higher than 60 titles per month. So it does seem very possible.

    The current guess for SmartMusic 10’s arrival seems to be April, based on what people on SmartMusic’s forum are reporting having heard.

  2. "The ensemble audio accompaniments alone will make this the most helpful upgrade to date for teachers.

    I’m not going to argue with that. Live recordings are great, but there is a limited amount of audio accompaniments SmartMusic provides. If you do some of the 200 or so they provide, great. If not….

    If you take the time to search the net, you can find 90%+ of the songs most young bands do. Hal Leonard has good clips, sometimes full clips, and some school bands put recordings of themselves up. So, there is already material out there.

    "1. Considering that the company has for years been trusted with credit card numbers for payments, worrying that the company is going to steal recordings (mostly) made by students is probably unwarranted.

    Ok. That is no reason to feel safe. Did you hear about the TJMaxx credit card thing? Or all those other numbers being hacked? There needs to be a clear, concise agreement that the users and MakeMusic need to agree to that lays out clearly what, if anything, MakeMusic will do with recordings. You think Google provides Email for free? I think not. I wouldn’t put it past MakeMusic to aggregate and market something to people who store recordings on their servers.

    They charge more for an educators subscription. $100 a year. I would imagine they are going to add a fee for the mega/gigabytes of storage you are using. Can’t wait. They are going to be dinging credit cards left and right.

    "2. The feature for adjusting tempo in your audio recordings is not limited to recordings you make in SmartMusic, so no, you wouldn't have to use their microphone (or any microphone at all for that matter). The typical use they demonstrated for this feature was to take a recording from a CD, make an assignment out of it on Impact, and then that recording and assignment gets sent to all of your students. The students then practice/perform with the recording and submit their recorded performance back to Impact. If this works like it seemed to, it will be a great improvement on the old days of creating 150 CDs for your students and then having them create 150 CDs and tapes of their own to give back to you."

    It will be interesting to see if this is 1. legal, and 2. how well the pitch/tempo adjusting is. The Amazing Slow downer has multiple types of slow down algorithms. Wonder what MakeMusic will do, cause some algorithms work better on some types of music and others do not. And legally….can you really take a recording off a CD and do that? Don’t you need permission?

    "3. I don't know if they've changed any of the soundfonts beyond the nicer ones they added for SmartMusic 9. If you want to use better sounds, you can edit the soundfont to replace the sounds with whatever you want. As for allowing use of something like GPO or GJBB to play the sounds, I suspect that would violate agreements they have with publishers in the same way that allowing output to any MIDI device could. If you allow that, it's easy to snatch that MIDI data and then convert it into notation. Keeping things internal protects publishers and in turn likely makes them willing to include their music in SmartMusic."

    Wait. You think the soundfonts in SmartMusic 9 are good? Really? That is funny. Hell, I hear better sounds coming off a PS2 than SmartMusic soundfonts. Wait, they have agreements with publishers to protect their stuff, but in your second point they have this provision to take a whole CD and mess with it? So on the one hand they will protect some publishers so people can’t take Midi data and turn it into sheet music, but on the other hand they will allow you to take someones CD and do whatever you want with it? I would think that they would protect the rights of the CD artist too.

    "4. If you look at the number of songs currently in SmartMusic and divide that by the number of years and months the program has been around, you come up with a figure much higher than 60 titles per month. So it does seem very possible."

    And they have added how many since releasing SmartMusic 9.1? Why are some of the Accident Of Achievement books MISSING some of the songs. The Standard Of Excellence books seem to have most all the songs in there, except for the “For Clarinets Only” or similar exercises. If you put a book in there, why not do the WHOLE thing? It is crippled.

    "The current guess for SmartMusic 10's arrival seems to be April, based on what people on SmartMusic's forum are reporting having heard."

    Funny. Did you use a diving rod to come with that date. I think there is still no idea of when it is coming out. And, I’m a little concerned with this. End of April. Maybe. It was a guess because MakeMusic is demoing it at Pennsylvania’s MEA. Of course, they did demo it at NAMM as well.

    I still think there are a lot of cloudy things that need to be spelled out, the first of which when the stupid program is going to be released.

  3. >>”If you take the time to search the net, you can find 90%+ of the songs most young bands do. Hal Leonard has good clips, sometimes full clips, and some school bands put recordings of themselves up. So, there is already material out there.”

    And that’s why they’re able to expand their library quickly. They aren’t making the recordings themselves. Many of the recordings come from the publishers’ collections.

    >>”I wouldn’t put it past MakeMusic to aggregate and market something to people who store recordings on their servers.”

    I would. There’s no point in doing that. And they don’t have a history of doing that with the Showcase. MakeMusic stands to make its money from school sponsored home subscriptions. Doing risky crap like that could make it hard for teachers to require their students to purchase the software. They aren’t about to do anything to endanger SmartMusic’s acceptance. It’s the most important property they have.

    >>”They charge more for an educators subscription. $100 a year. I would imagine they are going to add a fee for the mega/gigabytes of storage you are using. Can’t wait. They are going to be dinging credit cards left and right.”

    No, SmartMusic Impact can be used for no additional fees.

    >>”Wait. You think the soundfonts in SmartMusic 9 are good? Really? That is funny. Hell, I hear better sounds coming off a PS2 than SmartMusic soundfonts.”

    Do you know which sounds are new and which are old? Unless you’re comparing recorded audio on the PS2 to SM’s soundfonts, then I’d have to disagree with your assessment. I don’t think the PS2 had enough RAM to load even one of the new soundfonts. The new sounds are not used for most of the accompaniments, so I’m wondering if perhaps you’re thinking of some of the older ones which are pretty horrible.

    >>”Wait, they have agreements with publishers to protect their stuff, but in your second point they have this provision to take a whole CD and mess with it? So on the one hand they will protect some publishers so people can’t take Midi data and turn it into sheet music, but on the other hand they will allow you to take someones CD and do whatever you want with it?”

    I never said anything about ripping music from CD’s illegally. Most band programs I know of have collections of recordings of their own groups. Personally I would find it very useful to let students listen to recordings from my past groups that have performed the music. Another use would be for students to adjust the tempo of the music on the CD’s they purchased with their method books. There’s nothing illegal in what MakeMusic is doing. They’re providing a tool that has many legal uses. It’s up to you to make sure you use it legally.

    >>”And they have added how many since releasing SmartMusic 9.1?”

    Around 600 I think? Of course, if you count the fact that ensemble titles have unique sheet music for each one, then it’s well into the thousands. They didn’t release many titles during the year, apparently because they were preparing many titles for the launch of 10.

    >>”Why are some of the Accident Of Achievement books MISSING some of the songs. The Standard Of Excellence books seem to have most all the songs in there, except for the “For Clarinets Only” or similar exercises. If you put a book in there, why not do the WHOLE thing?”

    Good question. Perhaps one for the publishers? Do those titles have background accompaniments on the included CD’s? If not, that would be one reason they might not be included in SmartMusic.

    >>”Funny. Did you use a diving rod to come with that date. I think there is still no idea of when it is coming out. And, I’m a little concerned with this. End of April. Maybe. It was a guess because MakeMusic is demoing it at Pennsylvania’s MEA. Of course, they did demo it at NAMM as well. “

    >>”I still think there are a lot of cloudy things that need to be spelled out, the first of which when the stupid program is going to be released.”

    SmartMusic 10 is available now.

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