I recently heard from my old friend and colleague Sean McMahon. He and I go way back; we worked together on more than a few hectic feature film score schedules back in the day. Sean is currently on the faculty at Berkelee College of Music in Boston, and wanted to get my perspective on music preparation at the college level. I thought I would share our correspondence here.
At Winter NAMM 2015, MOTU demonstrated MusicXML export capabilities in their demo of the upcoming version 9 release of Digital Performer. DP is MOTU’s flagship DAW application for Mac and Windows, popular with many composers for film, television and other media.
DP9 will allow users to export a sequence’s MIDI data as an industry-standard MusicXML file, for import into music notation software such as Finale or Sibelius.
MusicXML export should provide a big workflow improvement for DP-based composers and orchestrators who currently must use Standard MIDI files to exchange data with their notation software of choice. This existing method often requires creating a duplicate copy of the sequence MIDI tracks and applying hard quantization before exporting, so that the notation application will interpret the exported MIDI data in a musically useful way.
DP9’s Music XML export appears to build upon the already solid Quickscribe notation features included in DP. The exported MusicXML file will included the non-destructive quantization applied by the Quickscribe transcription engine, as well as any dynamics or other markings added in the Quickscribe editor window.
DP9 is just the latest of several major DAWs to support MusicXML. Steinberg’s Cubase and Nuendo both feature import and export of MusicXML, while Apple LogicPro X, Cakewalk SONAR and MAGIX Sequoia offer export-only support for the standard. Users of Avid Pro Tools can open and save Sibelius files, but not MusicXML.
You can view MOTU’s DP9 preview presentation at Winter NAMM in the following video (notation-related content starts around 6:35):
MOTU Product Specialist Dave Roberts, seen in the video above, says “we are projecting late Spring for the DP9 release”. Check back here after DP9 ships for a thorough review of its MusicXML feature.
Brian Monroney is a guitarist, composer and arranger based in Seattle. He has recorded and/or toured with artists including Tom Jones, Gloria Estefan, Barry Manilow, Natalie Cole, and Nelson Rangell. Brian’s music has been heard on TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory, Ellen, TMZ and Modern Marvels.
Logic’s Music XML feature only does export, not import, which makes sense – you’re likely not bringing music into Logic to clean up the notation. You can import .smf from Sibelius or Finale for file transfers if needed.
To access the Export feature, you need to have the Score Editor open and then go the main File Menu>Export>Score as MusicXML. This will be greyed out if a Score Editor window is not open.
The score display is what is exported – make sure you have the correct tracks and number of tracks displayed. With that in mind you could do a score set of e.g., just strings and export those.
Once exported you’ll find the file with a .xml ending. If you just click to open you’ll likely not get it opened in a notation program – you can import / open via Finale / Sibelius or select one of them to open the file.
A few days ago, I was received an email from fellow music engraver Andrei Pricope on an interesting topic – how can we future proof our existing notation work in Finale and Sibelius? I found his observations insightful, and I thought I would share some of them here. (I’ve paraphrased in some places.) He writes:
“I am a long time Sibelius user, having invested hundreds of hours of my own engraving and thousands of dollars on out-sourced engraving projects. In addition, I have made a substantial investment in both hardware and music notation software.
Recent developments with Sibelius and now Finale signal that both are now at the whim of parent entities, their corporate visions, agendas, budgets and priorities; a situation less than ideal for our community and music-making at large; hence my deep concern about the long-term blind reliance on any particular music engraving solution.
In today’s rapid-changing technology environment, and with the recent dramatic and uncertain changes for both Sibelius and Finale I’ve recently adopted a new system of file archival:
In addition to saving my files in the current version of my notation program of choice, I plan to save and archive all of my music notation files using the MusicXML file format. A number of companies currently support MusicXML, and it meets several important criteria for longevity:
- It is currently supported by a diverse group of music programs.
- The file format is essentially ASCII text so MusicXML is platform and OS-version agnostic.
- It is also fairly mature at this point, which means the files can be successfully imported / translated in the future, hopefully by a variety of programs that support music notation.
In summary, moving forward, I plan to archive my files in multiple formats: (1) The original Finale or Sibelius File (2) PDF files and (3) MusicXML format.”
Note that while MusicXML is currently pretty robust, some musical symbols are not universal to all notation programs, and so MusicXML conversion will fail in these cases. An example between Finale and Sibelius are tremolos. Sibelius supports tremolos with up to 5 slashes, Finale supports tremolos only up to 3 slashes. If you save a MusicXML file from Sibelius with 4 and 5 slash tremolos, these trems will not be converted. When the file is imported into Finale there will be no tremolos in these locations.
Do you have any thoughts on ways to future proof your music notation work? Please leave a comment.