10 June 2009

A bit more about the switch

In an on-line community, a pair of neighbors had the following exchange
Sibelius sucks. Any self-respecting composer uses Finale.

— They both get you the same final product. It's all just a matter of what you learned on.
And my response:

To address these in reverse order . . . I used Finale for some eleven years, running through stepped upgrades from 98 to Finale 2004. As early as 8 years ago, out of curiosity, I got a Sibelius demo disc, but I never even gave it a test drive.

With the 30-minute suite of wedding music which I wrote last summer, I at last became utterly exasperated with shortcomings in Finale which I had always just stomached before. The ‘end-game’ of making the score tidy, and professional-looking, and getting all the parts likewise, just took way too long, and ate up entirely too much time. (And no wonder someone who produces a score in Finale would outsource the parts to some other sod.)

I got the piece and the parts done in time for delivery, but I swore that Finale had wasted the very last of my time, with matters which there was no technological reason they couldn’t have had fixed ten years sooner.

So I bought Sibelius 5.

Your remark on ‘what you learned on’ is apt, of course, because at first it was frustrating trying to get anything done on Sibelius: there were a hundred little things, basic mini-activities, which I had internalized through a decade of using Finale, and most everything was somehow different in Sibelius. However:

(a) The learning curve in Sibelius I found much gentler. Two evenings of work, and I had already achieved reasonable fluency.
(b) Everything (and I use that word without any exaggeration: I do mean everything) is much more intuitive in Sibelius, and usually requires less ‘work’ than the corresponding task in Finale. This, of course, is the driver behind (a) above.
(c) The result in Sibelius looks markedly better, and with exhiliratingly less effort, than in Finale. I’ve produced many a score in Finale (60 at least), and for the larger-scaled pieces in particular, I had to work like a fiend to get them to look ‘press-ready’.
(c1) For but one seemingly minor, but potentially tedious and time-wasting, example: slurs often need micro-management in Finale. You’ll tweak and tweak a slur, and finally it will look decent. Then, you make an adjustment in another measure on the same line, and the slur you just spent 10 minutes fixing, needs fixing again. Then, when you extract the part: that slur that you fixed in the full score? The one you’ve already worked over, twice (or more)? Well, it didn’t ‘stay fixed’ when you extracted the part, so you’ve got to spend 10 minutes fixing it again.
(c2) Repeat (c1) for 30 slurs in the alto saxophone line of the score.
(c3) Repeat (c2) for those same 30 slurs in the alto saxophone part.

From my experience, in a two-word sentence where the verb is sucks, the subject of the verb is not Sibelius.


Timothy J. Vallier said...

Great post! Also, all valid points, but the argument falls off with current versions of Finale (currently up to 2010). MakeMusic has made leaps and bounds over their shortcoming within the past 6 years, taking notes from the Sibelius software and utilizing a much more intuitive and forgiving interface. Along with a fresh context click heavy interface, you receive a much higher quality sample integration, the ability to work with audio files, including live, and behind all of that remains the ability to completely customize every pixel of your score. Now I am not putting down your post, but I do implore you to give Finale another chance at the current revision (2010, download the demo). I would love to hear your interpretation of their current progress having left them for Sibelius and coming back to them after several years.

All the best,
Tim Vallier

Daniel Spreadbury said...

It's certainly true that the folks at MakeMusic! have been watching carefully what we've been doing at Sibelius, and have been copying Sibelius's features wherever they can. (I wrote a post about this very point on my blog a few months back.)

It's also true that Finale has come on leaps and bounds in terms of user-friendliness over the past few years.

But Finale will always be bound by its tool-driven approach, which works well in applications like Photoshop -- the analogy with real life being that you do indeed pick up and put down different tools to do different jobs -- but not with music notation applications, because in real life you can write every single marking on your score with the same tool: a pen.

So Sibelius tries to mimic as closely as possible the experience of writing music on manuscript paper, and as such it tries to avoid switching tools or having to learn different sets of keyboard shortcuts for different contexts.

And Sibelius 6 takes the entire experience on to a whole other level: Magnetic Layout literally cuts score preparation time in half.

Having switched from Finale to Sibelius, I have not yet heard of anybody who has then found themselves switching back. It just doesn't seem to happen.