On 19th October Steinberg released the first version of its scorewriting software Dorico. This is an event of huge significance, since it promises to give professional composers, engravers and educators a workable alternative to Sibelius and Finale. Of the two, however, my guess is that Avid’s Sibelius has most to fear. Avid purchased the software in 2006, but in 2012 closed the London office where Sibelius was developed, an action that alienated many users. Avid has continued to develop the software, though at a noticeably slower rate than before, the Sibelius 8 update being very thin, especially for Mac users unable to benefit from new touchscreen features. Happily the core of the fired Sibelius London team were hired by Steinberg and given the task of building a new score writing package, which eventually became Dorico.
Dorico’s main difference as compared to Sibelius is that it separates five stages of music engraving into setup, writing, engraving, playing and printing. This is a novel approach that, I can imagine, will have both advantages and disadvantages. There is, of course, a certain amount of separation in Sibelius, especially as regards the setup and printing elements. But the core functionalies—writing, engraving and playing—occur in the same place, an approach that feels pleasingly unified. The danger then is that these elements will become too separated. I think, for example, many composers will want to listen to a score in the same place as where they are writing it, not flip to a graphic representation of it.
Despite this, a level of separation could have advantages. A dedicated playback screen might give much better granular control over how a score sounds, without having to resort to adding cumbersome text commands into the score itself. And, when it comes to parts, better separation without complete disconnection (i.e. extracting parts) is long overdue—it’s too often the case that in Sibelius altering either part or score has a deleterious affect on the other. And apart from the general workflow, there are also things that Dorico can do that are not available in Sibelius. For example, it is possible to enter notes into a score without barlines. Anyone who has tried typesetting more advanced contemporary music, which often requires a good deal of preplanning and the creation and hiding of bizarre time signatures, will be able to appreciate how this might be advantageous.
Steinberg have been at pains to point out that Dorico is a work in progress, whilst saying that its critical mass of useful features means that it is ready for release. Surveying the list of exactly what is missing one wonders whether Steinberg would have done better to have waited a little longer—there are no chord symbols, volta brackets, piano pedalling, cues, fingering and, unbelievably, transposition. This has led some to suggest that Dorico might better be described as beta software. So why buy it?
Well, first of all, if you are a Sibelius or Finale user Steinberg are offering time-limited ‘crossgrades’, that is you can pick up the software for a reduced price. The full version of the software is €559, the cross grade €279, less if you are an educational user. Whilst this sounds like good value, it looks less generous when you consider that Avid offers a non time-limited crossgrade from four different programs for just $199. And that is for a mature piece of software. Steinberg has, however, promised that updates to the software will come swiftly. Here, indeed, lies the most compelling argument for getting on board with Dorico.
In Sibelius’s early days there was a considerable level of interaction between the development team and its user base. Not only was it relatively easy to get support, but one sensed that the team listened to and implemented requests from users for forthcoming releases. The Dorico team, fronted by the extremely affable Daniel Spreadbury, give the impression of being keen to listen to feedback from users, and keen to tackle the problems that lie ahead. In this sense one feels that this has the potential to mature quickly into a compelling piece of software.
Whatever the future of Dorico its mere presence in the market is a positive development. Competition leads to improvement. And with Dorico snapping at the heels of other software packages it will force the competition to keep developing.
Some useful links
Daniel Spreadbury’s Blog, Making Notes
Dorico in a Minute, 12th October
Dorico Preview Video with Daniel Spreadbury, September 27th
A much fuller presentation, May 19th