Interview by Jari Williamsson, January 2005Mark was previously the project manager for the Finale development. He is currently the project manager for SmartMusic and the Finale plug-ins. Here he discusses the past, present and future of Finale.
What’s your background?
Prior to joining MakeMusic, I was the Product Manager for the Document Division at National Computer Systems (NCS) for six years. My main products included software for designing business forms, variable intelligent printing, electronic forms, and a website called the "Value Bridge". Before NCS, I was the Application Manager at Purup Prepress America for eight years. Purup is a Danish company that makes film imagesetters and platesetters for the prepress industry. In total, I have over 18 years of experience managing software projects.
I have a Bachelor's degree in music theory and composition from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. I have done graduate work in music theory at the University of Minnesota and graduate work in choral conducting at the Yale University Institute of Sacred Music. My principal instrument is the organ, but my main focus is composition. This summer, I finished a second CD of my compositions, using Finale as the playback synthesizer.
How long have you been with MakeMusic? What is your job?
I have been employed by MakeMusic for 4.5 years. My current position is Technical Director. This position includes two roles: I am the Project Manager for the SmartMusic product line and the Project Manager for Special Projects and Third-Party Developments. Prior to this, I was the Project Manager for the Notation product line, the role now handled by Beth Sorensen. I report to Mark Dunn, our Chief Technology Officer.
Did you use Finale prior to joining MakeMusic?
My first version of Finale was 98d, and I remember getting a funny sensation after starting a new document and seeing one measure with a whole rest in it. My first thought was "Now what do I do?”
Which parts of Finale are most important/valuable to you as a user?
As a composer, I have finally gotten to the point where I can compose directly into Finale, in much the same way that an author writes directly into a word processor. Finale's tools actually help me during the composition process. By the time a piece is completed, it is also "engraved". Finale's ability to control every aspect of playback is invaluable to me for setting tempos and determining balance. When the final manuscript is ready for performance, I can deliver it to the performers with complete confidence that the notation represents my musical intentions.
How would you describe the evolution of Finale during the time you've been with the company?
Finale has evolved tremendously in the 4.5 years since I started with the company. When I started, there were five Finale engineers and one SmartMusic engineer. Right now, there are nine Finale engineers and four SmartMusic engineers. In that same time period, we have grown from three notation products (Finale, Allegro, and PrintMusic) to seven notation products (Finale, Allegro, Guitar, PrintMusic, SongWriter, NotePad Plus, and NotePad). Overall, the company has experienced tremendous growth in all areas. We have also matured a great deal in terms of organization, project management, and design and implementation methodology. Our QA department has matured along with the engineering department, so we are better able to track bugs and perform change management.
In terms of the software itself, Finale has evolved externally and internally. Externally, the user interface has gotten an overhaul in areas like Document and Program Options, and most recently the Launch Window in Finale 2005. Internally, Finale has been updated not only to add new features, but to improve productivity and make the software easier to learn and to use.
Our approach to new features is now more balanced than ever before. We are targeting new features to specific markets, like education, but we are also adding features to appeal to our core base of users who are composers, engravers, and publishers. This can be a difficult balancing act, since not all features will appeal to all subsets of users.
What do you think are the reasons for this growth of Finale?
The main reason for Finale's growth is due in part to the growing maturity of the company itself. Not only has the product matured, but the personnel at MakeMusic have matured. We have a very strong and capable management team, who are guiding the company toward growth and expansion. Our engineering team has also matured, and our development processes are much more efficient and productive than ever.
Another reason for Finale’s growth in the marketplace is a reflection of careful attention to the customers: being responsive to what they need and want. In short, it is market acceptance. Almost everyone in the company is a user of Finale, and that makes us all keenly sensitive to the quality of the product.
As a project manager, how do you get feedback from users of older versions of the application?
User feedback comes into the company from many directions. We maintain a huge database of bugs from earlier and current versions of the software. We have a separate database to track feature requests from customers that allows us to tabulate the frequency of requests. I mentioned that the company has grown tremendously in all areas. One area of growth is Customer Support. We recently merged the Customer Service area with the Technical Support area and created a new department called Customer Support. This group has new database tools to track customer issues and requests that are reported via telephone or e-mail. Customer Support and QA also monitor MakeMusic’s Finale forums daily, and use the input to write up new bug reports or new feature requests. This information is tabulated and disseminated to management and engineering on a regular basis.
In addition, our management, marketing, and sales staff are constantly attending trade shows and user group meetings and meeting with customers, dealers, distributors, and our international marketing partners. All of these input sources contribute to the data we use to decide what features go into the next version of Finale.
Wouldn't separate databases for bug tracking and feature requests constitute a problem? I mean, how can you measure how "serious" a bug is? Can you measure if a bug has been reported by a large amount of users?
Customer Support provides management with a regular report on the frequency of feature requests and the frequency of bug reports. Bugs reported by customers always get top priority.
What would be your advice to users who want a specific feature in Finale?
I would recommend that users send an e-mail to Customer Support and post a request to the Finale forum. Requests should be as specific as possible, and users should indicate their market segment (i.e., education, engraver, etc.) and computer system (i.e. Mac, Windows, OS version, etc.).
What is involved in the job as the manager of third-party products and plug-ins for Finale?
This is one of the most fun aspects of my job. I have the privilege of working with some very talented developers all over the world. I am involved with designing new plug-ins, negotiating plug-in contracts, managing schedules and tracking bugs, and even reviewing marketing content for the new third-party features. My work with special projects involves meeting with software vendors and researching new music technology.
As I understand it, the SoftSynth comes from the SmartMusic product. If that’s the case, does that mean that the programming for the SoftSynth is done by another staff of programmers than normal Finale development?
Several features in Finale originate with the SmartMusic software, including the software synthesizer (SoftSynth), the MicNotator feature, the Finale Performance Assessment (FPA) software, and the Save as Audio feature. Conversely, the Finale Notation Engine, which is the real "kernel" of Finale, is used in the SmartMusic software for all notational display of exercises, method files, and now SMP files created in Finale, as of the SmartMusic 8.5 release.
The two engineering groups are getting more closely integrated every day, and this is benefiting both product lines. This synergy will continue to increase over time. Because of the unique capabilities of SmartMusic, this allows us to offer features in Finale that cannot be matched by the competition.
How would it work if Finale users want a fix or feature upgrade that "belongs" to the SmartMusic programmers? Does the Finale project manager ask you to book the SmartMusic programmers to do the work?
In practice, this situation poses no problems. The engineers from the two groups all sit in the same room. Communication between engineers and between the two project teams (and project managers) is excellent. Both teams routinely need to make software changes that impact the other team.
How do you look at Finale's future?
I think that Finale's future is very bright indeed. We are trying very hard to listen to our customer's requests and to address their needs. At the same time, we are doing more long-term planning and development than ever before. These efforts can only result in future versions of Finale that are more powerful and more productive. We believe that Finale is the best music notation software in the market today, and we will continue to work hard to keep it that way.