RM: Could you talk a little bit about your background, and how it led you to make scoring software?
DS: The reason I’ve ended up doing this is that it really does marry my two passions: music and technology. I’ve been fascinated by both since I was a tiny child – I was of the generation where having a home computer was just starting to become a thing, and my brother was heavily into computers – he was a programmer, and he used to write basic games for us to play, so I actually started working with computers and doing simple programming myself when I was a boy. But at the same time, I always loved music – my parents used to play me recordings of Jacqueline du Pré playing the cello to get me to sleep, and I could sing before I could talk.
My parents were always keen to help me explore musical possibilities, but I never thought I’d make a career of it. I was on the brink of applying to university to do English Lit or something similar when a fantastic music teacher of mine opened my eyes to the possibility of further study. I applied to Oxford University, and was fortunate enough to be accepted.
RM: What was studying at Oxford like, and how did it shape your ambitions?
DS: It was an entirely immersive experience. I wasn’t sporty, so activities like rugby, rowing and the like were of no interest to me – I was involved in the making of music; morning, noon and night. Perhaps the most exciting thing about Oxford, and the thing I miss the most, was being surrounded by fearless, like-minded people who were willing to try performing just about anything – the most complicated, weird modern pieces or ancient music that you can’t even find proper performance materials for now. There were endless opportunities to make music.
As for ambitions, it wasn’t really something I gave any thought to – there simply wasn’t time. After I graduated, I began working as tenor lay clerk at Ely Cathedral, as I’ve always been heavily into church music – I felt fortunate to land the job, but I was only employed for about two hours most days, and it was hard to make ends meet – I found out about an opening at Sibelius through my boss at the cathedral, the organist and director of music, and knew I had to apply.
RM: What was your initial role at Sibelius? How did you end up on the core development team?
DS: I actually applied for a copywriter role, but was hired as tech support – so right from the beginning of my composing software career, I’ve been directly involved with our end-users and their needs. I was always very proactive about helping customers and interacting with them, which has been invaluable when developing Dorico. I owe everything to Ben and Jonathan Finn, Sibelius’ original founders – the combination of music and technology ignited something in me, and they really gave me an opportunity to evolve my role at the company, first by taking over the writing of the product’s documentation, and over time getting involved in the design of each new version. By the time Sibelius version 4 was finished, I was essentially the lead Product Manager.
RM: How did your work at Sibelius inform Dorico’s development? How did it shape your vision for Dorico?
DS: Over my career at Sibelius, I spoke to literally thousands of music scoring software users, so I had a very strong understanding of the challenges they faced, and how a new software could help to resolve these issues. And even though I’d worked at Sibelius for nearly 15 years by the time I left, it’s amazing how much of the core design decisions were already baked into the program by that point, making it difficult address some of those user requirements in a direct and effective way.
With Dorico, we took our years of cumulative experience, revisited all the things that had been compromised and took advantage of new technological capabilities that simply weren’t available when Sibelius was first conceived – there wasn’t any broadband then, there was no social media or mobile devices, there were no sample libraries; so much has changed. Taking the opportunity to start from scratch allowed us to develop a new framework which could naturally accommodate the evolving requirements we’d observed from musicians. Dorico reflects how technology has moved on and also how the jobs available for modern musicians have changed – you simply can’t address these issues cohesively with patched updates. With the benefit of our ample experience, new tech advantages and deep consumer insight, we’ve come up with a future-proof, forward-looking technology.
RM: In terms of features which are unique to Dorico, how is Dorico different?
DS: The biggest difference between Dorico and its competitors is how Dorico has been programmed to think about music. Without getting too technical, other programs are primarily concerned with representing music notation on the screen – whereas Dorico is built to think about music in the same way which we humans experience it. Other scoring programs are to music notation what the typewriter is to the written word: great for producing a neat and tidy final result, but horrible for developing ideas and moving things around. Dorico is to music notation what the word processor is to the written word: it’s more like having an experienced music copyist who works with you all the time to ensure that your musical ideas are communicated clearly, unambiguously and in a way which can be read quickly and easily by a musician. Dorico is the only music scoring software you can compose or arrange straight into – only our method of modelling the programming makes this possible.
RM: Dorico is also designed to be a tool for students and teachers. How important was the educational element in Dorico’s design?
DS: It was something we considered from inception. When Sibelius and Finale were originally designed, they didn’t consider educational use because at that time there weren’t computers in music classrooms and technology in general wasn’t used to teach music, apart from perhaps beyond the odd electronic keyboard – of course, this has since changed entirely.
Dorico was created with the understanding that technology is a huge part of music education, and we designed the program to be consistent, quick to set up and easy to teach and use. It’s easy to export files, create shareable audio files, print or mix multiple layouts on the same page – but again, the real point of difference with Dorico is its musical thinking. Because it’s so much like a smart assistant, teachers can go beyond simply helping kids to connect sounds with notation and use it as a tool to teach musical theory and principles. The best scoring software recognises its responsibilities to the next generation – teachers and students can trust Dorico not to make mistakes.
RM: Finally, how do you think that scoring technology has changed the way music is made?
DS: In much the same way that the first printing presses democratised the spread of knowledge through cheaply printing books, music printing, which began at the turn of the 16th century, did the same thing, but of course these tools and technologies remained out of the grasp of people like you and me for hundreds of years. Fast forward to the 1980s and 90s and you had this incredible explosion of desktop publishing programs where suddenly, anyone could print a newspaper or a magazine. Now, with the availability of computers powerful enough to routinely run programs like Dorico, you can find teenagers writing large-scale orchestral works which were previously the sole preserve of prodigies like Mozart and Mendelssohn. Technology has completely revolutionised the way musical ideas can be generated, shared and published – and I think that’s an incredibly powerful, wonderful thing.