Digital music stands vs iPads

In May 2010 I wrote a post about digital music stands (or electronic music stands) and what looked like a fantastic new product that very soon would be widely used. 22 months on, the development has been very average and so I thought we should look at where things are at and if other devices such as the iPad are becoming more common and viable for musicians. In that original post, I mentioned that there were two ways you could go about it: either purchasing the software and the hardware in one device (MusicPad Pro, Same Page Music) or just the software to run on your own monitor or device (MusicReader). I also mentioned the eStand which (now) has both hardware and software options available.

There have been several advancements to all products, in particular to the Same Page Music device which has (sadly, I think) morphed into an overly complex and overwhelming array of features, as can be seen in these two videos: video one, video two.

To me, all of the options mentioned above still seem very unattractive - they don't have user-friendly interfaces or ease and practicality in mind. Have a look at this promo for MusicReader:

You may have picked up on two major flaws. Firstly, the conductor for the wind ensemble had to have his device on an office desk, not a music stand. Secondly, on the floor of most ensemble was an array of cables, power boxes and so on. So, on stage they are not very practical, they take a lot of setup time and are still, generally, bulky.

In an industry where technology is moving incredibly fast, 22 months has not seen much development at all with digital music stands. Why is this?

Hello, iPad.

I don't want to preach Apple just for the sake of preaching Apple, but let's face it, so many musicians have iPads and there is a reason for it. They can have everything in one place, communicate with ensemble members, connect with fans - the list could be huge - and also they can have all of their music in one place. Yes, you can have all of your music stored on digital music stands of course, but you've probably got an iPad already for a multitude of other reasons and view and organise your music on the plane, at a cafe, wherever. On stage, just click the iPad in and you're ready to go - no power to worry about, no cables to trip on - a separate device seems quite unattractive, doesn't it? I think for a musician, the thought of taking another monitor or similar device to read music from would a be real burden.

This, I think, is why those standalone digital music stands that looked so exciting a few years ago, haven't taken off like many of us assumed. As of 31 December 2011 there were over 55 million iPads sold - that's a tough market to try and break.

Using your iPad - there are two types of apps. The first are PDF readers where you can do a lot of editing of the meta data and draw on scores etc, but you can't actually change the music:

  • MusicReader - I mentioned MusicReader in my original post and it is still a versatile piece of software, as it can be used on Mac and PC too. They have proved themselves over the years and it allows you to draw, highlight and write on a score, but to be honest the interface is pretty rough.
  • Perform - a nice app with good features for adjusting how the score scrolls. On the pro version, it can listen to where you are and will scroll accordingly. It can also make a video of you performing - if you like that sort of thing!
  • forScore - has a beautiful interface and nice range of features. It has the forStore where you can download a lot of music or you can even download PDFs from your Dropbox account. Some nice features like thorough editing of the score, a metronome and ability to play an on screen piano.

The second type gives you more flexibility with the music:

  • Avid Scorch - once your music is in Scorch, you can transpose by interval or key. If you have a score, you can view the actual score or individual parts and change between transposed/concert pitch. You can play it back and use the mixer to adjust levels if desired.
  • Finale user? - MakeMusic have announced they are bringing out an iPad app in May. Its features seem very similar to Avid Scorch. If you're interested, check out this video posted on their blog a few days ago.

For a daily user of Sibelius and having around 1,000 .sib files, the possibility of growth with these apps is very exciting.

If you are using an iPad, or considering one, these two devices will make you very happy indeed. The first is a product called TheGigEasy which makes it easy to mount your iPad in any environment. Check out this video:

This is a wonderful product, and I think, considering it was named by USA Today as one of the five "Hottest Products" at this year's NAMM Show, indicates how widespread iPad use amongst musicians really is.

You may be wondering about page turns. Well, the second device, AirTurnis taking away any worries in that area. In fact, it works via bluetooth so works with any iPad, Android, Mac or PC device. Check out the video below:

You may also be interested in this video of classical violinist Ray Chen talking about his use of the AirTurn and iPad.

So, digital music stands, I don't think, are proving themselves as great options for musicians, whether classical or contemporary, amateur or professional - not when tablet computing is moving at such a fast pace. Maybe in another 22 months we can have a look at this topic once again - who knows where we will be then!

Thoughts, experiences and links are most welcome.