Content, Part 5: Proprietary Sheet Music Sites and Apps

by airturn

Proprietary sheet music sites represent a strange techno-schizophrenia when it comes to the future of music publishing.  On the one hand, you have cutting-edge technology to sell and deliver commercial sheet music instantly over the Internet, eliminating the need to wait for physical shipping times or inventory availability at a brick & mortar store, while putting digital protections in place to prevent users from re-distributing copyrighted works en masse.  Want the latest hit from Coldplay? Log in, pony up, download. That’s good.  On the other hand, these same digital tools keep sheet music shackled to Gutenberg-era handcuffs by forcing you physically print the music you buy.  Make sure you have paper in that printer, ink in that cartridge, and pray that nothing jams.  That’s silly.  (Gutenberg, by the way, refers to Johannes Gutenberg, the 15th century inventor of the printing press).

Fortunately, with the powerful rise of tablet computers, we’re starting to see the emergence of a better option: proprietary sheet music reader apps.  While still in developmental infancy, the marriage between Internet sheet music content and proprietary reader apps is showing some promising signs of powerful digital progeny.  Not only can you search, buy, and download copyrighted content instantly, but with some apps you can work more dynamically with your music than would ever be possible with printed paper versions.  Here’s a sampling of what some of these reader apps enable you to do:

  • Transpose instantly into any key
  • Listen to audio playback of the notes at any tempo
  • Add ink annotations to the music in multiple colors and easily erase them
  • Use one master (“conductor”) device to open the same song on multiple (“slave”) devices, and in some cases turn everyone’s pages and share ink annotation markings with everyone

Unfortunately, we have yet to see a universal reader app for all commercially available digital sheet music, so your purchasing decision may have just as much to do with what you want to be able to do with your music as with which piece you actually buy.  Here is a sampling of proprietary sheet music sites and the apps (if any) that can be used to read them.

Site: Musicnotes

As of this writing, is currently the largest Internet site for commercial digital sheet music with almost 250,000 works available for digital download.  You can find arrangements of the latest hits and popular tunes from yesterday for a wide variety of instruments.

App: Musicnotes Sheet Music Viewer for iPad/Android

The companion app for the Musicnotes web store is a great example of what’s possible when publishers grow beyond Gutenberg.  If you’ve ever bought anything from the website in the past, once you log in with your username and password within the app, your entire archive of songs you’ve bought (and printed and lost) will auto-magically be available for download.  The Musicnotes app enables users to draw ink and highlight markings on the music just like ink to paper.  And its best feature? In the iPad version, you can set a “conductor” iPad to connect wirelessly to multiple “slave” iPads to open everyone’s reader to the same song, turn everyone’s pages, and even send text comments and ink markings to everyone (sorry, Android users are out of the loop with this megalomaniacal level of musical control over ensemble minions…)

Link to Musicnotes Sheet Music Viewer for iPad

Link to Musicnotes Sheet Music Viewer for Android

Site: Sheet Music Direct

Don’t let the numbers game fool you: even if “only” announced 100,000 scores at the time of its reader app’s launch, the muscle behind the site and the app is none other than Hal Leonard, the world’s largest sheet music publisher.  You’ll find a tremendous depth of titles from the latest hits and nostalgic goodies, to a rich resource for Jazz and Classical compositions.  It’s encouraging when you see a publisher of this size and influence jump aboard the digital bandwagon – hopefully this will spur other publishers to follow suit sooner rather than later.

App: Sheet Music Direct for iPad

Sheet Music Direct for iPad is a more dynamic app in many ways.  You can dynamically transpose the music into any key and listen to digital playback in any tempo.  If there are multiple instruments in the score, you can alter or mute the playback volume individually for each track.  You can even set up a click track and tap out your own tempo with the built-in metronome feature.  One drawback is the lack of annotation features – the type of dynamic file the Sheet Music Direct’s app uses (Sibelius Scorch) does not lend itself to adding an inking layer as is possible with static PDF readers.  Speaking of PDF files, Sheet Music Direct for iPad has the ability to import PDFs, so you could conceivably create a set list mixed with the latest top 10 hits and your hand-written opus scanned from that napkin.

Link to Sheet Music Direct for iPad

From Paper to Pixels: Your Guide to the Digital Sheet Music Revolution