A Look Into the Future of Music

Interview with Paul Leverger, CMO at Newzik.com

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Fabrizio Ferrari:
Hello everyone. This is Fabrizio Ferrari at virtualsheetmusic.com here today with a special interview with Paul Leverger. Did I say that right? Chief Marketing Officer...

Paul Leverger:
That's right.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Okay. Great. Chief Marketing Officer at Newzik in Paris, or better, "Paris." Okay. Hello, Paul. And thank you for joining us.

Paul Leverger:
Hi, Fabrizio. Thank you so much for having me today. Quite a pleasure to discuss with you.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Thank you. Okay, so, well, we are Virtual Sheet Music... We've be working with you since your inception in 2016. And Virtual Sheet Music website is very well-integrated with your technology. So that all Virtual Sheet Music users can easily transfer any music title that includes a PDF file into the Newzik system with a simple click, which is very convenient. So, to get started, why don't you explain what is Newzik and what do you offer to musicians worldwide?

Paul Leverger:
Sure. So, to be very brief about it, Newzik is a platform. It's a software that provides basically all the tools that you need to work with digital sheet music. So first it's a library manager where you can upload all your music and manage it digitally. You can organize a library with custom metadata, with a flexible architecture that basically fits your own system for organizing all your scores. And you can access this library digitally from any device, just by logging into your music account, you can retrieve actually any score that you own from any device at any time, anywhere in the world. So this means you don't have to carry all this sheet music with you and you can simply slip an iPad into your backpack, or use it on your computer and get any music that you need at any moment.

Second, it's a powerful performance tool. It's available both as a web app and as an iOS app that you can use offline first, and that has optimized performance to make sure that you have more than days worth of autonomy when you use it in rehearsals, and you have a concert at the end of the day. The app is actually a package of tools. It's a toolbox. You can think of it as a toolbox that has all the tools that you need for your daily life as a musician. So you have a tuner. You have PDF editions features. That's crop and resize, and you can reorder the pages or add new blank pages to quickly drop something in your paper. One of the most used features of Newzik is to be able also to turn pages hands free. There are different systems, most people use a Bluetooth pedal to do this, but it basically means that you don't have to let go of your instrument anymore when you're playing to simply go to the next page.

And there's a lot of features for this. It's a great performance tool, but I would say what really makes it unique is it's collaborative aspect. Anything that you do in Newzik can be shared in real time with other musicians. This means if you're a teacher and you work with a classroom full of students, you can not only share all your teaching material with them in advance of the class, but you can also write something on the score and they will see it appear on their own screen in real time, which is super handy these days with this remote learning... And it's really helpful for a lot of teachers in schools who have to deal with this, but it's also very useful when you're a professional musician or a conductor, and you work with an entire ensemble. Say you're the first violinist, you're the concert master in a symphony orchestra. And you have to prepare for your next concert. So you do all your Bowings on your piece with paper, it's quite a messy process where the librarian has to go and copy over all these Bowings and the different individual copies of all the musicians, etcetera. That's not the case with music. You simply could do your Bowings on your iPad and the entire orchestra gets it in real time in their machine as well. So that saves you hours of work.

That's mainly what music is about.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Yeah. The feature to be able to share annotations with other musicians, that's something which is really huge, I think. I remember when I used to be a professional violinist, you know, I used to play in professional orchestras, as a violinist in the row. I remember I used to dream about this kind of technology with friends and colleagues, and we said, "Oh, can you imagine in the future, maybe we're going to have these devices where the first violin is going to put down a bowing and everybody's going to get it right away." So that's now possible.

Paul Leverger:
Welcome to the future.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Yeah, exactly. Welcome to the future. That's amazing. And I think Newzik is probably the only application allowing that so far.

Paul Leverger:
It is.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Am I correct?

Paul Leverger:
Yeah. I know that the other software have some of the features that we have as well, where the only software that provides a solution for the entire change from even before you own the sheet music. Because as, as you know, particularly we work also with music publishers, to provide legal and secure ways to transfer digital files over to your clients, as a music publisher, and for people to actually get digital sheet music in a legal way, which is still a bit difficult today. Most of the files that you're getting digital, you can still get those from untrusted sources online, and there may be some copyright issues with this.

So to be able to change this, what we're doing is we also build products for music publishers, and this is a driver for the entire environment towards a more digital paradigm if you wants, where we make it easy for publishers to distribute digital sheet music, which in terms, it makes it a lot easier for musicians to get it. And we're one of the very few companies in the world who work on that. And then, we also work with individual musicians, but we also work with symphony orchestras and we work with music schools. So while we have some competition on all of these segments, we're the only company that addresses all of them.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Yeah. Which is fantastic. You have a full vertical integration of the system to address any possible situation, which is amazing. Okay, fantastic. Great introduction. And I think this sets us on the next section of this interview, where I'm going to ask you a few questions that I'm sure our audience will be interested to learn about. So the first question is, well, we have already discussed most of the benefits of using tablets and instead of real sheet music, but besides the fact you can share sheet music, you can easily store it and take it anywhere you want. A huge library into our single devices. What else do you think are the benefits of using tablets and digital sheet music in general versus the traditional sheet music, we always have been used to?

Paul Leverger:
Absolutely. So one of the first reason people start using digital sheet music is often because they have to manage a huge library of scores. They're either a professional musician or they're an arranger, a composer, or a conductor. So, so these people manage a lot of sheet music on a daily basis. And moving to digital just makes a lot of sense because managing an entire library of scores is usually a big mess, when you think about it. Scores are damaged, you lose them. It's quite complicated and it doesn't have to be because just by moving to digital scores, it makes your life a lot easier by just having everything on your iPad, sending in, receiving it in real time with other people and just working on it in a more flexible way. But we already discussed all of that. So I would say what's the real value of digital scores is that it's so much more than just a digital equivalent of what you have in paper, because digital scores means you can add extra years of interactivity to your score.

It's not just music notation anymore. It's a flexible music notation at first that you can interact with. This means that for example, in Newzik, we have features where if you use like different... We support different kinds of formats of digital scores, and with some of these formats, you can actually transpose them in just one click. That's very useful for instance, when you work with a singer and it's late in the day and their voice might be a bit tired, and you have to take it down to a different key just to make it easier for them. You can actually do this with digital scores. You can never do this with paper and you have to transpose it like without having a proper notation for it, which is a mental activity. It requires some attention just to do that, and with this attention you can't focus it on how you actually perform the music that you're supposed to play.

So, this is one example. Another example is that if you're a teacher, working with students, you can record yourself with actually with the audio recorder or using your iPhone or your iPad's camera. When you perform an exercise, you can then synchronize this with your score to get an automatic page turn. And if you do that, you've just created an interactive lesson that you can then share in real time with the students. And it's not only that, but also since your students receive it in real time, they can do the same thing. And you can see all of this and provide feedback and have this interaction in real time and remotely. So this is the kind of extra layers of interactivity that you can add with digital scores. It's a lot more complicated to do these kind of things with paper, obviously.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Absolutely. And yeah, which is really amazing. And besides the technical benefits for the musician and etcetera, there's also an environmental impact on that, right? Something we at Virtual Sheet Music are really caring about. We have just launched a new campaign for the environment and anyone interested can go on www.virtualsheetmusic.com/environment and see what we have been doing for the past 20 years for the environment. And we are committed now to do, but we, I was telling Paul that we just became definitively carbon negative, but what are your thoughts about the use of digital sheet music versus the traditional paper sheet music from the environmental standpoint?

Paul Leverger:
Yeah. So first of all, I want to really take the opportunity to congratulate you on this, on this great initiative. It's actually something very new because there are actually a lot of companies who today, want to be carbon neutral or, you know, like offset what they emit. You're doing a lot more than that. You're becoming carbon negative. You compensate more than you contribute to global warming. So it's a great thing for the environment. And this is such an important topic today. And thank you for asking this question because it's actually something that people care a lot when they consider transitioning to digital sheet music. The impact on the environment is often something that sets them back, or they have questions about it... because there are two kinds of situations, if I want to over simplify things. Either you're a professional musician, or you're not a professional musician.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Right.

Paul Leverger:
If you're a professional musician, going digital is a total no-brainer because people think, okay, I will use less paper, but then I need to buy an iPad, and that's a bad thing for the environment. And they're correct, but this is not the entire picture. The paper that you use for your paper sheet music, it's not only about the paper and what it does consume, because it's actually not so much, but it's also about all the ink that goes into the process of printing your scores and producing it. But more than that, it's all the logistics involved in the physical distribution of sheets music.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Right, which is huge.

Paul Leverger:
When you buy sheet music from your local music shop, there was an entire industry and logistics behind that to just provide it. Now, if you're in an orchestra, and your orchestra rents the sheet music for the season, you have doubled two times this entire sector with trucks, transporting loads and loads of scores as two different orchestras. So, this has a huge impact on the environment. So going digital is a total no-brainer when you're an avid reader, in this time. Now for amateurs, the question is not so much about going digital, but using digital sheet music or paper sheet music, it's more in terms of, do you really need to buy a new device to do this? You can actually use digital scores first on your computer, Newzik has just launched a web version. So, yeah-

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Yeah, we are going to talk about that.

Paul Leverger:
Yeah. We can discuss this a little bit later.

But even if you want to use an iPad and the tablet and you definitely should, because that's so convenient when you're a musician, just go and buy a used one. IPads are great. They're great machines that are built to last. So you can go and buy it secondhand with no problem. And you can use that for years afterwards. And if you do this, the impact that you have on the environment is a lot less. And it's not so much about that, but just think about all the logistics involved when you buy, even from a music publisher, you buy it online, but you receive it through the mail, just think about it. And you'll see that going digital. That is not really a question.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Absolutely. And there is another aspect that sometimes is overlooked, which is the fact that digital is scalable. I mean, you can scale it to infinity without having any impact on the environment. If think, you can have millions of digital files of sheet music, but think to make millions of pages of paper sheet music. So that's another very important aspect of it.

Paul Leverger:
You know, the interesting thing for that is that when you use paper and you have millions of pages, most of the time you will lose some of them. So you will print them again. And that's another benefit of digital sheet music.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Yeah. Sure. Of course.

Paul Leverger:
Is that once your files are digitized and uploaded to a platform such as music, they're safe forever, you will never lose a score again. So you just go and you get it when you need it and that's it. And you don't have to print it anymore.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
yes. And what about new additions? If you need to print a new edition, you have to print it again. And so with digital, you can update it right away and without any impact anywhere. So yes, it's a no brainer, as you said. So it's a win-win. Fantastic.

So the next question for you is how do you think, yes, this digital trend has picked up in the past few years, and do you see this to continue in years ahead?

Paul Leverger:
Yeah, absolutely. So it's actually quite interesting what happened last year. Before the COVID crisis, there was already quite an attraction for digital scores. It picked up interest because it's so useful for musicians on a daily basis, but I need to say that last year was incredible for us. First of all, it was super weird. All music professionals were basically left without jobs. The COVID crisis was terrible for the music community, but at the same time, I think there are some aspects of it that may have been positive, actually. People saw the benefits of digital a lot more than they could before. Not only in terms of whether you use papers music or digital sheet music, but more about what actual benefits it can provide for the music community.

Think of all the teachers that had to learn to teach music on zoom, as zoom is not by any means a software that's been designed to teach music classes. And it's not the only example. Orchestras are doing the same thing, and we saw all these virtual ensembles popping up on YouTube, where people were wondering how they can interact with each other remotely.

The same thing happened also for music publishers. And we actually developed a lot of new connections and helped a lot of music publishers transition to digital distributions last year, because at some point this was the only option left for them. All the borders were closed and they had to find a solution. So I think 2020 really helped people realize two things. First, the potential and the benefits of digital scores. And second, that it was not a futuristic ID anymore. We began the interview by saying welcome to the future. This is not the future. This is the present. We have been doing this part the past five years, you know.

So we welcomed a huge number of new users in 2020 alone. We had over a hundred thousand dollars on the app store. And we're very proud that people trust and love music and trust us, basically, in our technology with what is their job. It's a professional software. So, this means we also had to step up our processes in terms of testing and making sure that it was rock solid, because we know that people rely on this for professional use. And I guess that's really something that people love about Newzik is how powerful and reliable it is.

We work with music publishers with trusted publishers that have a reputation and would not trust us if our technology was not this reliable, but we also work with major orchestra institutions, as well as a lot of professional or semi-professional or amateur musicians who have a real need for a reliable use.

I'm not a professional musicians myself, but I'm really serious about my passion for music, and when I go and perform music. And so having this trust and tools that I can use is critical for me. And I guess the same thing for people who use Newzik. So yes, the trend was already on the rise, but last year was a huge step in doing the leap into the future, basically.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Yeah. I think it just accelerated the train that was already there. Right?

Paul Leverger:
Yeah. And it's here to last because I think there was a mental switch and all the people that experienced it, basically don't think they could go back to paper now. And this is not only about music, it's just in general, digital platforms have gained a lot of trust in general public. Whatever job you're doing, whatever use, whatever platforms or tools you use. I think we all now see the real benefits of doing this.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Absolutely. I agree 100%. So let's talk about Newzik-web, which is a new feature you have recently launched, which allows musicians to view, annotate, share scores, on any computer, either desktop or laptop, besides, you know, the tablets where your app is such a huge revolution. So inside a simple web browser, right? So what's going on there? How does it work?

Paul Leverger:
It's interesting to see the link with your previous questions, because yes, we just launched Newzik-web, as a matter of fact, at the end of last year as a beta version, and it's going to be the first production ready version in the coming weeks. So it's going to be done, which means you can actually just go to newzik.com/web and try it for free until the end of March.

And so, what is Newzik-web? First of all, music web is Newzik, which means if you love Newzik and you've been using it as an iOS app up until now, you can go on music web and log into your Newzik account and get your entire library of score on any computer. But it's not only about your computer or your laptop, you can actually use Newzik-web on any device, even though it's optimized for laptops for now, our plan is to basically make it usable on any device, including Android tablets, or any phone, or any device that you-

So what is our vision for this, is that there are a lot of things involved, a lot of different steps when you work with digital sheet music that are more easily done from a computer than from a tablet. If you write a score, or your own songs and scores in annotation software, you do this from your computer most of the time.

So having a platform that you can easily transition on the same device, meaning you're in your notation software, you export your scores and you can export this directly into the web and just drag and drop files very easily to your platform and organize all the libraries from your computer when you're at home. That's great. Then you don't need to worry about anything about air dropping stuff to your iPad or your iPhone, and then entering this into music and creating your lists, etcetera, from a touch screen, which is, it's a bit more complicated, but now when you go on stage and you're both on, and hopefully we can do that again soon, but just if you are on your channel and you have to display it, and you have to hand-write things onto your scores, this is much easier to do from either your iPhone or your iPad.

So the app is still a great product. It's a very important part of the musical environment. It's just that now actually we say Newzik app and Newzik-web, all of this is just Newzik. Newzik is a multi-platform environment you can access from any device source. Anywhere.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Yes. That's the point. Anywhere from any device. And the reach just multiplies. That's fantastic.

Paul Leverger:
Yeah. And that's an important thing is why we wanted to develop Newzik-web, is because when the pandemic started, there was this huge need from music educators that basically had no software to manage their scores and share them and work on them in real-time with their students.

And now that they couldn't do it in the classroom, in physical classrooms anymore, it was crucially important to come up with an answer to this. So the answer is both Newzik-web, and it's also a new offer that we just launched that's called Newzik education. And it is useful for schools who want to use our technology to either transition to remote teaching, or implement some sort of a hybrid model. My personal opinion is that this is where the music teaching community is going, where some of the teaching will happen in person still, and hopefully we can do that more, but I don't see music teaching going back to the previous world, how it used to be before.

As I said, I think all the new habits that we developed during this pandemic in 2020 and still today are here to last, because there, besides the obvious, technical difficulties and barriers at first and also psychological barriers, I think there are actually a lot of good things.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Yes. I also think we have reached a point of no return. So we are on the path that it's going just to continue. Absolutely. So you have already asked where partially my last question, which was what are your plans for the future, and what's your vision for the publishing industry? Not only from the publishing industry standpoint, of course, but from the musician standpoint, what is your vision for the musician in the future? What do you think musicians will be capable of doing in the future with this new technology, which is already giving us so much?

Paul Leverger:
You know, that's the interesting thing about developing technology for musicians, it's that we are not the ones who were responsible for developing this vision. We provide the tools and it's for the musicians to come up with smarter, new ways of using it.

And we actually wanted this. We didn't just come up with the idea for Newzik. As you said, as a professional violinist, you were looking for this kind of technology, where you were playing music because of your job, and that's actually how we created Newzik. We discussed every day with professionals in the field. We hear whether they're professional musicians, whether they're music educators, or just an every day hobbyist that's passionate about music and wants to play a lot of music and learn a lot of songs, like myself.

So we discuss with all these people every day, and we simply hear what they have to say and what they are looking for, and we build this for them. I think this is really what our message is all about, is Newzik was built for you, as a musician, and you have to manage a lot of scores.

It was more than that, but in a way, it was built by you because it's all the feedback we receive.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Exactly.

Paul Leverger:
That drives the product turnout. So to answer. Okay. So to answer your question and take a leap, what the vision is. First of all, as we discussed already, I think all this trend about digital scores is here to last, because besides the temporary, obvious need of a solution, the benefits are real, and people notice now, and they are convinced.

So it's here to last. So I think we're in a world where mobility is a lot more important than before. So having a solution that provides not only an easy way to access all the repertoire and make it easier for people to actually cultivate themselves, and take a look at this sheet music or this sheet music from centuries ago, from this edition, that they couldn't find on their local music shop. I know they can find what digital scores, because digital distributions makes it a lot more easy to access.

I think this is important. Then also, I think we hold the performance aspect of it. It actually opens up new possibilities for performance, but also for composers' use. We see a lot of interesting things happening in contemporary music. For instance, with composers working with random scores. This is something I was super interested to read about, where the performers basically don't know where they be performing, and the composer, just using some methods, creating the scores right away during the performance.

And this is not possible at all with paper. This is something that is doable with digital scores. So, I think musicians are really creative. That's a given, and they all find ways to use technology and transform it to use it as their advantage. So maybe it will be virtual reality, maybe it's, I don't know, holograms, and maybe it's machine learning. I'm an electronic musician myself, and I think the power of using machines and algorithms to perform music and create music is very interesting. And we started to see these things happening as well in classical music and contemporary music where schools are involved. So, I'm very interested to see what that's going to be in the next 10 years.

And I think where the most important value of digital resides is in music education. Digital technology makes music education accessible to a lot more people. And that's very, very important. I think more than ever in today's world.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Right.

Paul Leverger:
Having access to knowledge is so important for kids to cultivate themselves and become interested human beings and develop their own way of thinking and seeing the world, and hopefully drive it to a better place. I think art has a crucial role to play in the dismantling process and training younger generations and cultivating them, transmitting the repertoire, the musical repertoire is so important. And really, I'm so grateful to all the music educators, and all the teachers who taught me all of this as a child, that if I can, in any way, help them today with what we're doing at Newzik. It's a pleasure.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Fantastic. Very nice thoughts. So we can say that the future is actually in the hands of the musicians, right? Because it's up to them, what they want, what their needs are going to be, and their feedback will drive as to the path and the fantastic dreams for the future.

Paul Leverger:
So, absolutely. As developers, we open possibilities. It's the people's responsibility to take them in some direction afterwards.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Fantastic. I'm going to leave this interview with this vision of the future. Very positive. And I thank you very much again, for connecting with us, and I invite everyone to go on newzik.com and to discover this application in case you don't know it already, because it's really something that deserves to be discovered and to be enjoyed.

Paul Leverger:
Well. Yeah. And there's something on this that we didn't discuss at all. I'm quite surprised. I forgot to mention it, actually. Is that the best part is that you can try Newzik for free.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Oh yeah. Right.

Paul Leverger:
Yeah. We have a premium software. But there's a free-forever version that you can use. You'll have a limited storage space in your library, but besides that, you can just enjoy Newzik, all the features, everything that you need. And then we have different offers, whether you're an orchestra, whether you are a music school. We have special discounts for education for the teachers and students as well.

So if you're interested in any way, two things, go to newzik.com and you'll get all the information there or send us an email, and we're more than happy to discuss with all the people sending us emails. As I said, feedback is so important, that that's really in our culture as a company. So please do it. If you have any questions, the email address is contact@newzik.com. And second, just go and download music on the app store, go to our website, go to Newzik-web and start building your school library.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Absolutely. Thank you for that advice. All right...

Paul Leverger:
Thank you again so much for having me.

Fabrizio Ferrari:
Absolutely. Thank you for joining us and we'll stay in touch. The future is waiting for us. Thank you. Bye. Bye. Take care.
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