Researching file formats 22: Sibelius

This blog post is part of a series on file formats research. See this introduction post for more information.

Update: The official format definition is now online here: Sibelius Music Notation Format. Comments welcome directly to the Library of Congress.

We are entering the Audio-Video set of formats! The next four posts will be a/v formats.

I have had some very brief, non-hands-on experience with this format, because one of my college roommates was a music major and now a professional trombone player, and on a call one time I got the full low-down on how frustrating this application can be because of the version differences and how the format is completely vendor locked-in, and he was asking for my advice/help because he knew I was good with computers. But lock-in is lock-in! There wasn’t much I could do, especially over the phone.

I think there may have also been some personal issue that was causing him to ask about it, something about trying to get access to a composition that he had commissioned from someone but couldn’t access an older version of the file when he had a newer version of the software and the composer wasn’t being helpful in this endeavor. People are people! There’s not much I can do about other people’s communication skills (or lack-of), either.

So, that’s my brief experience with this format – frustrated musicians.

It’s not too difficult to export this format into a PDF, and a lot of websites offer that kind of conversion. This format’s parent software company has very strict wording about prohibiting any kind of reverse engineering work done to allow for that to happen, though, so it all has to go through them. So what happens when they decide it’s not lucrative to support ancient versions of the file, or just stop being a business? Digipres 101 questions, I know, but this is a good case study for something like that.

“The Sibelius license agreement expressly forbids users from doing this reverse-engineering the format.”

This is also a format that has different versions that changed a bit under the hood quite a lot, too, just to add to the complexity of a format that is also forbidden from being reverse-engineered.

Working with this format was a breeze thanks to the British Library. Feels so good to find a full preservation assessment of a format I’m working on. Thank you, British Library’s Sibelius Assessment!!! [pdf]