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NAMM 2015: eScore Standardization Efforts in W3C and IEC

Each January, the NAMM show in Anaheim brings people together from throughout the music products industry. The MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) holds its annual general meeting on the last day of NAMM. This year, the MMA hosted a session on “An Introduction to eScore Standardization Efforts in W3C and IEC.” I presented on the W3C work. Taro Tokuhiro from Yamaha presented on the IEC work led by the Association of Musical Electronics Industry (AMEI). We had about 20 people attending. You can see our presentations at:

My presentation reviewed our discussions on music notation markup at the W3C from the W3C’s October TPAC meeting. At that meeting we explored a proposal for forming a music notation W3C Community Group and transferring relevant standards like MakeMusic’s MusicXML and Steinberg’s Standard Music Font Layout (SMuFL) to that organization. The governing documents could then become W3C Community Group Reports, perhaps co-published with the MMA.

Understanding the potential and pitfalls for current standardization work benefits from looking at past experience. Over the past 20 years, organizations like IEC, MPEG, and IEEE have produced eScore standards that have all failed to be adopted. These organizations tend to be too expensive in both time and money for an industry as small as sheet music and music notation software. Standards produced without the participation of industry experts have little chance of success. In contrast, MusicXML was designed and developed within the industry to work with existing music notation programs, and has been adopted by over 180 applications.

With its free membership and more flexible process, a W3C Community Group might provide a venue that could avoid some of the past pitfalls of previous standards organization efforts. I examined the pros and cons of moving MusicXML into a standards group like the W3C, or maintaining the status quo of MakeMusic ownership for the time being.

Taro Tokuhiro reviewed the work on music notation at IEC TC 100 TA 10 from the past two years. IEC, the International Electrotechnical Commission, is one of the three global organizations (IEC, ISO, ITU) that develops official International Standards. TC 100 is the IEC technical committee on audio, video, and multimedia. TA 10 is TC 100’s technical area for multimedia e-publishing and e-book technology. Japan has extensive representation and involvement in TA 10. AMEI, the MMA’s Japanese counterpart organization, has been working within TA 10 over the past few years to publish MIDI 1.0 as an official IEC international standard.

Mr. Tokuhiro took over the role of leading AMEI’s work with TA 10 last year. AMEI presented on eScore technology at the IEC’s general meetings in Shenzen in September 2013 and in Tokyo in November 2014. Work is now underway on a technical report describing eScore technologies like MusicXML that are currently available on the market. The report draft is due this month and will be published after a voting process.

This technical report is the outcome of a research phase, and a prerequisite for recruiting expert involvement in a standards project. After publication, IEC will address questions such as if international de jure standardization is needed, if IEC is the right place for such standardization, or if the current de facto standardization on MusicXML is sufficient. As a result, digital sheet music may be proposed as a project within TA 10, or it may not – there is no hard commitment yet either way.

I very much enjoyed the opportunity to meet with Mr. Tokuhiro for lunch before the session. We had a detailed discussion of the contexts of the current eScore standardization work within both IEC and W3C which I found very helpful. There was not much discussion during the question and answer session after the presentations. Tom White from the MMA provided some clarifications on the work within both W3C and IEC.

I expect that we will be discussing the potential for MusicXML moving to the W3C or other standards organizations in more depth at our next MusicXML community meeting. Assuming that Musikmesse 2015 provides the same venue for this meeting as before, we tentatively plan to meet in Frankfurt on Friday afternoon, April 17. I will post more details here as we know more about the scheduling and planning.