Libre Arts - Ultimate Guitar launches Muse Group and acquires Audacity

This isn’t your average software company press release: Martin “Tantacrul” Keary released a new video on his personal YouTube channel to announce that Muse Group is now the owner of Audacity , and he is now the product owner of this project.

Alright, let’s roll back a bit.

A while ago, Ultimate Guitar , the company known for successfully solving the guitar tabs licensing puzzle (which is a hell and a half for lawyers), began acquiring other companies and software projects.

In 2017, they acquired MuseScore , a WYSIWYG free/libre score engraving program that came with an online service to store and share sheet music. They kept the original team as consultants for about a year or so and began hiring developers to work on both the desktop app, the mobile app, and the online service.

They also hired Martin Keary — probably the only person in the whole world who managed to make poking fun at usability of score editing programs (as well as some cultural phenomena) a real treasure to watch. Imagine watching a 1+ hour long roasting of Dorico and laughing so hard that your neighbors call the police suspecting you are doing drugs.

Martin started out as the UX architect of MuseScore, moved on to become the product owner, and he is now the product owner of Audacity as well.

They made more acquirements in the past few years, and now they moved all these assets into a new business called Muse Group . It was almost silently announced on April 26 .

Simply put, it’s a very nice free/libre multitrack sound editor that works on all major desktop platforms, has a brand with 21 years of history, and some 100 mln downloads — all that despite some dated looks and somewhat complicated workflow.

An aside note: I’d like to see Amazon/Ebay scammers try to mess with Ultimate Guitar. I’d reaaaaaly love to see that. We could be looking at far less of the BestAudioApp 2021 paint job over Audacity nonsense all around.

Naturally, there have been concerns about the future of Audacity. So Daniel Ray stepped in to address that in the comments section of the news post at Scoring Notes :

Audacity will remain 100% forever with no feature tiers or limitations.

Just as with MuseScore, users can expect optional cloud services (file storage, sharing, etc.), but such capabilities are optional and the software is fully-featured and fully-functional without this.

Though Muse Group as a concept is quite new, it is same philosophy, same model, and same team as Ultimate Guitar. What you should expect from Muse Group moving forward is pretty much what you have seen with MuseScore since the acquisition.

As we continue to make acquisitions, we will not likely change existing business models very much. We’ll try to make as much as possible as free as possible (while respecting rights holders), and will heavily invest in product development, rapidly expanding product teams with the best and brightest we can find.

That’s a great question!

Audacity happens to have a registered trademark — Dominic Mazzoni, the original developer, did it in early 2000s.

Beyond that, copyrights can be traded, and I expect that at least some of the team members could have done just that. So that would technically give Muse Group some control over a large part of the code base. But it’s just my guess so far, I sent this question to the press people over at Muse Group and will update the post once/if I hear back from them.

Martin specifically mentioned that plans for Audacity are a work in the progress. Yet he specifically said two things:

  1. Usability improvements (easy to predict)
  2. Non-destructive editing (much appreciated and long overdue)

For the latter, only VSTs have been mentioned so far. And much of MuseScore 4 is based on using VST3, so that makes sense.

But there could be more.

Audacity has had the beginnings of MIDI tracks for a very long time. The team never went much beyond merely rendering notes in an inline view (similar to that of Ardour) and an humble attempt at playback. But it’s there. So after much internal rewrite we could be looking at a new DAW.

Will it happen? Based on things I overheard in some online conversations, for now at least, Muse Group is only looking into making better what’s already there. It’s how they started with MuseScore though, and look what happened next :) Either way, this is not something you should be expecting any time soon, and it’s clearly in the wishful thinking territory right now.

The non-destructive editing feature will certainly demand some rewrite. I think there have been at least two attempts to replace the original playback engine in Audacity.

Also, please don’t expect me to guesstimate their interest in rewriting Audacity with Qt/QML. Yes, Audacity’s source code base is 1/10 of that of MuseScore, so it’s technically doable. Should they do it? I don’t know and, frankly, I don’t really care. I do genuinely believe that toolkit wars are a stupid waste of anyone’s time.

I don’t know yet. I’ve reached out to Muse Group for comments and will update this post as I find out more. I don’t expect the Audacity team to be able to talk much about this, based on my experience with the similar situation in MuseScore. All I know is that the original MuseScore trio had a short contract as consultants. So there could be a similar situation here.

I think it’s worth looking at what they did with MuseScore over the past 4 years:

  • Larger, paid team of developers, hence…
  • Regular updates with new features and bugfixes.
  • Cleaner user interface.
  • A complete rewrite to make way for new major features like the composition/sequencer mode (to be available after the 4.0 release).
  • A new notation font.
  • Upcoming relicensing from GPLv2 to GPLv3 (probably not the new playback engine though, for currently unknown reasons).

This is a pretty solid track record (pun intended).

And it’s not exactly a new thing in the creative domain either. If I recall correctly, OpenToonz was sold to Dwango on the condition that the source code would be released under an open source license. Which it was — Dwango chose BSD 3-Clause.

Daniel specifically said “as we continue to make acquisitions”, but otherwise your guess is as good as mine. There will definitely be more proprietary software acquisition announcements in the future. There’s one in the pipeline right now, if you know where to look.

One fun version I heard is that LMMS is next. But, like I said, your guess is as good as mine. So far, the “new” (after four years? hmmm) MuseScore team is an entity that relies on free/libre philosophy, operates in the creative field and does rather than talks while staying respectful to the inherited community. So I’d carefully expect the new Audacity team to follow suit.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://librearts.org/2021/05/ultimate-guitar-launches-muse-group-and-acquires-audacity/
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I’ve been a fan of Tantacrul’s work and it’s really great to see him putting his money where his mouth is! He seems like a great guy with a lot of good ideas and I look forward to seeing Audacity evolve under his influence.

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How can a GPL project with 100+ different contributors be acquired? trademark is one thing, code another.

Just wondering, not a direct question to the author. Good to see new articles on Libre Arts, keep up the great work.

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It has not been widely publicized, but Muse group acquired rights to code contributions from many of the major contributors to the codebase. This doesn’t negate the GPL license, but would probably permit them greater control and maybe the ability to make a non-GPL version, but they haven’t suggested they are interested in that. If they did that, it would kill off the huge user support community and volunteer coder staff, and because the 3.0 codebase is still available, it could be forked from there or their latest GPL release. They may have plans to require license assignment from future third-party contributors, which might reduce the volunteer developer community, but it is not super-active anyway. I’m sure there are bug fix contributions that have not completely been acquired–from anonymous contributors, contributors who have died, and others who are just unfindable, but these would mostly have been reviewed, revised, and committed by identifiable team members who did license their contributions. There could be an issue with these contributions if Muse wanted to roll a pro version not under the GPL. It might require a substantial code audit if they wanted to do this which would be a huge obstacle, but If they tried that and somebody complained, it would mean the un-acquired code would then be clearly identified, and Muse could just pull it out or rewrite it or pay the contributor relicense it.

But audacity development has been primarily in maintenance mode for years, and if one or two central contributors were to leave (which will happen sooner or later as the team is greying, as you can see in the video), its current development pace might just essentially end. it is not clear to me audacity will have a sustainable future without something like this happening, and it would certainly have had little chance of any major improvements or major rethinking. This also means that Muse has a chance to reinvigorate development and create a long-term development path–a single fulltime developer would make a huge difference, and audacity might still be around 20 years from now.

My hope is that they are careful to not try to build it into something ONLY pros can use, which some people seem to be pushing for. There are a lot of users who seem to whine because it isn’t reaper or ardour or some other full-featured DAW or sequencer or looper or whatever. But audacity has 200-million+ downloads because it never tried to be something that audio nerds would want, and full-featured audio workstations are unusable for most normies. It has almost certainly helped launch a million podcasts, and if Muse makes it more difficult for a novice to use its core functionality, a redesign will fail. Its core is its easy setup, one-button recording, ease of use for minor edits, 2-3 plugins like noise removal, and export capabilities. If they can maintain that and maybe give a facelift and improve workflow for people who use it a bit more seriously, it should succeed even without non-destructive effects chains or more serious multi-track capabilities or better MIDI or support for more plugins.

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Work on a fork has started https://github.com/KXStudio/audacity

Some early work by falkTX visible on https://github.com/audacity/audacity/issues/861 note LV2 on Windows support, pre-alpha

Discussion in #audacity on freenode

When can we expect something similar to happen to Scribus? :slight_smile: