Aurélia Azoulay-Guetta is one of the co-founders of a fascinating sheet music reader app called Newzik for iOS.
First, a little bit of history – it really starts with me, because I was one of the first professional musicians to go completely paperless. Back in 2001, I came up with a system for using computers to convert my paper sheet music scores into digital PDF files. Back then, there were no tablets, there was no Kindle, no iPad, but Microsoft came up with a computer called the Tablet PC, and, believe it or not, for the first time, you could take a computer screen and turn it into a portrait mode so you could see a full sheet of music instead of just half a sheet like you would on a laptop.
For me, that was revolutionary, and so, as a result of that, I actually then started exploring ways of turning pages with foot switches, and that’s what led me to co-found a company called AirTurn, and we sold page-turning pedals around the world. AirTurn started in 2008, and in the beginning, sales were actually quite meager. But when the iPad came on the scene circa 2010, that was a game changer. Suddenly, it made sense to start thinking about reading sheet music on a device rather than on a book, and while people thought we were crazy in the beginning, suddenly with the iPad it made sense, and the whole new field of digital sheet music exploded. One of my jobs back when I was with AirTurn in those early days was to reach out to developers to try to see if we could get them to collaborate with us.
One really weird thing that I think was a blessing in disguise; Apple’s iPad iOS system was trying to block everybody. They did not want any other manufacturers to work within their operating system. They wanted to control everything. Steve Jobs I think hated us. He knew of us. He didn’t like us because we broke into his iPad and we figured out how to get our early prototype AirTurn page turning pedal to work with it. I actually believe we were one of the first Bluetooth external devices that could control an iPad, but we had to have a special code embedded in an app, so that meant I had to reach out to all these other app developers, nascent app developers, to try to get them to use our code so that our AirTurn would be compatible with other programs.
Now, one of the interesting problems that I was finding was that the apps were okay, but they weren’t great, and they were all limited in one fashion or another. When I was using my old Tablet PC, I was using PDF readers, and there were things that I started using that I really, really missed. Certain apps could do some things well, other apps could do other things well, but no app really got it 100% the way I wished they could.
Now, skip forward to around four or five years ago, when a brand new sheet music app, Newzik, launched. Back then, I had just left AirTurn, launched an online popular piano school with ArtistWorks, and was simultaneously launching my podcast show, “A Musical Life”. Aurélia reached out to me, and by that time I had already started using certain apps for reading sheet music, and while it was pretty good, it wasn’t perfect. Aurélia wanted to introduce me to her new app, Newzik. By this time, I had already talked to dozens and dozens of sheet music app developers, and most of these developers were single programmers, guys working by themselves in their basements and very talented, very smart. I took a look at the early build of Newzik, and we talked through the app’s feature set. I liked some of the things I was seeing, but it was a very early-stage app. As I shared with any app developer, I was sharing some of the limitations that I was seeing as a professional musician, things that I wished the Newzik developers would do, and then we dropped off and we both went our separate directions. (Back then, Aurélia was living in Tel Aviv – now she lives in Paris, where the Newzik team is based.)
Now, skip forward to the present day. I just relaunched my redesigned website and weekly newsletter a few weeks ago. The day after my new newsletter went out, Aurélia emailed me and said, “Hello. Do you remember me?”
I have to be honest, I was a little surprised because I never really took a hard look because I saw the limitations of Newzik four years ago. Aurélia wanted to talk about what she was doing now with Newzik. I took a fresh look at the app, and, oh, my goodness, it’s like the Newzik team read my mind and answered most my wishlist items of features I wanted to see in the perfect digital sheet music reading app! Needless to say, I am so excited to share what I’ve learned about Newzik to my colleagues on the Net!
Now, I don’t believe it’s ever possible to have a 100% perfect music reader, but the Newzik team is doing some really amazing things in digital sheet music. First, I asked Aurélia what inspired her to start developing Newzik, and then we’ll take a quick tour of what this app can do. I’m also going to share my favorite feature which is, believe it or not, one of the main things that nobody’s been able to do up to this point. This feature, for me, solves the most basic problem of digital sheet. music What is it? Well, to find out, watch the interview below, or read the full transcript on my personal website at HughSung.com.