Composer's Toolbox

a blog for the composers and audiences of today's music.

Music Notation Software Subscription vs. Perpetual License

Music notation software is becoming more subscription based, instead of perpetual license-based. How does this affect your budget?

Music notation software subscription product Sibelius | Ultimate

Music Notation Software – Subscription or Perpetual License?

Let’s take a moment to define the two terms:

Subscription: you have access to the features of the program as long as you keep paying a small recurring fee, usually a monthly charge to a credit card.

Perpetual license: you buy the program once in one lump sum payment (usually a large one) and can use that program forever.

Music Notation Software Subscription and License Models

The major players offering paid versions of their music notation software are:

  • Finale
  • Sibelius
  • Dorico

Of these, Finale only offers perpetual licenses: you pay once, and you get that version of the program in full, forever. Dorico only offers perpetual licenses, but with so many features being added, the update from Dorico 1 to Dorico 2 felt a bit like a subscription to me. I haven’t upgraded to Dorico 2 yet, but it will likely be my next perpetual license once I have the money.

Sibelius took an interesting stance by introducing subscription-based pricing alongside perpetual licenses. You can either pay a monthly fee and get the latest features and updates for Sibelius, or pay once to own the software forever.

This is where things get tricky. Finale and Dorico offer versions that tend to come out annually or somewhat-annually, each with more features than the previous version. It generally costs $100-$149 to upgrade from an older version to a newer version. But, Sibelius | Ultimate affords you unlimited updates as long as you pay $19.92 per month each year.

You can also buy Sibelius outright for $599.00, BUT you have to renew your support plan at $89.00 annually to keep receiving technical support and product updates.

So, what is the right model for you? Here is a little table to compare music notation software subscription and perpetual license models:

Music notation software subscription vs. perpetual license


What this means is that, if you have the funds and can stomach a huge sticker shock, in the end a perpetual license is the most cost-effective manner of purchasing. Even if Sibelius pushes a few updates at the Finale or Dorico price range of $149 or $100, one still comes out on top.

It is fascinating that once one hits year 3 of a music notation software subscription such as Sibelius | Ultimate, all 4 models are similar with Finale as an outlier. In addition, 4 years of Sibelius subscription are actually worth 5 years of perpetual license. In addition, Sibelius and Dorico appear to be neck-in-neck when comparing perpetual licenses, and Finale licenses and Sibelius subscriptions appear to be more costly.

But, this assumes that you choose to update your program of choice yearly, and that the program of choice does actually offer yearly updates (and this assumes their prices are the same each year!). These are big assumptions; what I would recommend is looking into just how much you want to spend at first, and then how much else you want to spend–and how often. Not many of us have $600 lying around for an up-front perpetual license.

There is one caveat, though: if you are in the education field, take advantage of education pricing! This is a great way to get a perpetual license, which oftentimes means you can upgrade forever at the normal upgrade rate (instead of having to pay full sticker price and then upgrade at the normal rate). This is a great way to really be able to use and learn a fantastic piece of software and not wallow in debt.


This also depends on your software of choice. Regardless of price, what is the software you use best? What is the right choice for you?

This analysis compares only the top/complete versions of the software; all of these programs have different levels of functionality. The versions with less functionality cost less than the complete versions featured here.

Right now I am stuck between all three–I use all of the “big dogs”, and you can bet that even though Finale is what I am most fluent in, I want to use something that I find more intuitive and powerful. But, I don’t want to pay for a Sibelius subscription or for endless Dorico updates. I also don’t have the money for a Sibelius perpetual license. This means that, like everyone else, I have a lot of thinking to do when choosing my next music notation software upgrade. You can bet that the next upgrade I do will likely be the product I stick with for many years to come, as I don’t want to pay even more than I have to by keeping multiple software programs updated.

I hope this is useful! Best of luck hunting for your next music notation software purchase!


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A day of remembrance

I’m back at it.

December was a bit of a rough month. There were bouts of depression, bouts of joy, lots of music making, lots of absence from this blog, and the loss of a family member in early January.

I’m using composing as a way to connect with my emotions, and am hanging in there. I recently completed a very short, very simple piece to commemorate the passing and legacy of the family member we lost. Here it is:

This post is being published on 1/12/19, a day of remembrance for another recent passing, Dr. David Macbride. I am posting this to honor not just my family member, but to also honor David.

Please take the time you have on this earth to appreciate those around you, to help them, to tell them you love them. The next moment isn’t promised.



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