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What are Cue Sheets?

Cue sheets are essential roadmaps in the music industry, detailing every song and composition played in a TV show, film, or radio broadcast. They ensure composers and artists receive proper credit and royalties for their work. Intrigued by how these documents uphold creative rights? Dive deeper to discover the meticulous process behind cue sheets and their impact on artists' livelihoods.
G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

Cue sheets are notes used predominantly in theater performances that indicate when certain lighting changes, sounds, or other events are going to happen during the show. These sheets are often maintained by a director and stage manager to help them keep track of when things are supposed to occur during a performance. Shorter versions of the cue sheets will often be given to those responsible for lighting and sound that only indicate the portions of the full sheets that affect them.

An example of how cue sheets are used would be in a production of Romeo and Juliet where the director had decided to have certain conditions happen to enhance the scene as Romeo is departing Juliet in the morning. The director may want some orange lighting to come on to indicate visually that the sun is rising. In this case there would be a note on the cue sheets to indicate that orange lighting comes on from stage left or right. The lighting operators would then have sheets that indicated to them that orange light needs to come on and when during the performance it would happen.

Lighting changes for a stage performance are indicated on cue sheets.
Lighting changes for a stage performance are indicated on cue sheets.

To make the scene more idyllic, the director may also want the sound of singing birds to be lightly played during this moment. There would be notes on the full cue sheets to indicate that at this point in the performance there should be orange light and the sound of birds singing. The sound crew would have a sheet noting that the sounds of singing birds needs to occur at a certain point in the performance. They would not, however, have the note about the lighting and the lighting operators would similarly not have a note about the sound. This keeps the production simplified but the director and stage manager know all of what should be happening.

Cue sheets are important to putting together a successful stage play.
Cue sheets are important to putting together a successful stage play.

Similarly, during film or television performances, the director may choose to use cue cards for his or her performers. These cards contain some of the same information as cue sheets and are often used during live performances to help a performer in case he or she forgets a line or is unsure of a specific action that must be taken. The cue cards can also help a performer move a certain way if it is important to a scene or to add emphasis where needed. Such cue cards have become less popular in recent years as Teleprompters have replaced bulky cards with screens that allow the text to scroll as the performers read it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a cue sheet in the context of music and broadcasting?

A cue sheet is a document used in the music industry that details all the music and its composers, publishers, and other relevant information for tracks used in a television show, movie, or other broadcast. It is essential for ensuring that royalties are properly distributed to the rights holders of the music used. Cue sheets are typically submitted to performance rights organizations (PROs) who use the information to allocate royalties accordingly.

Who is responsible for submitting cue sheets?

Generally, it is the responsibility of the producer or broadcaster of the content to submit cue sheets to the relevant performance rights organizations. For example, the producer of a TV show must ensure that a cue sheet is filled out and submitted for each episode that includes music. This ensures that composers and publishers are compensated for the use of their work in the broadcast.

What information is included on a cue sheet?

A cue sheet includes detailed information such as the title of each musical work used, the names of the composers and publishers, the duration of each music cue, and how the music is used (e.g., background, theme). It also includes details about the production itself, like the title, episode number, and air date. This comprehensive data is crucial for the accurate distribution of royalties.

How do cue sheets affect royalty payments to artists and composers?

Cue sheets directly impact royalty payments by providing the necessary information to performance rights organizations to track the usage of music. Accurate cue sheets ensure that composers and publishers are fairly compensated for their work based on how often and in what context their music is played in broadcasts. Inaccurate or missing cue sheets can lead to lost income for artists and composers.

Are cue sheets used for live performances as well as broadcasts?

No, cue sheets are primarily used for television, film, and radio broadcasts. Live performances have a different reporting process. For live performances, venues or event producers typically obtain blanket licenses from PROs and report their setlists directly. These setlists serve a similar purpose to cue sheets, ensuring that composers and publishers receive royalties for the use of their music in live settings.

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Discussion Comments


I watched a lot of live television comedy shows decades ago, when cue sheets were still in use. After seeing a documentary on how shows like these are produced, I gained new respect for cue sheet holders.

This documentary showed a man holding several large sheets at once. The writing on the sheets had to be large so the actors could see it from a distance, so only a few words could fit on a sheet.

As the words were read, the man had to drop the top sheet to reveal the next one. He could only hold so many at once, so he had to keep the rest neatly stacked behind him and grab them quickly when the time came.


@seag47 – Music cue sheets are probably even more important than lighting cue sheets. There is generally only one person running the lights, but you can have dozens of musicians doing their thing during the play.

I operate the lights for my community's theater. I always have my cue sheets handy, but I make it a point to go to every practice, so I generally have my cue memorized.

I can feel the mood of the play change, and that inspires me to adjust the lighting. Usually, the director lets me choose the colors to fit the moment, so sometimes, I do things that are not on the cue sheets. However, I always adhere to the lighting requests that are on them to make the director happy, and the rest is just bonus lighting.


I had a musical part in a play once. I played in a small orchestra that stayed behind the curtains as the play was acted out on stage, and we had to play during certain scenes.

To keep all of us together and make the play go seamlessly, we were given music cue sheets. The musical director also had one, and he would make sure we were all ready to read our music when the cue was forthcoming.

Without these cue sheets, the music would have been a mess. When you play with other musicians, you all have to have a plan, or you will create noisy chaos.


That is interesting. I always assumed that sound and light operators just came to every rehearsal and memorized when to do their jobs.

I guess cue sheets are a type of insurance. People tend to get wrapped up in the story during plays, and it would be embarrassing for an operator to forget to do what he is being paid to do.

During every play I have ever attended, things like light and sound have always come in at the right moment. I never knew that cue sheets were the most likely reason for this.

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    • Lighting changes for a stage performance are indicated on cue sheets.
      By: georg thiel
      Lighting changes for a stage performance are indicated on cue sheets.
    • Cue sheets are important to putting together a successful stage play.
      By: jilt
      Cue sheets are important to putting together a successful stage play.