Author Topic: What to do if the music won't play?  (Read 3026 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

JJ Hersh

  • New to Town
  • **
  • Posts: 29
    • View Profile
  • Affiliations: UC Santa Cruz
  • Current Gig: Stage Management Fellow at Arena Stage
  • Experience: Professional
What to do if the music won't play?
« on: Dec 21, 2015, 02:48 pm »
I was just looking through my laptop and reorganizing some of my early paperwork and I found a performance report from the first dance show I ever worked with. I didn't have a soundboard operator for that show, so we had jerry rigged a system where the sound cues were run through the light board. Something got messed up in QLab and long story short, just before the fourth piece in the showcase, three songs started playing at once(If you were curious, none of them were the song that was supposed to be playing). I hit the stop all button in QLab and had my light board op go back to a blackout while I tried to fix the issue. It took about 10 minutes of finagling with the Cue order, unsuccessful attempts to manually trigger the cues, and completely shutting down and restarting the system for the right song to play, but the moment the next piece was supposed to start the same issue happened. At the time I didn't communicate with the audience at all, and I didn't really communicate with the dancers as much as I needed to.

Looking back it's clear that I didn't handle it right; If you were in that position what would you do? Would you call hold? Give people refunds on their tickets and send them home?

If I had been on a straight play where the sound cues weren't vital to plot I would have probably gone without cues and apologized profusely to the sound designer later, but obviously on a dance show that's not an option.


  • SM Expert
  • ****
  • Posts: 117
  • Gender: Female
    • View Profile
  • Affiliations: AEA
  • Current Gig: Asst. Company Manager, HVSF
  • Experience: Professional
Re: What to do if the music won't play?
« Reply #1 on: Dec 21, 2015, 10:07 pm »
At that point, I feel like I would call a hold on the performance, possibly asking house management is a 10 min intermission was possible and then asking them to announce (or announce it myself on the god mic, if that were possible) due to technical difficulties, and re-start from the best possible starting place (beginning of a song or movement, perhaps). I think it would depend on the policies and how strict the theater was- this sound like it possibly did not have the staff necessary?


  • Permanent Resident
  • *****
  • Posts: 228
  • Gender: Female
  • all the world's a stage
    • View Profile
  • Affiliations: AEA, IATSE
  • Current Gig: Technical Support Services @ Lenoir-Rhyne University
  • Experience: Former SM
Re: What to do if the music won't play?
« Reply #2 on: Dec 24, 2015, 11:25 am »
I like to keep a CD version of sound cues and show music to go to just in case in the scenario you mentioned happens. 


  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 410
  • Gender: Female
    • View Profile
    • Bay Area SM
  • Affiliations: AEA
  • Current Gig: VP, Operations in AV Events
  • Experience: Professional
Re: What to do if the music won't play?
« Reply #3 on: Dec 28, 2015, 02:28 am »
Having a CD version of music is ideal - always have a backup. We had a performance of a world premiere ballet that had a 2 piece band in the pit (guitar & various percussion) and a drum track on the guitarist's laptop. When the laptop crashed it was at a point where most of the music came from the drum track. The dancers and crew snapped their fingers to the beat and kept everyone going until the guitarist got the music cued up.

Our case was a rare one, where we actually had time code running on the backdrop as part of the design, so the guitarist could cue up his track to exactly where it needed to be, and I knew what was going on because I had a camera focused on him in the pit. Needless to say we made him give us a CD of his drum track after that performance and stopped the use of his laptop.

If you don't have CD back up, then I would do 1 of 2 things - if you think it's going to take more than 2 minutes to fix, bring in the Main, explain over the God Mic that you are having technical difficulties and that the show will resume in X minutes and bring up the house lights. If you can get it done in less than 2 minutes, bring in the Main, glow the house and explain that the program will resume shortly and thank them for their patience. Make sure your ASM or someone on the deck can relay to your dancers exactly where we are picking up from.

We had issues with pressurization during our recent production of The Nutcracker, causing a downstage scrim to get caught under a system pipe, forcing me to bring the Main in, explain over the God mic that we would resume shortly, and fix the problem. This happened twice during this run and in my 13 years, it's the only time I've ever had to restart a show due to technical issues. The audience will understand, as long as you tell them what is going on and don't make them wait in their seats too long. If you can get it resolved in 10-12 minutes at the most, it's better than giving refunds.


  • Forum Moderators
  • *****
  • Posts: 962
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
  • Current Gig: Project Manager, Systems Integration
  • Experience: Former SM
Re: What to do if the music won't play?
« Reply #4 on: Dec 28, 2015, 07:46 am »
The ability to look back on your work and acknowledge where improvement is needed is a great asset to have in your toolbox.  We all know we're not perfect, but kudos for having the humility to call yourself onto the carpet in a way.

This specific scenario is interesting - when you say "something got messed up in QLAB" -  I assume there was not a live backup running?  Others here have said it's always good to have a CD backup - while I agree that having a backup is necessary, the ideal way to do this is to be running a live backup QLAB machine that is a separate piece of hardware from main show machine.  Both machines should be dedicated QLAB machines (not peoples' personal laptops, and not machines that do other duties).  If (when) a crash occurs, a change is as simple as bringing the levels on the mixer down for the primary and up for the live backup, and pressing a button on the KVM from primary to backup.

A redundant QLAB setup with two MAC Minis, Monitor, KVM, Keyboard, Mouse, and Software License can be had for under $3,000 (if you've got the right audio system to accept it - a touch more, say $5,000 if you need added hardware).  I realize many theatres operate on shoe string budgets, but if this is an insurmountable sum, probably best to find a solution other than relying on QLAB. 

So often we are reactionary and say "what should I do if X situation occurs?".  Look to be proactive during your tech run and say "how do we avoid X, Y, Z situations?".  If your sound designer or audio engineer's answer to a possible failure is "let's hope it doesn't happen!" - that's something to work out way before showtime.

Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action. -T. Roosevelt



  • Permanent Resident
  • *****
  • Posts: 270
    • View Profile
  • Affiliations: UK SMA, UK Equity
  • Experience: Professional
Re: What to do if the music won't play?
« Reply #5 on: Dec 28, 2015, 08:12 am »
If you can get it resolved in 10-12 minutes at the most, it's better than giving refunds.

And then there's my last press night with a show stop of 75 minutes.....


Related Topics

  Subject / Started by Replies Last post
10 Replies
Last post Jul 23, 2005, 12:54 pm
by Aerial
2 Replies
Last post Apr 17, 2008, 12:04 am
by LisaS
3 Replies
Last post Jul 10, 2009, 08:44 pm
by geoffsm