Author Topic: CALLING: 'Music director calling tracks vs SM calling tracks' Question  (Read 1933 times)

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Hello Everyone!

I am currently working on the production "Chicago" through my university, as a student stage manager with a faculty music director. Instead of a live band, we are using recorded music that's being fired through Qlab. Our music director will also be acting as our board operator. In most situations the live music cues would be given by the conductor, so the stage manager would not call that. However tracks would normally be called by the stage manager.

Should the music director/conductor run his own music cues because this is a musical or because they are tracks should I be calling them? What is this industry standard on this?

I would love to hear more insight from other stage managers who might be/have been in this position. Thanks!

Some additional information about this project:
This show is a workshop style production, so we have a simple set design with no scene changes or special effects. I will only be calling lights and curtain cues (so I would easily be able to add music into my calling). Our music director has been present at all rehearsals and is already aware of when/where cues should be fired.

Edited to add topic tag- Maribeth
« Last Edit: Mar 31, 2017, 04:32 pm by Maribeth »


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Re: 'Music director calling tracks vs SM calling tracks' Question
« Reply #1 on: Mar 30, 2017, 03:21 am »

I actually have experience with this on both the stage management and music direction side of things. 90% of my theater experience is in stage management, but last spring I was the "Virtual Music Director" for a production of West Side Story that used tracks via Sinfonia, which is an orchestra replication software program. Running tracks off of Sinfonia is different from doing so off of QLab because Sinfonia designed to give the operator far more control over the music that is playing. While working with Sinfonia, I could easily change the tempo by tapping in a new BPM either ahead of time or during the performance itself; I could pause in the middle of a song; I could (and in fact often needed to) "cue us out of" vamps. I think the software is designed in this manner because ideally it would be run by a music director who was using it to supplement 2-3 real instruments and would need to ~follow~ those instruments with said software -- but even with the entire orchestra running off of Sinfonia, I did find the extra control to be helpful/reassuring.

The stage manager was one of my good friends, so luckily I was able to easily figure out what calling/cueing strategy would be best for both of us. We ended up in a middle ground of sorts: I was responsible for the more score-based and music-theory-knowledge-based cues, and although my SM would give warnings and would "call" the beginning of each song, ultimately I was responsible for cueing into and out of each song (except for a few very precise moments, my SM's "calls" were more like backup reminders than like a traditional called cue that an SM might direct towards a board op). This method worked for us quite well, as it helped us collaborate on timing and ensured that we knew what the other person was doing. But if my SM had ignored music cues altogether, I would've still been able to run the show's Sinfonia cues without any trouble (other than cueing out of one of the trickiest vamps, and even then I think know how I would've figured it out).

So! A mix of music-director-runs-their-own-cues and stage-manager-calls-all-audio-cues was a perfect solution for my situation, and I think it's a good example of the fact that a compromise that takes note of/advantage of the compromising individuals' skill sets is almost always a healthy and productive compromise. Regarding the actual breakdown of labor, YMMV, of course. Part of the reason I was chosen as Virtual Music Director was my background in stage management, because the SM and the director knew that I was capable of accurately and calmly cueing 2.5 hours worth of accompaniment -- we knew the role would be analogous to mixing mics in terms of autonomy, self-cueing in-the-moment-judgment/decision-making, etc, and it without a doubt helped that I am very confident in the booth. If I had been less confident in my calling/cueing ability, or if I had been the music director all along (and therefore possibly more predisposed to ~having opinions~), the strategy that we utilized might not have been the best strategy.

I think that if a production uses Sinfonia, they should have a music director running the software program (rather than having the stage manager beginning each track by themselves); otherwise it's nearly impossible to take advantage of Sinfonia's flexibility and its other benefits. I'm not so sure about a production that uses QLab, since I imagine you've worked out your music situation such that there aren't details/uncertainties left until the last minute (i.e. vamps during difficult scene changes, etc), and therefore having a single person dedicated to the music isn't quite as helpful.

But if you think a track will need to be stopped partway through, or if you think you'll need to keep repeating a certain section, I'd choose someone to fill that role and that role only. Tracks are fickle phenomena, as are musical theater performers, and anything can happen; if you're in the midst of LX and curtain cues you don't want to be looking in your score for a measure number. I think it's still important to call the beginning of each track out loud for the sake of security, as well as because you'll probably end up with light cues that occur on the "go" of the track beginning. Other than that, though, I'd definitely think about division of labor, strengths, and what's practical for your show's needs. I don't think there's anything wrong with entrusting the music to someone else -- after all, as you said, it's what you would do if there were a live band, and I'm not sure to what extent the existence of QLab changes that protocol, other than the fact that you'll be subconsciously thinking of each track as a cue of sorts.

I'm very, very tired post-tech and am not entirely sure this post makes sense but I wanted to respond before I forgot. Please please please message me if anything is deeply unclear/if you want to talk further about this situation! I think I can see it pretty accurately from both sides and would love to share my experience in a more coherent way, if that would be helpful.


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Re: 'Music director calling tracks vs SM calling tracks' Question
« Reply #2 on: Mar 30, 2017, 10:25 pm »
We are not using Sinfonia or any changeable tracks. All of the music has been recorded and put into Qlab. They will fire as if they were sound cues, only they're are music tracks.

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Joshua S.

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Re: 'Music director calling tracks vs SM calling tracks' Question
« Reply #3 on: Mar 31, 2017, 12:01 pm »
I don't know if you would be able to cite much as "industry standard" for this because "industry standard" would be for the music to be played live.  That being said, I know there are a lot of "track" shows available from licensing agents, especially for youth theatre, and I've seen those shows cued both ways.  So I think you're best off letting the musical director fire the cues as QLab is his orchestra for this production.  Fighting it is only going to cause tension between the two of you.  If you need to coordinate your cues with the downbeat of a number, then figure out a system to do so, much as you would if he were in the pit or at a piano.


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Re: 'Music director calling tracks vs SM calling tracks' Question
« Reply #4 on: Mar 31, 2017, 12:51 pm »
Two questions to ask:
1. Are there any sound cues other than the music tracks? If there are, is the music director comfortable being on headset and taking cues from you the same way a regular sound board op would? If the answer to the 2nd part of that is No, then you should reevaluate.

2. Are there other cues that are being called in coordination with the music downbeat? If the answer is Yes, then you have 2 options- the first is to call all of the cues, music included, the way you would with any other show; the second is that you have to be able to see the music director (either in person or via conductor cam) so that you can watch him "conduct" the pressing of the Go button- and he will have to "conduct" it, even if that is only a head nod or something- so that you can time the call of the other cues together.
You will have to sing for your supper & your mortgage, your dental coverage & your children's shoes, over & over again while people in desk jobs roll their eyes the minute you start to complain. So it's a good thing you like to sing.

Tags: calling music Question 

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