The term cue has two meanings in the scoring world. Firstly it is the term we use for a single piece, or ‘start.’ The second meaning is similar in appearance to cues in the concert world, but used for a very different purpose. In the concert world, a cue is placed in a part to help players after long rests. A bar or two from another prominent part is written into their part so they will know when they hear that, they are at a certain place. These notes are written smaller and labeled ‘cue.’
In the scoring world we do not need those sorts of cues. Our players do not get lost. Our parts are always broken up into small rests so they are easy to follow, additionally we have digital counters on the wall so everyone can see where we are. What we use cues for is when we want to add a part as an option. The default in Los Angeles is to NOT play cues unless asked. This is a very good thing! It allows us to put in lots of options and not have them all played at the same time or lose time sorting out if we want them to be played. Imagine we have three minutes left and I need to record a three minute cue. I cannot waste time sorting out cues at that point, and the piece will be fine without them. I can just start knowing they will not be played. Unfortunately this is not universal and in other locations you have to state at the beginning of each session that you do not want cues played by default. In most cases, the composer wants us to fill in the music and make it ‘real’. But occasionally maybe a fussy director, or something in the picture, means you have to take elements back out. Through thoughtful use of cueing, this is easy to do.
What to cue and what not to
It is very easy to make the computer mockup sound full. But whereas samples are very powerful, in order to make the correct sound with a real orchestra, I have to fill in all the other parts. If I am just filling things out to match the mockup, I do not cue a part. But if I add something that changes the overall sound, I will cue it.
You should not use small notes for studio cues. There is a good chance they will be played, so there is no reason to make it harder by making them small. The best way is just to use the word ‘cue’ and a line with a hook ending at the end of the cue. If you have a long one, you can just use ‘end cue’ instead of the line and hook.
I use these cool smart shapes that a got from orchestrator and finale legend Rick Giovinazzo.