so here i am getting ready to build the cue sheet for my latest project, and i have stumbled upon a philosophical question on par with "if a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?".
okay, not that deep, but hopefully people have some helpful opinions: when is a piece of music short enough so that it is not considered a cue? i've got parts for this film that are - for example - just a single synth tone with 3 seconds duration. or a single piano chord strike. in some instances i even just supplied a synth tone or two for the sound designer to use at his discretion.
I think it has less to do with the length and more to do with the effort involved. If you've invested the time into tweaking that sine tone to make it convey exactly the emotion you want at that point in the film, I'd call it a cue. After all the right two chords placed at the exact right point in time have a powerful effect, even if they only last seconds. If you said, "it should have a beep here," and pulled a sound out of a library without really thinking about it, then it might not be a cue.
I'm not sure if ASCAP, BMI, or the like have formal definitions.
I would always think of a cue in terms of how you present it to the editor or sound dub guy. If it's one chord and it's a separate sound file it's a cue. If you presented a sequence that has stops and starts for dramatic purposes, a pause here, a note here, a piece of passionate melody there - if it's one file or track specifically timed to fit a scene it's a cue.
That's my understanding of it, although sometimes you'll get a cue list back from someone who has been through the episodes and numbered everything they heard musically to their own scheme. This doesn't need to concern you - as long as it's on the list for royalty purposes!!
I wonder if the term 'cue' came from theatre land - something I did quite a lot some years ago - in that context the 'cue' is the actual piece of music, and 'cueing' it is the act putting it in the right place - a bit like sync!