cue number exampleIf you’ve seen printed music scores from films, you’ll probably ask yourself “what does 1m1 mean?” or some similar question. It’s common for original music to be named with both a title “Knights Bridge” and with this formatted prefix (for example 2m4).

The first number is the reel. The letter “m” stands for music. The last number is the actual cue number on that reel.

The convention dates back to the beginning of film scoring. When films were actually on film, they were delivered to composers on reels. These reels were usually around 20 minutes in length, so there would be several in a feature film. To ensure the music was recorded and laid back to the correct scene, the (reel number) + (m for music) + (cue number) were added to the top of every conductor’s score, player’s part, and recording session log sheet. That helped everyone stay organized and avoid confusion about which cue title belong to which scene.

In the event that cue numbers had already been assigned and a new piece needed to be added, it was common to add a letter like “2m4b” to the cue number. This would keep the sequence of cues unchanged.

That’s it. Pretty simple but a bit cryptic if you’re new to the process.


Considering that today’s films are usually delivered as one digital file, should we still use cue numbers? That’s your choice. Personally I’ve decided that I like it. Using cue numbers during spotting is very helpful. After all, the music hasn’t been composed at that point and a cue number gives point of reference.


Joseph Miller is a tonmeister working in music and sound mediums. He contracts with companies from around the world, on projects big and small, from a studio filled with sound making devices and acoustic musical instruments.

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