Online Cue Sheet Access: Why We Need It Now

Film Music Institute > Film Music Magazine (Archives) > Final Note (Archive) > Online Cue Sheet Access: Why We Need It Now

In my last column, I talked about my desire to see the ASCAP Board start instituting some practices that could help curb the abusive, exploitative practice of requiring composers to kick back a percentage of writer’s royalties as a condition of employment.
But beyond the issue of institutionalized kickback schemes, there are many other ways cue sheets can become inaccurate given how many hands have to touch them as they’re created and potentially re-inputted from one system to another to another. It is unrealistic to expect ASCAP to check every line on every cue sheet – they’re hardly in a position to know what’s accurate and what’s not. But composers are, and that’s a very, very good reason why composers ought to have online, secured access to the official cue sheets of their music that are on file at our performing rights organizations (PROs).

Here is an important question to consider: Do you really know what the final, official versions of your cue sheets on file with the PROs contain?

From innocent data input errors by clerks at production companies, to deliberately “inflating” cue sheets by increasing cue timings and even adding music onto cue sheets that isn’t even in the film or TV production, there are a myriad of ways that cue sheets can end up wrong. And let’s not forget that all three U.S. PROs reserve the right to alter cue sheets without notifying any of the affected writers or publishers listed on the cue sheet.

With online access, composers and songwriters can ensure that their music is properly and accurately recorded on the final, official versions of cue sheets – documents that are the basis for the payment by our PROs of hundreds of millions of dollars of royalties every year. If a problem is found on a cue sheet, those with a fiduciary interest in the royalties that are paid for that music – composers, songwriters and publishers – are the ones who are in the best and only practical position to spot the problems and get them resolved with the interested parties.

Once composers are allowed online access to the official, final copies of their cue sheets at the PROs, I expect there will be an initial flurry of activity as composers and songwriters identify potential issues with cue sheets. I don’t expect the PROs to bear the expense or burden of managing the workout of all these inquiries – the cost in time and money should be borne by those who have a fiduciary interest in the royalties at issue – the writers and publishers. But to make this work, it’s important that the PROs establish a basic framework by which any mistakes or errors on cue sheets can be documented and corrected. In the end, all parties – the PROs, writers and publishers, all have an interest in the final, official version of cue sheets on file at the PROs being accurate. And that also includes the “international versions” of cue sheets which originate at our domestic PROs but are separate documents used by PROs worldwide.

Some might argue that only copyright owners should have access to these official cue sheet files, however I strongly disagree with that. In fact, since publishing and copyright are not always owned by the same parties and copyright ownership is not recorded on cue sheets, the PROs really don’t have any way to accurately identify copyright owners of the music they represent other than making an undocumented assumption that whoever owns the publishing must own the copyright.

In a day and age when even the smallest local bank has a robust online banking service for its customers, there is no reason why composers and songwriters should have to deal with outdated computer systems that offer no online access to cue sheets. Music is no different than stocks, bonds, or other assets that are managed by brokerages or other financial institutions – these institutions have an obligation to provide easy to use, online access to customers for their assets. We have an obligation to ourselves and to our families to manage our music assets responsibly, and as long as cue sheets are locked away at the PROs with no online access, verifying that the final version of our cue sheets on file with the PROs is difficult at best.

Whether it’s cue sheets with no dotted line to sign that enable and facilitate cue sheet kickbacks or cue sheets that are maintained on computers by our PROs but members are denied online access to, there’s a lot of room for improvement in this area by our PROs. Left to their own, they have chosen not to provide these basic elements of accountability. That leaves it to us – composers, songwriters and publishers – to insist that our PROs do a better job in this area, even if we have to drag them kicking and screaming into implementing 21st century technology and provide comprehensive and complete online access to the musical assets we hire them to manage for us. And online access to cue sheets isn’t the only improvement we should expect – I can’t wait to see outdated practices like sampling only tiny amounts of music from certain broadcasters and PROs employing people listening to music on headphones trying to identify music by its melody (great for songs, but good luck trying that with background instrumental cues) eliminated by finally embracing technology that can and should render these outdated, costly practices obsolete.

Finally, let’s remember that ASCAP, BMI and SESAC work for us, not the other way around. We have every reason to expect accountability from them. We hire them to manage our royalty interests in music we write. They should be grateful for our business and not have to be pushed and prodded to provide basic services while they hide their actions behind secret board meetings and Soviet Union-style elections with secret vote counts and handpicked opponents. They can and must do better, or we as independent businesspeople need to consider better alternatives that embrace 21st century technology and the transparency and accountability that it can and does provide.


  • February 4, 2009 @ 11:26 am

    This is a very valid argument…employees at “companies” are allowed and entitled to see their time cards / time sheets… There should be full disclosure to eliminate under payment, over payment and payment to the wrong person(s)… this could also reduce the amount of after the fact audits and litigation.

  • Les Hurdle
    February 4, 2009 @ 2:41 pm

    What always amazes me is we are expected to trust ‘all’ of these people……… why do we?


  • Chris
    February 5, 2009 @ 1:55 pm

    Cue sheets, cue sheets, cue sheets…the ins and outs of them and PRO’s should be taught in all music schools. I agree with you whole heartedly. Until such policy is instituted I recommend that composers do what I have been doing for years. As a rule, I insist on getting a finalized cue sheet from the channel so I KNOW what the cue sheet says. I also always submit a copy myself to the PRO, as I have had countless instances of cue sheets not being filed, although things have improved in this regard over the past few years. If you don’t take the bull by the horn, YOUR money may just go bye bye! Clearly this is going to be harder to do if your music is in a music library but it’s still doable. When in doubt, make the PRO earn the “administrative fees” that they take and file an inquiry.

  • February 7, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

    I have been advocating this for several years. Ever since I found out that ASCAP’s PREP, which is scheduled to go live later this year, will have “member access”, allowing a member to view statements and other personal, catalog and pertinent information online. It is coming and it is not a new concept. BMI, to my knowledge has nothing in the pipeline like this- although after reading this, who knows? Cue sheets, in a world of diminishing front-end money are our “invoices”. They are made out by professional music editors on fully funded productions but on independent, low budget productions, who is responsible for filing them? Maybe the producer’s assistant. Certainly a lower level employee. Someone else making out our “invoice” without the opportunity for any of the musical contributors having a chance to confirm its contents is wrong.
    The correction is coming.

  • February 24, 2009 @ 6:34 pm

    I agree with everything Mark said. In addition, the U.S. PROs also need to put their collective heads together and standardize format, acronyms, etc. for cue sheet preparation. Currently, BMI wants one thing, ASCAP another, SESAC yet something else, and none completely coincide with the other’s desires. Well… let’s put it this way… certain folks at the PROs say one thing, then someone else says something else to contradict the first person (in the same department!) and so on… If they can’t even agree on cue sheet format, and if one PRO wants things noted in a polar opposite fashion of another, how the heck are they going to agree on putting things on line for all to see? It will expose the fact that somebody out there isn’t going to get paid what they should because of exactly how composer/publisher info is noted on the cue sheet. As someone who has been going ’round-and-’round with the U.S. PROs on this issue, I can tell you that virtually no-one preparing cue sheets has all the info from all the PROs to fill them out so that everyone is happy. This is the composer’s and publisher’s income being bandied about as if it were merely an afterthought.

  • February 26, 2009 @ 6:36 pm

    Hi Gael
    I see from IMDB that you are a music supervisor and consequently I imagine you have to deal with multiple societies. Most composers only deal with one (at a time) and aren’t too bothered by inconsistencies as much. However, in an attempt to standardize cue sheet submissions, ASCAP and BMI have both endorsed, use and encourage the use of RapidCue. (
    It is in use by all major production companies and many independent music editors. In addition to standardizing it allows cue sheets to be submitted electronically which saves time, trees and cuts down on errors encountered by the re-entry of data once the cue sheet, on paper, arrives at the PRO.
    I wasn’t aware of the “polar opposites” that you mentioned and would appreciate you pointing them out to me either here or you may email me directly at We just keep working to get it right.

  • Rick Austin
    May 3, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

    I had to fight for some recent $$ after having many many cues on a popular friday night show. Sure, it was on cable, but I noticed no royalties for a year! After COUNTLESS letters back and forth between my ASCAP rep and the legal dept of the network, it came to light an intern forgot to put the show episode number on the cue sheets….AMAZING. I have been paid, but you can only imagine how many of us have not been paid and how much we all miss.

    The system needs an overhaul and ASCAP needs to remove the magic curtain of secrecy….

  • veronica
    May 10, 2009 @ 9:20 am

    please can anybody tell me where I can find film music in full score?I study music and my graduation paper work should be on film music but i can’t find any!Please!

  • June 22, 2010 @ 4:30 am

    The days of a hand shake are over. I would like to have a good relationship with the ones using my music. But I have learned that if I want a utility company to service me I had to follow the rules and payment system that has been established. When we compose music our work is our utility and we must keep it clear and simple. This is a business transaction. Not to mention our need to keep records for taxes like any professional operation. It is time to let the film and TV world recognize we must get paid. This is our time card…DrCal out

  • Nora Smith
    December 18, 2013 @ 11:06 am

    I just experienced having all credits removed from my account by a company that accused me of being a fraud. but the Creator of the show listed me as one of the writers, I am even on the original cue sheets, but somehow my credits were still removed from BMI. So how am
    I suppose to get paid for what the creator claims he used my stuff on. I am new at this cut throat mentality for stardum, any advice? anyone?

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