Glossary of Music and Media Terms

Here are some terms which have been used in discussion of Light Music and Classic Themes on radio and TV, and in describing aspects of radio and TV programs and the recording industry.

Some of these are in response to questions from visitors to the Web Site and in other correspondence.

A & R Man

Artists & Repertoire Manager (a staff producer at a record company.) One famous example was the head of the A & R Department at Columbia Records -- Mitch Miller -- who supervised the choice of compositions (repertoire) for various recording artists during the 1950s and 1960s, and the choice of arrangers including Percy Faith for artists that included Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, and many others,


A segment of a radio or television program. Typical television programs typically have a three-act structure between which are commercial breaks and/or station breaks.

Act Curtain

A musical cue which begins or concludes one act of a television or radio show. Such a curtain may be an "Act Opener" or an "Act Closer". For example, an "Act Closer" often starts out very lightly, sneaking under dialog, and build in volume and intensity to a cadence (a musical punctuation.) In Old-time Radio Scripts, the terms "Music Curtain" would sometimes be written at the end of an act. Other synonyms of these terms that are sometimes used today are "Act-In" and "Act-Out".


A person who takes the basic melody of a musical composition and creates a score to be performed by a particular musical ensemble; in the process the melody may be reharmonized or put into a different style than the original; new counter-melodies and even new sections may be introduced; Some artists such as Percy Faith and Nelson Riddle specialize in creating memorable arrangements that are almost "re-compositions" of the basic material they work with. Most of the time arrangements are written down. But they are sometimes improvised. Jazz artists sometimes create such different arrangements that the originals are hardly recognizeable. The difference between arrangers and orchestrators is that the orchestrator takes a sketch or sketch/score from a composer and tries to realize the ideas the original composer has as precisely as possible. The arranger is an artist in his own right whose arrangements take the original composition as a point of departure.


An announcement (or musical cue for such an announcement) that begins a TV or radio program to indicate the contents of the program which will follow. Since a musical overture (in the style of musical theatre) would take too long, such a billboard may be read by the announcer over an Opening Theme; Or a special music cue (called a "Billboard") may be created to support such an opening announcement before the Opening Theme. Variety programs may use a timpani drum roll and suspenseful chords as a kind of Billboard introduction behind the announcer who lists the upcoming acts. The famous "60 Minutes" Billboard is a series of program excerpts which are played over the sound effect of a stopwatch. The Billboard for "Mission Impossible" was a full "Teaser" scene. Another kind of Billboard was created when television networks starting broadcasting in color. The NBC "Peacock Logo" was an example of this kind of Billboard:while music played, an announcer said "The following program Is brought to you in Living Color on NBC."


A commercial break or station break -- a pause between acts of a television or radio program during which are broadcast a sponsor's commercial message, "spot" commercials, public service announcements ("PSA's"), program promotional announcements ("promos"), a network ID announcement, or a station break (a "cutaway" for local station identification.)


A musical cue which is meant to make a transition from one mood to another, or signifying a change of place or a change in time. Such cues may start in one tempo or key and end in another tempo or key.


A short musical bridge within a television show, which separates the show content from the following commercials or other announcements; memorable bumpers were Melvyn Lenard Gordon's "Tymp Beat Music Cue" on "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and various bumpers on TV network movies such as one for the "CBS Late Movie" adapted by from Morton Stevens "CBS Movies Theme."

Clearance (and Clearance Companies)

The department or company which makes sure that uses of various musical compositions (and optionally recordings) are "cleared" for use within new recordings, motion pictures, television and radio programs and commercials. This may be as simple as filling out cue sheets and other standard use forms, or it may involve negotiating fees and terms for the rights to synchronize a musical composition in a movie, TV or radio program or commercial. There can be quite a bit of research involved in securing a music clearance, since some obscure compositions may be owned by heirs who are hard to find. Particularly tricky is the clearance of pieces for a new sound recording project which may have been part of a Production Music Library used as background cues for TV and radio shows. Production Music Libraries do not often release their compositions for home recordings. Also tricky can be securing clearances for using not only the composition by a composer or publisher, but also the clearance of the recording from the artist and his record company. See also: "Synch Rights."

Cold Open

An unusual technique of opening a program without a Billboard or Main Title Theme; The modern program "Law and Order" often starts out with a single short synthesized music effect and a cold open onto a scene in which a body is discovered. All of this serves as an unscored "Teaser" scene for the program, before the Opening Theme with the Main Titles.

Cue (or Music Cue)

An individual musical fragment intended to be used in scoring a motion picture or TV/radio show episode. The musical fragment may be part of a sequence of cues intended to Segue without interruption between them. Such sequences are commonly recorded as a series of separate cues if there are tempo changes or noticeable changes of orchestration. Cues used for underscoring can be used behind dialog, or to score visual action sequences (such as Sneakalongs, Stingers or Chases.) Cues may have various purposes besides underscoring. Cues may also be used for Main Titles, End Titles, End Credits, Billboards, Teasers, Act Curtains, Logos, Hitchhikes, Tags, etc. In a motion picture or TV show, cues are often numbered as follows: a number indicating which reel of the motion picture or TV show, the letter "M" to indicate this is a music cue and not a sound effect or dialog track, and an index number of the cue within the reel. So for example, the cue "1M-1" might be the first music cue in a production. And the cue "4M-32" would be the 32nd music cue in the fourth reel of the production. When cues are re-recorded or released on commercial sound recordings such cues may be given individual titles to use in collecting royalties.


an opening or closing musical cue (see "Act Curtain")

End Credits (music)

a musical cue intended to be played behind the ending credits sequence of a movie or TV program. It is synonymous with a "Closing Theme." "End Credits" often follow a shorter musical cue called "End Titles."

End Title (music)

a short musical cue which serves as an Act Curtain with "The End" titles superimposed. The correct use of the term distinguishes it from the "End Credits" which follow. But sometimes the term has been used interchangably to mean "End Credits". This often occurs when it is used on cue sheets to indicate a Theme used as a "Main and End Title."

Format Music

Opening and Closing Themes, and other standard Bumpers and Act Openers and Closers which are broadcast week after week, and are not specific to a particular episode of a TV or radio program.

Ghost Writing (aka: Ghosting)

The extreme time pressures put on composers by film/TV producers who don't care or don't plan well enough to leave adequate time in the Post-Production phase for scoring, often puts a composer in a bind to score an entire episode of a series. So many film/TV composers use the practice of hiring an aspiring composer or student composer to write part or all the cues of episode(s) with the understanding that the credits and royalties will still go to the known film/TV composer. Not every film/TV composer does this, but it is a common "safety valve" when schedules get crazy. "Ghost Writing" may also be called "Subbing Out" the score, or another term by which it is known is "Ghosting." It has its origins in the publishing world where the supposed autobiographies of various celebrities are often "Ghosted." Although this practice may seem pernicious or abusive of aspiring/student composers, it is seen as a necessary practice in the Hollywood system. And it gives the aspiring/student composer experience in a real-world situation that he will soon enough have to face on his own -- so it is a practice that is considered to be useful if not publicly acknowledged as an apprenticeship.

Hitchhike (or Hitch-hike)

A announcement, musical signature or "tag" (which may combine both an announcement with a musical cue) following a television program; the typical use is to announce the production company or distribution company which distributed the program. The most famous example was the MCA/Universal Emblem of Juan Esquivel and Stanley J. Wilson. On radio programs, such an announcement might be used to promote another program on the network.

In The Pocket

A jazz term which means: at the best tempo -- not too slow or too fast -- to bring out the best qualities of a particular arrangement of a composition.

Logo (Fanfare or Signature)

A musical fanfare or signature representing a studio or production company (or in commercial jingles an advertiser.) Other similar terms can be used such are "Trademark", and "Sounder". Examples are the "NBC Chimes" on the NBC radio and TV networks, the "NBC Peacock (Living Color) Logo", the "VistaVision Fanfare", the "20th Century Fox Trademark (Fanfare) with Cinemescope Extension", the "Mutual Radio News Sounder", the "Intel Inside" logo.

Main Title (aka: Main Title Music)

An introductory musical cue used behind the Opening Title sequence of a movie or TV program. Synonymous with an "Opening Theme." Sometimes the Main Title is excerpted from a Theme Song composed for the production, or it may be just a short cue that has no longer form. Main Titles may not be the first music cue in a production. A Main Title may be preceded by a studio Logo/Signature, by a Teaser or Billboard. Main Title cues may conclude before dialog begins, but often segues into another cue (which may or may not incorporate a Theme Song) over introductory action or behind the dialog of the first act. Sometimes the composer of the Main Title/End Credits theme will not be the same composer(s) of episode Underscores. This may be because the producers want a popular-style "Theme Song", or they want a different style of music than they believe the Underscore composer(s) might be able to deliver.

Mechanical Royalties (and Mechanical Rights Societies)

Royalties distributed to a composer (usually via a publishing or recording company contract) for the sale of sound recordings (LPs, CDs, tape cassettes, etc.) The percentage of royalties to be distributed to the composer is usually determined by the "clout" reflecting the "track record" of the composer. Film and TV composers may work "for hire" under contracts with production companies and studios. Therefore these royalties are dictated or even eliminated by the contract signed by the composer. These royalties reflect only the sale of sound recordings which often "peak" after the release of such recordings. The composer's royalties which then continue longer are the Performance Royalties (which see) from the public performance of the music, and airplay of the recordings. Sometimes mechanical royalties are collected from record companies on behalf of publishers by the NMPA (the National Music Publisher's Association.)

Mood Music

A term which has had two distinct uses: (1) In motion picture and broadcasting, it refers to musical cues used to score an emotion, cues created for the purpose of underscoring within a production music library, also known as a "Mood Music Library." (2) In popular music, instrumental background music for establishing a pleasant or relaxing mood.


A music score containing the notes to be played by all instruments of the orchestra (as opposed to a score/sketch which might be the first form of the piece drafted by the composer.) Orchestrations may be in "concert score" (which means the notes are written in the same key at the pitch where they sound), or a "full score" also known as a "transposed score" where the notes are written in the pitches that each player may read. (This is done since some brass and wind instruments play in keys other than the ones in which they sound.) A music copyist uses an orchestration to extract parts for each player in the orchestra. This is the process of copying (and optionally transposing) notes from the orchestration into individual parts for each player. Orchestration also is a term used to describe the art of creating such a score.


A musical idea which is repeated throughout a composition. The lower notes of a "Boogie-Woogie" are in that category. But a better example would be the lower notes of the "Peter Gunn" THEME, since the "Boogie-Woogie" notes are transposed in various measures depending upon the harmonization, but the bass pattern of the "Peter Gunn" THEME never does.

Performance Royalties (and Performance Rights Societies)

Royalties distributed to a composer and publisher collected for the public performances of musical works by Performance Rights Societies. In the United States, there are three societies which collect fees and distribute such performance royalties -- the oldest of which is ASCAP (1914), BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc. which began in 1941) and SESAC. Fees are collected for broadcast airplay by radio and TV stations and networks, cable television networks, performances at casinos and dinner theatres, symphony concerts, and even background music services such as MUZAK.There are even now licenses for using ASCAP and BMI works on Internet Radio Stations. Other countries have similar societies which work in affiliation with ASCAP and BMI to collect fees from foreign users and distribute royalties to foreign composers whose music is used in the U.S. In England, the Performing Rights Society (PRS) serves that function. In Canada, the society is called CAPAC.

Play-On / Play-Off

On TV and radio variety shows, a musical cue which is used to introduce a individual person (like the host) or an individual act, is called a "Play-On." It serves as walking music for the person or act to walk onto the stage. A "Play-Off" may be muscally related to the "Play-On" and serves to provide "walking music" while the act leaves the stage. Often such cues incorporate the signature tune for a particular person (like "Thanks For The Memory" played when Bob Hope walks on or off the stage.)


The word has two meanings -- as a noun it refers to the musical "chart" written by a composer or orchestrator which lists the notes for various instruments or instrumental sections on individual staff lines. Each musical score may be a complete composition or a fragmentary cue. Individual cues are created when the tempo or mood changes and are later overlapped in the soundtrack mix. Scores are written on large pieces of paper which have musical staff lines. These lines may be for individual instruments or grouped together for a section like Strings or for Organ (called a "System".) Sometimes a composer is so busy he doesn't have time to write a full score himself. So he creates a "Sketch/Score" (which see.) Then a separate person called an Orchestrator is hired to create the full score. After a score is finished, a Music Copyist extracts (and may transpose) individual parts for instrumental musicians who will record it. As a verb, "to score" refers to the process of composing music to fit scenes of a television episode or motion picture. This is in contrast to "tracking" (which see) that means to match pre-recorded music to a scene.


This term has three meanings: (1) a logo which identifies a production company, studio or network. (2) a composition associated with a personality over a long time (such as "Love In Bloom" for Jack Benny, or "Thanks For The Memory" for Bob Hope.) (3) synonymous with a musical Theme identified with a particular TV or radio series.

Sketch (aka: Sketch/Score; or Score/Sketch)

A sketch is a preliminary draft of a musical composition. A sketch/score is an optional alternative which is more full than a sketch. It is a form that is frequently used by busy film/TV/radio composers who are pressed for time (and who might use an orchestrator to expand the sketch/score into a full score.) In the form of a sketch/score a composer typically uses 3 - 8 staff lines to express the idea of not only the melody, counter-melody, harmonies and bass line but also more fully describe how the composition could be orchestrated. Each staff or related group of staff lines of a sketch/score indicates notes to be played by a particular section of the orchestra. Small indications are written on the sketch score to give more particular instructions about how the notes are to be distributed in the full score.


This term has two meanings: (1) a sneakalong (see the following.) (2) a term in a script to indicate fading in a musical cue unobtrusively, i.e. "sneak music in under dialog" Composers may be asked to create a cue for such a purpose using light instrumentation or soft volume at first.

Sneakalong (or Sneak-along)

A background musical cue used to score the situation where one character is stalking or sneaking up on another. Such cues may range from a hesitant or tentative nature to that of an ominous nature.

Staff (or Staff Line)

Music is written on one or more "staff" lines, each of which consists of five parallel horizontal lines (and additional "ledger lines" above and below the staff.) The pitch of notes is indicated by how high or low on a staff the notes are written vertically. The plural of staff is staves. For instruments that play more than one note simultaneously such as Piano, Harp or Organ, two or three staves may be grouped together as a "system." Usually for Piano or Harp, one staff is played by the right hand and one staff is played by the left hand. For Organ, the bottom line is played on the foot pedals. For instruments or singers that only produce one note at a time, a group of note parts is indicated on a single staff line. Each separate instrumental or vocal part within a single staff line is known as a "voice."

Station ID

a local television or radio station identification announcement (as opposed to a network ID.) Promotional Station ID's may have just the frequency and/or slogan which helps promote listenership such as "Magic 96" or "AM Thirteen-Sixty"; Formal (legal) Station ID's are mandated by the Federal Communications Commission (the F.C.C.) to be broadcast at least twice an hour on each station, and must include the call letters and city of license, such as "KPOP, San Diego" or "KNX, Los Angeles." Radio station IDs are obviously only verbal; TV station ID's can be either visual or aural.

Sting (or Stinger)

A cue or jingle which punctuates an emotion; such a cue would tend to be loud or startling.

Synch (or Synchronization) Rights

Rights granted by the composer and publisher for the use of a musical composition in a medium other than the original one for which it was intended. Usually this means the right to "synchronize" a musical composition with a scene in a motion picture or TV show. It also refers to uses of pop songs within commercials. Commercial Producers and Ad Agents used to think such uses within commercials of pop songs would distract from the message. But in the 1990s and later, that wisdom seems to have been tossed out in favor of younger less experienced concepts which think the association of the product with a pop song will trigger a fond memory, and hopefully a buying impulse. This theory has yet to be proven, but still such uses within commercials are stimulated by various middle-men licensing agents whose business is dependent upon stimulating such uses.


For some film/TV composers who are less adept at writing scores manually, who compose by improvising on keyboard synthesizers they may need a transcriber (usually an Arranger or an Orchestrator) who can listen to a recording made by the synthesizer and notate the music onto a sketch or score. This transcription is commonly called a "Take-down." The reason for having this step in the scoring process wold be if an arranger was then to add other instruments by live players to the synthesizer track. Although the phrase "Take-down" is vaguely condescending -- as if it were like a secretary "Taking" a message from dictation, the musician who can create a "Take-down" may in fact be more skilled than the film/TV composer who can only come up with a score by noodling around on his keyboard. There might also be cases where a skilled composer doesn't have time to complete his assignments, or got overbooked and doesn't want to use a "Ghost writer", so he may use this technique to initiate the creative process.


A musical cue which scores a "preview" scene before the Main Titles. Examples are the martial-style cue "The Mission" by Lalo Schifrin used behind the preview scene for "Mission Impossible", and the memorable "Nervous Teaser" cue by Howard Shore used behind the opening visual montage that introduced "The Dick Powell Show."

Theme (or Theme Music)

An opening and/or closing musical signature, a musical composition associated with a TV or radio program; it may also refer to music that begins or ends a motion picture. In its broadest sense, the word "theme" has been associated with topics in literature or media, or color schemes in design. In a similar sense, the idea of a musical theme is a composition which has the role of representing the character of the program or motion picture which it encloses. On TV and radio, such pieces are heard each time the program airs. So the connotation of the term "theme" has come to refer to something which is both characteristic and regular.Through their repeated use over a period of months or years, TV and radio theme music becomes a part of the culture, sometimes in spite of neglect by the culture. Many Classic Themes of TV and radio have not been recorded but may be fondly remembered for decades afterwards. It is the goal of this Web Site to research such musical compositions and to play a role in preserving them.


The use of pre-recorded music to score a television episode or motion picture. This is in lieu of hiring a composer and musicians to create and record a custom score. When tracking is done, it is the Music Editor (sometimes known as the Music Director) who selects cue music to fit the scenes, and may splice or edit the music tracks to fit better the scene. In the 1940s and 1950s, the American Federation of Musicians (the Musicians' Union in the United States) was adamantly opposed to the practice under the leadership of James C. Petrillo, a tough union president. When the practice of re-using a cue produced for another film was finally allowed, the union rate for using it was 100% of the fee to record it again. So there was no incentive for tracking then. This drove many low-budget producers of B-pictures and early television to find ways to skirt union rules. The main way to get an affordable alternative was to use libraries of music that were recorded mainly in Europe (but sometimes in Mexico or Japan.) By the mid-1960s, the loss of work to such libraries had pressured the union to reluctantly agree to allow tracking episodes for a series re-used for the same series during the same season provided that a certain minimum number of hours were used to score episodes for the season. For example, the practical result of this agreement with producers of the "Star Trek" television series resulted in eight out of the first 26 episodes being fully scored and the other 18 being tracked.


A score for a motion picture or television program (as opposed to the Main Title or End Credits Themes.) Underscoring may derive from the frequently used phrase "music up and under" dialog in dramatic shows.

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