Magic Show Music Cues

For most of us, being a magician is to be a wearer of many hats. We take on many roles as we shape our show to hit the stage. Today I'm looking at being a Sound Designer and Sound Technician. When we wear the hat of Sound Designer, we're selecting music (and sometimes sound effects) to compliment the performance. My production of The Suitcase of Wonders last year was the first time my show had a full regiment of music cues. It helped to create the theatricality of a big show by using music in a variety of ways. Entrances and transitions got a short burst of music, sometimes called a stinger, to punctuate the magic. Music that is triggered as the signed card is pulled out of your shoe leads to a stronger conclusion, and a more natural and enthusiastic applause cue. The music continues as you tidy up any props, and prepare for your next piece. Filling in lulls, such as getting a volunteer from the audience, benefit greatly from an injection of energy from upbeat music. David Copperfield is known for using a piece that gets people clapping along. In that case, it can also help you spot the smiling volunteers who are willing to play along. Underscores (low volume levels played underneath speech) served to set the mood, and push emotions (tension and release) at key moments. If you have a routine that has a lot of procedure, as in many mentalism effects, I strongly suggest trying an underscore. Be sure to choose music that has an even energy level to it. Sudden trumpet blasts, for example, make for a distracting underscore. My show had some fairly complex arrangements, particularly with he final piece wherein the music notched up the tension with each phase of the routine. With seamless looping and transitions it was well beyond what could be accomplished by pressing next on an iPod. I use a very specific tool for this. Show Cue System on Surface ProI'm running my show with a program called Show Cue System on a Windows platform. I was running it from my laptop, until I recently acquired a Windows Surface Pro tablet to make it much more portable. (For Mac users, the comparable software would be QLab) Here are some of the things it allows me to do, and why I choose it over other options:

  • Push-button cue list. Set-up your show cues and all it takes is one button to go to he next cue. This means you can use any sound person (no training required) or a remote control button in your pocket.
  • Program your sound cues precisely. You can choose if you want a song to fade in, or fade out slowly to your specified time. Cue up the track to start at the good part, or stop in the middle. Change volumes, and more. In the case of stingers, the song will play, and automatically fade out after 15 seconds.
  • Loop sections. This was the selling point for me. When I perform a routine that is not strictly timed (such as working with an audience member) I can program a song to loop over a section of the song. It can play the same 4 bars over and over, seamlessly, until it comes time to wrap things up. I can push the cue button to release the loop and let the song move on to the grand finale. It makes it seem like the song is always just the right length, and that I am a super rehearsed performer. In the case of my grand finale I had three distinct loops in each section of the song as it built up to the climax.
  • Shuffle the house music. Before the audience comes in I can start a random selection of upbeat house music to playing. It will keep playing until it's showtime, and automatically resume playing after the show is over. Never any awkward silence.
  • Save the whole show. Everything can be cued up and ready to go for next time, and you can have multiple shows on file.
  • Control your universe. The program can be expanded to control DMX lighting and video to make the whole show run on one perfectly timed system. (I'll dig more into this in future articles)

There is plenty more to talk about here, such as remote control and other triggers for your cues. And getting into the world of show lighting. More adventures await! Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss future articles. I owe a thanks to Jeff Haas who got me started down this path many years ago with information from his website on Remote Show Control.

Published: April 15, 2015

Channel: Blog

Access: Public

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