Step Six: The Basics of QLab

Once you have selected all the songs and sound effects for your sound design and made the necessary adjustments, it is time to start using QLab— a multimedia playback cue-based software designed for theatre and live entertainment. Although there is other similar software on the market, QLab for Mac is easy to use and free to download.

Below is the basic QLab workstation.

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We will start with something easy: inserting pre-show music. First we will use the Group button (top left, circled in red) to create a group of sounds— think of it like a folder.

Next, drag your pre-show music from the file folder on your computer into that group.

It is a good practice to rename and number your sound cues so that you can avoid confusion further down the road. I numbered my pre-show music group as “Preshow music” and gave it the number of sound cue 1, as it will be the first thing that will be played. I numbered the songs within the group as 1.1, 1.2, etc., because they will be triggered immediately when the preceding song ends.

(Note: to delete a sound cue or group, highlight it and press command+delete on your keyboard.)

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So that the sound board operator doesn’t have to start every song individually, we will program the songs to play one after another using the Auto-follow tool.

Under the basic settings of each sound cue, you will see the Continue dropdown menu. The options are: Do not continue, which will cause the audio to stop at the end of that cue; Auto-continue, which will automatically play the next cue on your list at the same time as the current cue; and Auto-follow, which will play the next cue when your current cue ends. We want to select this third option for each of our pre-show cues. You will likely want to play around with these options later on in your sound design.

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Lastly, I will show you how to fade the pre-show music out when you are ready for the show to begin.

First, click the Fade button (top middle, circled in red). This will create a new sound cue, but it will be blank. In order to connect it to the pre-show music folder, drag that group onto the fade cue.

This does little, however, until you adjust the settings within the fade cue. First, open the Audio Levels tab in the cue’s settings. You want the music to stop when the cue is triggered, so check the box entitled Stop target when done (circled in red). Next, you need to give the cue a fade destination, so drag the master volume slider all the way to the bottom. This will be the volume at the end of the cue.

(Note: You may also want to use the fade button later on to make sounds louder or quieter. In these cases, you would adjust the volume slider, but you would leave the Stop target when done box unchecked.)

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No one likes it when the music they are listening to stops abruptly, so you will want to give the music a few seconds to fade. I usually choose somewhere between 5 and 10 seconds, but it depends on the music.

In order to adjust the length of the fade, go to the Curve Shape tab and change the number in the Duration box. You can also change the curve type and play around with other settings to achieve the perfect effect.

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With these basic tools, you can begin to put your show together. There is much more that QLab can do, however, so feel free to dig around and experiment. In my next post, I will be looking at some of QLab’s more advanced tools.

Feel free to ask questions in the comment section, and make sure to follow Staging Sounds for more information about theatrical sound design!

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