Walk-in and Intro Music

You can create a conducive atmosphere in the venue and enhance your set by using walk-in and intro music.

Rehearsing your music and making a good set list are vital parts of presenting a great show. You can enhance your performance by giving some thought to walk-in music and an intro piece.

Walk-in music.

Walk-in music is the name given to music played through the PA before the start of the first live act of the evening and in the gaps between subsequent artist’s slots – it’s the background music the audience hears when they walk into the venue. Organising and choosing walk-in music is either a last-minute improvisation, with the in-house engineer plugging her phone into the audio console and pumping Spotify, or a meticulously curated collection of tracks that the headline artist would like you to hear to create a vibe for that evenings show. Walk-in music always seems to be chosen as a variation of those two scenarios; choose the latter and give some thought to creating a playlist to set the right vibe for your show.

You should definitely choose some walk-in music if you are headlining your shows. You can create your walk-in playlist on Spotify, like the in-house engineer above, and set the playlist to ‘offline’ in case the wifi in the venue is patchy. Choose 15- 20 songs; that will translate to one hour and 15 minutes of music – more than enough to fill the time after the doors open, and also for the change over periods. You will have to leave your phone at a front-of-house (FOH) mixing board if going down this Spotify route, so consider having a second device to use for this purpose.

You should also give some thought to what music you want the audience to hear when you have finished your set. Playing out music that is the complete opposite of your genre will let the audience know the show is finished and encourage them to leave the venue quickly (which pleases venue cleaners) and remember you want the audience to swing by your merch stall first.

Intro music.

The intro/play-on music is a short piece of music or sound played out as the artist appears on stage, usually coinciding with the house lights being dimmed and/or the curtain opening. Playing out a piece of music or sound at the top of the show can divert the audience’s attention from the singers or musicians walking onstage, picking up instruments, fiddling around with microphone stands, and so on. 

You should make some consideration of the technical limitations of live sound when planning to use intro music. In the example of playing walk-in music for your audience above, I suggested using a second phone or tablet, pre-loaded with a Spotify playlist. The device can be plugged into the mixing board using a cable from the device’s headphone socket (or not – I’m looking at you, iPhone 7 and up) connected to the inputs on the mixing board. Don’t rely on the venue sound-system having the cables for your device though – invest in a good quality cable you can take with you. A stereo 1/8” to two ¼” jack such as the one in figure one will enable you to play your intro music through most venue sound systems.

You can have your intro piece included as the very last song in the playlist, and make sure you do not set the Spotify client to ‘shuffle’.  The walk-in music can be played out at low volume during the change over, faded out on the mixing board when you are ready to start your performance, your intro music selected on the playlist, and the volume faded back in as your intro music plays. Now, this is tricky and you might want to practice the transition before introducing this intro music technique in a live gig setting.

Live music business - iphone cable for intro music
Figure one. The type of cable you will need to connect your (old) iPhone to a mixing console.

Using a device with Spotify for your intro music is the common approach and back in the day most venues had CD players to use for walk-in and intro music. You might see the odd CD player in FOH racks here and there so burn your chosen intro music onto CD-R, just in case. Using a CD for into music is simpler than fading out playlists on a phone.
Your intro music should be short (30 – 60 seconds); if it is a longer piece, then decide at which point they should fade it out when you are going to play. Agree with the house engineer if and/or when the intro should be started, stopped, or faded. 
I would caution against having an intro that acts as a musical cue to your performance or is part of the first song in your set; CD players and devices at the front-of-house desk will have their audio routed into the main PA speakers and not to your stage monitors onstage.  It is hard to hear any timing or pitching information in your intro if it is not being played through your monitors. Remember, the intro music is just that -an intro to your set proper. Don’t get carried away by complicating something that is supposed to enhance your performance.

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