When running theatrical shows as a technician, sometimes I am asked to play pre-show music. However, I am at a loss as to how I should determine the playback level of such music.

What I've been doing is just setting the level before the house opens to a comfortable volume, but I always find that once people start being seated the music is quickly lost to crowd noise.

Obviously I have to raise the volume on the music as people come in. The problem is, I often have other things to do before the show that take me away from the control booth, sometimes for most of the seating period.

Is there a rule of thumb or other sort of principle that I can use to set the level once before the house is opened to a volume that is not uncomfortably loud to the first few audience members, but will still be "present" once the theatre is almost full of people and crowd noise?

Or do I just have to find the time to go back and adjust the level every few minutes?

  • Also: If this question is off-topic (I see it as part of "production", but I could be wrong) please let me know and I'll just delete it.
    – dgw
    Dec 17, 2010 at 0:11

1 Answer 1


I usually adjust it as needed when people shuffle in, since there is such a large difference needed between 2 people and 200 people. It also depends on the show as well. If the music is supposed to pump up the audience, say for a comedy show, then the level should probably be a bit higher, but trust your judgement.

If you need to disappear for awhile, you can always have some other house tech help you with this... as long as they don't mess with other stuff in the process.

  • Now, more than ever, I wish that I wasn't the only tech for this show. On the plus side, I appreciate why there's usually a stage manager and a technician, instead of combining the two. I'm both in this case, so boring tech stuff like adjusting the music gets subordinated to making sure the actors are actually getting ready.
    – dgw
    Dec 17, 2010 at 0:53
  • @Voyagerfan5761, appoint one of the actors to manage the actors. If this is not a professional troupe, you'll find that they love getting more responsibility. :-D It's probably only a matter of time before you'll be running the light board from your mix position as well. Just curious, are you using a digital board, controllable via MIDI?
    – Brad
    Dec 17, 2010 at 0:58
  • @Brad, actually I'm primarily the light board op. (That's what it says in the programs, anyway.) I'm just the only tech working this show. We have a pretty old mixing board, and I don't think it supports MIDI; good idea, though. :-) But I really should assign one of the actors to keep track of time and such backstage. It's a youth company, though (not that I'm any older than the eldest actors), so I have to be careful about handing out responsibility; a lot of them are, to put it mildly, flakes.
    – dgw
    Dec 17, 2010 at 1:03
  • @Voyagerfan5761, oh then you need to recruit some of the parents. While this undoubtedly opens up a can of worms, surely there is one or two that can help keep things organized back stage while you work. Parents love to get involved... often to a fault... but you can use that here.
    – Brad
    Dec 17, 2010 at 1:05
  • @Brad: Involving the parents is certainly an idea, but I don't know that it would be practical. We do a lot of shows during work/school hours. But I can think of one or two actors that might be able to handle the responsibility. I'll give the approach a try for our next show in February, when I'll be running sound and projection. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    – dgw
    Dec 17, 2010 at 1:11

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