In some genres, the track intro is something that you like to get out of the way as quickly as possible - don't bore us, get to the chorus, etc - but in dance music, it's a crucial part of the production process and listening experience.
Here, we show you how to come up with an intro that succeeds in drawing people in and preparing them for what's to come.
For much advice on arrangement, pick up the December 2018 edition of Computer Music.
Step 1: A typical club track’s intro can last around a minute, so to keep it evolving, we can build things up by adding new elements every eight bars. Here we’ve got a 128bpm eight-bar section made up of a compressed kick drum, an ambient pad effect, and a crash/swoosh effect placed at the start of the section (also reversed at the end).
Step 2: We add some musical elements right from the off – a band-pass filtered version of the first bar of what will be our main bass riff, and an offbeat plucked synth note. Let’s copy this whole chunk to give us 16 bars in total, and add reverbed 808 claps doubling the kick drum part to the second eight bars.
Step 3: We now have one 16-bar section, so let’s create another, more instrument-heavy 16 bars to complete our one-minute intro (32 bars lasts for one minute at 128bpm). We start by copying the looped pad and swoosh effects, together with the pluck synth, across twice to total 32 bars, leaving the filtered bass, claps and compressed kick in place.
Step 4: The new drum parts for this section include a bigger kick drum, a kick- snare loop, a big snare doubled with an extra track of claps, and an offbeat, eighth- note hi-hat. These last only seven bars in each of the last two sections, leaving gaps at the ends for fills to be put in place. The last section adds in an additional hi-hat/ clap loop.
Step 5: In this section, we introduce the full, unfiltered bass part and add the drop synth hook. This is reinforced in the last eight bars by an extra synth and a sidechained pad underpinning the chords. We link the two eight-bar sections by inserting a bass riff - with automated filter cutoff - in the gap at the end of the first section.
Step 6: The transition between the two halves of the intro is enhanced by opening the filter on the bass part and adding a swelled pad chord. We mute the looped pad in the last bar of each of the last two sections, while in the last bar a four-beat snare fill with a heavily-reverbed last beat precedes a boomer effect that introduces the verse breakdown.