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Set lists
Old 15th March 2014
  #1
Here for the gear
 
🎧 5 years
Set lists

Hi,

I'm interested to know what you guys think makes a great set list? Do you start off with upbeat, energetic songs, a more calm middle followed by more energetic songs at the end?

Obviously set lists can be rather subjective to the type of gig and the audience, but what advice would you give to someone who is keen to build up live performance experience?

Is there a general blueprint bands can follow?

I wrote an article on writing a set list, but am keen to expand on it!


Looking forward to hearing your opinions
Old 16th March 2014
  #2
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
A few notes,

Prime dance time at most bars is the 2nd set or late into the 1st set. You should keep a steady diet of 4 on the floor in this area.

It is better to string songs of the same genre together (also of similar tempo). Take an interaction break between genre's and then jump back in.

If you have a big show where you routinely have a large crowd that stays until closing, they your idea of ending with a bang works. Many smaller venues tend to empty out as the 3rd set draws to an end.

Every band has some listening music. Good stuff that it is unlikely that anyone would dance to, but everyone likes to hear and/or sing along with. This is good early first set material and late 3rd set material in places that tend to empty out before closing.

Know your audience. If you are playing to a bar where the average age is 50-60, you better be playing a constant diet of classic rock .... really classic. If you have a younger crowd, you will need more modern titles to keep them happy. It is unlikely that any 24 year olds have any idea who deep purple is

You should play at least a couple of slow songs. One in the high traffic time, and one late in the 3rd set (I call it the "seal the deal" song ).
Old 16th March 2014
  #3
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
For context, we're a total sell out cover band doing 50% private/weddings and 50% bars nextexitrocks.com. For bar shows I like to start with something upbeat, but won't necessarily whip people into a frenzy on the dance floor. Something like Born To Be Wild that transitions into Bad Case of Loving You. Everyone knows both songs, they are full on rock tunes so you're hitting people with a nice wall of sound. When we move seamlessly into Bad Case I visibly see people take notice. It sets the expectation that the band is polished and we're the "stop every song to tune and noodle around" band you saw here last week. After the first two we'll generally start the 3rd song immediately and it will be something that begins with a vamp that I can talk over. I'll tell them who we are, how long we're playing, and that we do "60's to now"... more expectation setting. By 1/2 through the first set we'll be into more dance tunes. We typically do 3, 1 hour sets.

The end of the first set at bars is often a break in character song for us where the keyboard player does "Folsom Prison Blues" and I ham it up with an inflatable guitar, mimicking the guitar player, and vocalizing the train whistle. People love the Johnny Cash. Then, much like the beginning of the set, we'll end with 2 songs in the same key so they can flow right into each other. This takes us out with momentum and hopefully people stick around. The prerecorded break music starts the second we slam off the lights and is about 1/2 the volume of the band so as not to steal our thunder and to give people a break from high SPL (although we're not a silly loud band).

For the second set at bars we almost always start with Pearl Jam's "Yellow Ledbetter". Frankly, we do it well and it always ends with hoots and hollers, which is a cool way to start a set and you're not buzz killing the dance floor by putting it in the middle of the set. Then we'll rip off 3-4 solid dancer's (I Gotta Feelin', Save A Horse Ride A Cowboy/Bust A Move medley, and Play that Funky Music) before going to a slow dance tune, where I'll get a break and someone else will sing lead. Then it's back to all dancers with one sing along, wave your phone in the air, slow song like "Purple Rain".

The last set is more fluid. The place may start to thin out and/or the people there aren't as much there for the band, or are pretty far gone. If it's still a dancing party crowd we'll oblige and flip out some of the old classic rocks songs we like for more danceable pop. We'll also usually try anything new for the first time then as it's likely we've never played it together as a band before. We don't really practice, so 12:30AM or at a sound check for a wedding, is usually when we'll hear what the new song sounds like. I usually tell people it's new and could be a train wreck. Then if it's noticeably unstellar we can laugh about it and people don't care. If it's particularly good then people are impressed. It's just about making it a win-win.

For weddings we usually hit the dance songs hard right off the bat. 75% of the time we get dancers on the floor to every song. People have been sitting for 2 hours eating and watching all the formal stuff, so sometimes it doesn't really blow up until the second set. The client often picks 50-100% of the songs we play and, for the most part, they do a good job. Occasionally I'll toss songs I know won't go over. I figure if they want to request it at the reception we'll do it, but otherwise I'd rather have leeway to play what's working. Weddings are more often edited on the fly depending on ages, and types of music people are dancing to.
Old 16th March 2014
  #4
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Something I've never seen mentioned in these types of discussions, but one thing I've always done when playing in Top 40 cover bands is make sure we have plenty of depth in our repertoire, and that one person is designated to call the set from the floor.

I was once in one of those situations where we were booked through the union to play a college mid-year back to school dance, but nobody told us that this particular dance was primarily attended by black students.

So, we walk out on stage and look out at the crowd, and it's like, "Uh oh...we're gonna get booed off the stage in under five minutes."

So, we do our "standard" opening song which the crowd was okay with, then I started calling from the floor. Fortunately we had a bunch of songs by black artists we had played in the past or just jammed on in rehearsal, and we were able to do our four sets with only one or two non-black artist's songs.

Funny thing, the college called the union wanting to book us for the next year so I guess we did okay...unfortunately, we had broken up by then.

But sometimes you have to be able to adapt in a hurry...
Old 16th March 2014
  #5
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
Love Yellow ledbetter Abzurd

I haven't done it in several years for a show, but I played it on an acoustic along the pool in a Cancun resort me and my wife were vacationing at and got a pretty good group of around 50 people that stopped to listen to me and another guy playing guitars and singing (had harmony in new and inventive places).

I think that you run a show very similarly to the way I do (but likely do it better considering your much more frequent gig schedule).

I am still thinking about the whole wedding thing. Maybe I will give it a try this summer.
Old 16th March 2014 | Show parent
  #6
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by bdenton ➑️
Something I've never seen mentioned in these types of discussions, but one thing I've always done when playing in Top 40 cover bands is make sure we have plenty of depth in our repertoire, and that one person is designated to call the set from the floor.
Completely agree. I mention that in last sentence of my long winded post. We do that with weddings quite often as the name of the game at those events is to get people on the dance floor.

As important is vetting the gig beforehand. When talking to a prospect I set expectations. If the prospect tells me things like "my group doesn't really like to dance, but I want you to get them out there", or "most people like country music", then I'll restate what we do, what we don't do, and there will be no hard feelings if they choose someone else. More than once I've lost a gig by willingly giving advice that led to them looking elsewhere.
Old 16th March 2014 | Show parent
  #7
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by OneEng ➑️
Love Yellow ledbetter Abzurd

I am still thinking about the whole wedding thing. Maybe I will give it a try this summer.
You're far enough away from me that I'll allow it Although we've played 7 states and a few in Michigan, as far north as Charlevoix, our guitar player lives about 90 minutes south of central Ohio, where the lion's share of our gigs are, so we try and focus in the Columbus, Dayton, Cincy area. None of us are getting any younger and the long distance out and back weddings can be 14 hour days.

I know weddings aren't for everyone, but we love it. The pay is 3-5X a typical bar gig, open bar, captive audience, party atmosphere... Often there are 100+ people all dancing at the same time and everyone's in a good mood. The cons are the days are longer with a lot of waiting around, and you have to stay quiet, out of the way, and be professional at all times. There's also more attention to detail like concealing cables, covering exposed stand legs, etc. Plus the booking and follow up takes a considerable amount of time (be sure to price that in). It's far more rewarding as you really feel like you've made a difference. Higher stress to have a trouble free night though.
Old 16th March 2014
  #8
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
It will always depend on your audience really. Party Bands.... Well, no offense peps, I know many guys/gals in these type of bands and they always have a large song list that goes on for hours and hours. Its not much more then the same old same old over and over, the money is good in these groups but it has to be boring as hell! I worked a lot of corporate gigs when I did stage production, I was always well paid for the time I was on the job (and the perks where awesome!) but the off-days made it income-wise.... a worthless job. The bands we worked with where tight and had huge song-lists, you just couldn't stump them with a song they didn't know but, it was so dull hearing the same pattern of music-styles back to back. Weather it was a dance toon or a sing-a-long it was just to sterile, the bands that have lots of friends and grow a local following can play what ever they want and be good to go but the Party Band has a certain criteria to cover.
Old 16th March 2014 | Show parent
  #9
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by 24 I/O ➑️
It will always depend on your audience really. Party Bands.... Well, no offense peps, I know many guys/gals in these type of bands and they always have a large song list that goes on for hours and hours. Its not much more then the same old same old over and over, the money is good in these groups but it has to be boring as hell! I worked a lot of corporate gigs when I did stage production, I was always well paid for the time I was on the job (and the perks where awesome!) but the off-days made it income-wise.... a worthless job. The bands we worked with where tight and had huge song-lists, you just couldn't stump them with a song they didn't know but, it was so dull hearing the same pattern of music-styles back to back. Weather it was a dance toon or a sing-a-long it was just to sterile, the bands that have lots of friends and grow a local following can play what ever they want and be good to go but the Party Band has a certain criteria to cover.
We have a few wrinkles, but at the end of the day we cater to the masses for sure. I totally get that, if you're doing production work for the same types of bands, playing the same stuff, it would get old quick. When you're the one actually playing it, it's what you make of it and as is about performing and entertaining as much, or more, than the actual material. I'd be just fine if I never had to sing "Play That Funky Music" again. At a wedding reception with 150 people dancing and singing along, well that's a whole other thing.

Now corporate gigs.... whew, those are often brutal as far as personal enjoyment go. Some turn into fun enough parties, but generally we refer to ourselves as "the jukebox on the hill" and yes, those can be sterile. It's not the music though, it's lack of life in the room. There has to be some energy in the room and, often there's just nothing to build on as everyone wants to keep their wits about them. Partying with your coworkers, with your boss in the room, just isn't the same as partying with your sorority sisters.
Old 16th March 2014 | Show parent
  #10
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by abzurd ➑️
We have a few wrinkles, but at the end of the day we cater to the masses for sure. I totally get that, if you're doing production work for the same types of bands, playing the same stuff, it would get old quick. When you're the one actually playing it, it's what you make of it and as is about performing and entertaining as much, or more, than the actual material. I'd be just fine if I never had to sing "Play That Funky Music" again. At a wedding reception with 150 people dancing and singing along, well that's a whole other thing.

Now corporate gigs.... whew, those are often brutal as far as personal enjoyment go. Some turn into fun enough parties, but generally we refer to ourselves as "the jukebox on the hill" and yes, those can be sterile. It's not the music though, it's lack of life in the room. There has to be some energy in the room and, often there's just nothing to build on as everyone wants to keep their wits about them. Partying with your coworkers, with your boss in the room, just isn't the same as partying with your sorority sisters.
LMAO, I thought I was the only lead singer who actually detested "Play that funky music" I finally broke down about 2 years ago and started doing the song since it is so popular.

As for the party gigs and playing covers, for me it is all about the crowd. If I can get a packed dance floor and/or the entire venue singing along, that is why I do this. It is why I spend so much time and money on something that is such a big loser in revenue for me.

I can't play nearly as often as Abzurd does, but I love doing it.

@Abzurd,

I'll try to stay out of your neck of the woods down there in Ohio If you are up here in Michigan some time, give me a shout.
Old 16th March 2014 | Show parent
  #11
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by abzurd ➑️
There has to be some energy in the room and, often there's just nothing to build on as everyone wants to keep their wits about them. Partying with your coworkers, with your boss in the room, just isn't the same as partying with your sorority sisters.
Did a gig in a 5 star resort for a truck-load of rich folks, by the end of the first set (about 9:30 PM) the room was almost empty and some drunk chick was up on the drum-kit in a 3K evening gown falling all over the stage in the process!

Unfortunately for every one but her this was before cell-phone cameras and such but it was one of the high-lights of my 4 year stent in stage production. One of the biggest laughs we got on that crew the whole time I was with them. The band was one of the better bands we regularly worked with and the SR company was top-notch, we had 48K watts worth of Par-Cans so it wasn't them/us or the performance by the band.
Old 16th March 2014 | Show parent
  #12
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
I think that we all tend to blame ourselves when the gig doesn't go well and people aren't into the music. We start analyzing the set list, the equipment, what we are saying and doing, and how we run the show when in fact, it may be that the venue was simply never going to be a big hit no matter what you did.

I remember a gig years ago when a winter storm was going through and the bar owner still wanted us to perform all night. There were quite literally 10 people in the bar including our spouses/girl friends. The venue owner also told us not to bring monitors since they had their own monitor rig and didn't want us cluttering up the stage .... but they lent out their wedges so we played without monitors to an empty room.

I have also had the drunk chick dancing on the stage and knocking over mic stands too Seems like you run across one of these every few months.
Old 17th March 2014 | Show parent
  #13
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by OneEng ➑️
I think that we all tend to blame ourselves when the gig doesn't go well and people aren't into the music. We start analyzing the set list, the equipment, what we are saying and doing, and how we run the show when in fact, it may be that the venue was simply never going to be a big hit no matter what you did.

I remember a gig years ago when a winter storm was going through and the bar owner still wanted us to perform all night. There were quite literally 10 people in the bar including our spouses/girl friends. The venue owner also told us not to bring monitors since they had their own monitor rig and didn't want us cluttering up the stage .... but they lent out their wedges so we played without monitors to an empty room.

I have also had the drunk chick dancing on the stage and knocking over mic stands too Seems like you run across one of these every few months.
I remember a gig years ago when a winter storm was going through and the bar owner still wanted us to perform all night. There were quite literally 10 people in the bar including our spouses/girl friends.


I wasn't playing, I was "in" the audience, but I was part of a similar situation about 22 years ago in Richmond, VA.

The band was named "Little Women" and it was fronted by Jerry Joseph, who still plays out on the CO, UT, OR circuit. The band was on a "sponsored" tour so, in this situation, they would get paid whether they played or not.

As was the case in your story, a humongous snowstorm had virtually shut Richmond down, but I wasn't deterred from my nightly visit to the club.

And Little Women totally kicked butt when they played their entire show, close to two hours IIRC, for the club's sound man, one bartender, and me...
Old 17th March 2014 | Show parent
  #14
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by bdenton ➑️
I remember a gig years ago when a winter storm was going through and the bar owner still wanted us to perform all night. There were quite literally 10 people in the bar including our spouses/girl friends.


I wasn't playing, I was "in" the audience, but I was part of a similar situation about 22 years ago in Richmond, VA.

The band was named "Little Women" and it was fronted by Jerry Joseph, who still plays out on the CO, UT, OR circuit. The band was on a "sponsored" tour so, in this situation, they would get paid whether they played or not.

As was the case in your story, a humongous snowstorm had virtually shut Richmond down, but I wasn't deterred from my nightly visit to the club.

And Little Women totally kicked butt when they played their entire show, close to two hours IIRC, for the club's sound man, one bartender, and me...


Yep, all 10 of the people in the bar were very appreciative of the entertainment. We made the best of it and did lots of interaction with the people in the "crowd"
Old 17th March 2014
  #15
Gear Addict
 
🎧 5 years
It's not clear to me what kind of gig the original poster was referring to, which makes a HUGE difference in how you approach your set list. I think the responses here have centered around typical bar or wedding gigs where you're playing 4 sets. And in that case you have to be pretty adaptable to what the audience is doing and how they're responding.

The other side of this discussion is the "show set" which is typically a larger venue in which dancing isn't really the key element, and you are typically one of many bands performing for an hour or so. In my opinion that's approached with much less flexibility in mind and the pacing is a bit more prescriptive.

In that case pacing is really critical to engage the crowd and keep them interested. I've always started big with 3 or 4 songs, a small intro up front but move quickly song to song to build energy. The middle of the set still has a lot of energy but I try to group songs into small "themes" like southern rock or blues. One theme just after the middle of the set will focus on lighter fare and is often acoustic based to relax the energy and give a break to some of the musicians. Then come back and build energy a bit with some unusual, more esoteric material with a couple of harder hitting tunes. One last slower tune more in the arena rock category before you do your big, hard-hitting finale.

I suppose you could apply that kind of pacing in a bar or wedding scenario to your 3rd set where you typically have more audience involvement.
Old 18th March 2014 | Show parent
  #16
Lives for gear
 
edva's Avatar
 
26 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by dunedindragon ➑️
It's not clear to me what kind of gig the original poster was referring to, which makes a HUGE difference in how you approach your set list. I think the responses here have centered around typical bar or wedding gigs where you're playing 4 sets. And in that case you have to be pretty adaptable to what the audience is doing and how they're responding.

The other side of this discussion is the "show set" which is typically a larger venue in which dancing isn't really the key element, and you are typically one of many bands performing for an hour or so. In my opinion that's approached with much less flexibility in mind and the pacing is a bit more prescriptive.

In that case pacing is really critical to engage the crowd and keep them interested. I've always started big with 3 or 4 songs, a small intro up front but move quickly song to song to build energy. The middle of the set still has a lot of energy but I try to group songs into small "themes" like southern rock or blues. One theme just after the middle of the set will focus on lighter fare and is often acoustic based to relax the energy and give a break to some of the musicians. Then come back and build energy a bit with some unusual, more esoteric material with a couple of harder hitting tunes. One last slower tune more in the arena rock category before you do your big, hard-hitting finale.

I suppose you could apply that kind of pacing in a bar or wedding scenario to your 3rd set where you typically have more audience involvement.
Good post. There indeed is an art to the pacing and dynamics of a great show.
Although obviously no two shows are exactly the same, so no one-size-fits-all template exists, here is a textbook example of great show dynamics in graphic form, IMHO:
Attached Thumbnails
Set lists-show-pacing-dynamics.jpg  
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