Am I Overthinking Our Set Lists?

Leo Paul

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I create the set lists for our band, see typical one attached. We primarily play 50s, 60s and 70s rock and pop, and currently have about 100 songs on our master list. We have two lead vocalists, and another member takes lead vocal on a few songs. When creating the set lists, as often as possible, I try to stick to the criteria in the bullets below (Note: The VERY close of each set is a short version of the instrumental “Hold It” by Bill Doggett, during which we make typical stage announcements – “Taking a short break/We’ll be right back/Don’t go anywhere, X more sets coming/Don’t forget to tip your bartender/waitress/etc.”).
  • Songs in the same keys should usually not be together
  • Songs with the same basic beat/tempo/style should usually not be together
  • Songs using the same lead vocalist should usually not be together
  • Songs from the same artist should usually not be together
  • Set 2/beginning of Set 3 should contain the best/most popular/strongest songs
  • Each set should close with an up-tempo/exciting song (in our model, this is always the song that precedes “Hold It”)
Taking all above into consideration, it takes some work (time/thought) to build our set lists, and I’m looking for a way to streamline the process. Am I overthinking it all? Sometimes I feel like (figuratively) just throwing all the songs up in the air, and whatever order they come down in will be the sets. So, what does your band do concerning assembling your set lists?
 

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schmee

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I do our set lists, I follow some of your thoughts pretty much. (Bold)
We have mainly a lead vocalist who is great, so the drummer and I only sing maybe one song a set. The color at the left indicates who is singing lead. I guess that's mostly for me when making the list.
  • Songs in the same keys should usually not be together (I avoid as a last resort, but not a huge deal)
  • Songs with the same basic beat/tempo/style should usually not be together
  • Songs using the same lead vocalist should usually not be together
  • Songs from the same artist should usually not be together
  • Set 2/beginning of Set 3 should contain the best/most popular/strongest songs
  • Each set should close with an up-tempo/exciting song (in our model, this is always the song that precedes “Hold It”)

sampleset.jpg
 

Mandocaster68

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One way to bend the rules occasionally...
  • Songs in the same keys should usually not be together
  • Songs with the same basic beat/tempo/style should usually not be together
This might be an opportunity to slam them together for a medley. Figure out a way to transition; perhaps a drum break, or 32 bars of funky jamming to adjust the chord structure and speed.

For St. Paddy's day, my Irish band took two of our same key/same tempo songs and sandwiched a hot instrumental tune in the middle. Judging from the spontaneous dancing, it was a hit.

Another thing I try to do is stop thinking of it as a 'set list' - a 1-2-3 list of songs we are going to play. I try to think of it as a complete show rather than a recital. Each act, of course, starts with a big overture, but placement of songs for the pacing of the show feels more critical than the key or who is singing.
 

regularslinky

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I have to disagree on several points. Most people don't notice or care about key, nor do they care about hearing multiple songs by the same artist together. If people are dancing, keeping songs of a similar tempo together is a very good thing. I can't tell you how many times I've seen good bands kill the party by sticking a slow song where it doesn't belong.

There's no reason to avoid having the same lead vocalist on consecutive songs as long as the vocalist can handle it. Ideally all of your material is strong, but if you have weaker material it should not be at the beginning or end of sets/shows. Your strongest material should be at the beginning and end of sets/shows. That's what people remember.

IMHO/YMMV/etc.
 

nickmsmith

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Keys/singers wouldn’t make a difference to me in the order. Tempos/popularity would. People don’t notice keys.

And they may need to be a little flexible depending on the crowd. May be a dancing crowd, and you won’t want to kill the vibe with the wrong song.
 

dspellman1

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I have to disagree on several points. Most people don't notice or care about key, nor do they care about hearing multiple songs by the same artist together. If people are dancing, keeping songs of a similar tempo together is a very good thing. I can't tell you how many times I've seen good bands kill the party by sticking a slow song where it doesn't belong.

There's no reason to avoid having the same lead vocalist on consecutive songs as long as the vocalist can handle it. Ideally all of your material is strong, but if you have weaker material it should not be at the beginning or end of sets/shows. Your strongest material should be at the beginning and end of sets/shows. That's what people remember.

IMHO/YMMV/etc.
Absolutely agree.

At one point we had a female vocalist doing a couple of Gloria Estefan slow numbers one right after another. We had women coming up afterwards, thanking us for the grind session. We've slowed it down even when people are up and dancing hard -- some folks need a break from the sweat fest.

Generally, we tried very hard to avoid "patter" between songs. "This next song..." and "How ya doin' out there?" were grounds for dismissal. Do not audibly tune between songs. Mute. Keep the drummer from trying to see if his drum heads still work between songs. Keep the singers off the mikes (no "testing..."). Resist the temptation to see if you're set correctly. Just...set...correctly and don't make noise. If you're going to say something between songs, please rehearse it and do it exactly as you rehearsed it. It helps band members time how long they've got to put down their drink. Or hold a meaningful glance with the hot bridesmaid/waitress/waiter.

When we had a three-set evening, we'd put almost all the good stuff in the second set. During the first, people were still arriving and getting the lay of the land. During the third, people were getting ready to leave and working out whom to leave with. We used the second set to impress. And the end of the second set was usually something (I think Chicago's version of "I'm a man" was a staple) that left people bug-eyed. Our guitar player and bass player ran up behind my B3's bench, put one foot on the bench, one on the side rails and launched (younger and more limber then, and less likely to land in a heap that would require paramedics). This was at the end of the drum solo in the middle of that song, and hit the four chords that started the second half. We ended with the drums scattered, Who-style, and the Hammond jonkerwahed on the stage. Usually got an eruption of applause and I'd spend the next 15 minutes sitting on the front of the stage booking future gigs. Modified, of course, for weddings and society gigs.

Your audience will remember the opening and the ending of any set. Not so much what comes between, unless it's something special, unusual, or unexpectedly, outstandingly good.

Even if you're mostly a cover band, change up the introduction to songs. Most songs are only 3 minutes long on the record. Add something to the beginning, stuff something interesting into the middle. Do mashups. Two songs that you don't expect would work together can often be brilliant.
 

Killing Floor

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Don't over think it. Just open with Rock You Like a Hurricane, then play Wagon Wheel, then play a 40 minute version of In A Gadda Da Vida. For your second set just reverse the order but end the other songs with the riff from In A Gadda Da Vida. It will be the best set in town.
 

Si G X

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I have to disagree on several points. Most people don't notice or care about key, nor do they care about hearing multiple songs by the same artist together. If people are dancing, keeping songs of a similar tempo together is a very good thing. I can't tell you how many times I've seen good bands kill the party by sticking a slow song where it doesn't belong.

I'm more on this side of the fence too, I tend to think of it like a DJ set... I want it to flow not jump from one disparate thing to another. I'd stick all the most popular dance-able tunes in at the time most people want to get up and dance. a few classic 60's tunes in a row for a '60's bit' .. that kind of thing. I don't see anything wrong with playing (for example) 2 or 3 Stones or Beatles tracks in a row and to me that would be preferable to playing them hours apart.

I don't think there's any right or wrong here though, ultimately it depends on what the audience reaction is like. I'd say try something different and see how it goes down.
 

41144

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Depends entirely on the audience, for us...
Personally, on a gig-to-gig basis the only important factor is... What do these folk want to hear.
If they want a Bluesy / 60s RnB set :cool: even a 70s Rock etc set... Give it 'em all night long... They won't care about keys/tempo/bands . Hell, we can an even throw in a few curve ball originals they'll never know from the contemporary stuff.
Saying that, if they just want ballad/C&W type songs, I'm out/ we' d not have taken the booking
 

fcmusician

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I just make a set list for what we think the people will like for that venue. I make a set list of maybe 12 songs that we can play with ease and get comfortable. Then tack on an extra few in case we want to do an audible. Start playing what is your strongest so you can get the sound set right. Then keep an eye on the people. If they are tapping there toes and bobbing around as they talk you are on the right path :) It is a bit of a challenge to know when to switch up the tempo to give the dancers a break. But when you can control the peoples emotions on and off the dance floor it's a pretty cool feeling.
 

brookdalebill

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Nope, you’re not overthinking.
Being thoughtful shows you care about your presentation.
It matters, and matters greatly.
Luckily your band is capable.
You never want to be perceived as the same old guys doing the same old stuff.
The bandleader (Doug Blocker) I toured Canada with had rules.
Start upbeat, avoid similiar keys and tempos, change singers often (he insisted everyone sing lead), very little slow stuff, and keep it coming if the dance floor is full.
He had lots of smart, well considered rules.
He’d also replace uncooperative players quickly.
Not that I’m suggesting that.
The band (The Outriders) lived on the road, and he intended to stay on it.
Anyways, Bravo!
 

slauson slim

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No, not overthinking. In the best bar bands I’ve been in similar concepts were used in constructing set lists. Also the rules about not gabbing and babbling between songs and long introductions - keep the patrons dancing and interested. Also, annoying gratuitous drum pounding verboten.
 

teletimetx

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at some point, you should be able to tell what works and what doesn't. Sure, different crowds may have different tastes, but it's not that hard to tell when the audience is responding. Do the good stuff.

But caring about your show is always a good idea - and if you are getting results, then yayyy! good on ya!
 

Refugee

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Seems like you have a lot more don'ts than do's. Awful lot of songs with the word, "Blues," in them. Maybe being more positive would help.
 

Junkyard Dog

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It takes some work (time/thought) to build our set lists. Am I overthinking it all?

Leo, just do it once and be done with it. No need to have a customized set list for each bar gig, as they are typically just a guideline…e.g. requests will come up, you may wind up playing Mustang Sally twice, etc.
 

dougstrum

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When I was younger I would spend way to much time putting together set lists🙄

These days I take a master list and make three lists of 12 songs each. Then give a quick look for similar ryrhmic figure, similar chord progression or minor keys next to each other and make adjustments.

The most important thing is just to have a list, to keep the flow going. If anyone needs or wants to make a change it's easy to accommodate during setup or on breaks.
 

Fluddman

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I think you are over thinking this.

While you need a set list, its great to be able to swap and change to suit the mood and vibe of the gig. And sometimes finishing with a slow song works - especially when its a wild crowd and you need to wind things down.

Really its a about picking the next song based on the moment.

Good luck.
 

Mr. St. Paul

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Songs in the same keys should usually not be together

No. I avoided doing this when I did setlists, but it was OCD on my part. The majority of audiences don't notice/don't care.

Songs using the same lead vocalist should usually not be together

This was not a luxury my last band could afford, since I was the main singer. But since you have 2 lead singers, and another singer who can contribute, I can agree with this in your case.

Songs from the same artist should usually not be together

This is one I think you can relax on. Especially if it's a popular artist. We'd do it as a medley or do a little patter to introduce it: "Here's a twin spin about to begin" yadda yadda yadda.

All in all, I appreciate the attention and care you put into your lists. But generally, setlists should be a roadmap. They're great to keep you on point and click the songs off. But give yourself freedom to read the crowd and deviate from it as the moment calls for.
 

kiwi blue

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I like most of your thinking, but disagree about changing vocalists every song. A singer needs time to warm into their thing. I would give them 3 in a row then swap.

It's true the audience doesn't know what key you are in, but they do sense when things are starting to sound the same. There's no problem doing 3 songs in A in a row as long as you vary tempos and rhythmic feel. Even then, if the audience gets right into a certain song it's often fine to carry the same feel into the next song and keep the good vibe going. After that though, you need to change something.

I would change keys more than I do but my vocal range is limited and often I end up in A because I can't sing the song well enough in any other key. So I try to vary other things, and strategically place the songs that are in other keys so that there are no more than 2 or 3 consecutive songs in A.
 




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