Am I Overthinking Our Set Lists?

Cosmic Cowboy

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As far as songs in the same key..its cool to sometimes string em together with a lil jam between ala Grateful Dead.

I am a chronic overthinker. In my experience... sets 2&3 usually have the biggest crowd and dance floor.

But you have solid reasons for your thoughts.
 

Sparky472

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I’ve always advocated for no set lists. Just play what we feel like playing when we feel like it. But that’s typically been a tough sell to the other guys I’ve played with. It’s a lot more fun IMO.
 

mfguitar

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You might be overthinking. My keyboard player will mention some of your reasoning but I am seldom playing for other players. I think you need to be somewhat flexible. How many times do you do a song and dancers hit the floor just as the song is ending? If you front-load your set with your best material and the crowd arrives late you might better change up a bit. I want a setlist so that I don't get a lot of "what are we doing?" but I will venture from the list if it makes sense.
 

mmannaxx

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Changing keys with songs doesn't make sense to me. Changing lead vocalist every song may be unnecessary as well if singers don't need that.
I don't make our set lists but if i did the primary concern would be to not string together two songs that sound very similar. That may be more challenging if you are primarily a blues band though.
 

Ron R

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  • 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
I get where you're coming from with key and tempo, but there's a flip side to that - if you've got people up and moving, continuity in those ares (especially tempo) can be a really good thing and KEEP those people moving.
As for lead vocalists, I assume you mean within your band. I tend to not stack back to backs on my 2 bandmates, but since I sing well over 50% of what we do, there's no avoiding it for me.
 

woodman

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I think your set of rules is basically sound, but remember rules were made to be broken.

Dance room or listening room?

Weeknight or weekend?

Old crowd or young crowd? Back in my heyday, the crowd would come early and stay late. First set was usually lower-energy, getting warmed up and the audience settling in, then by third set we'd have the bombs bursting in air. But as we and our audience aged, things turned upside down.

By the time I stepped away from gigging in 2012, first set was the main crowd set (if you could get our now-geezer fans off the couch). Then everybody would go home on our first break, leaving us with a pocketful of good material to play for an empty house. So third set became the filler set for the barflies.

What's good is that you're thinking it through — it's better to be more conscientious than less conscientious. Keep developing and stay flexible depending on venue. The only hard and fast rule, as many have said: Don't waste time (and let your audience drift) between songs! Good luck — I wish I was still in your shoes!
 
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Guitarteach

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Strange choices. You plan to keep them sat down all night?

We aim to keep an audience up and dancing and will put three or four together of a similar dance style & tempo and maybe bookended by same artist. It is easy for them to drift off if you vary too much.

Then we will pad with two or three laid back ones to give them time to physically rest - we might vary instruments and styles here a lot - then do another get off your asses and dance group.

Set 2 gets rockier as they are generally more relaxed and up for more crazy dancing.
 

OneOcean

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I've always wondered about how much song keys should matter between songs. I have gone as far as selecting a song that starts in a key a fifth below the prior song for a classic V I transition. Another could be transitioning from a Major I to a relative minor vi or vise-versa, or minor i to a Major I. Likely overthinking it but if you have plenty of songs to choose from, it might help you make a better decision. While I agree that the vast majority doesn't consciously notice keys, I suspect that it can make a difference on a subconscious level that could just feel right without them knowing why. Certainly, the more experienced musicians in the audience notice the keys of neighboring songs and that may be enough of a consideration to give it some thought. It is something I might judge a band for, but ultimately a band leader should make their set lists for the masses, not the asses.
 

blue metalflake

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I don’t reckon you’re overthinking it, though I’m not really with the songs in the same key thing.
I’ve always played in bands that were predominantly for dance venues, so the prime driver was always the beat. Maybe different if it’s more a concert type gig.
 

421JAM

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I’ve always followed the primacy/recency effect. People remember beginnings and endings of things more than they remember what comes in between. So as long as you start and end each set strong, you can get away with a lot in the middle.

My band has two main lead singers, and two occasional lead singers. We try not to do back to back songs with the same singer. And we don’t put songs next to each other that have the same tempo and groove. I don’t think we take key into consideration. You can get away with playing a bunch of up tempo songs back to back, but you’re asking for trouble if you do consecutive ballads.
 

Jipes

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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?
I usually do the same except for an additionnal component since I'm playing in open tunings sometimes during the show and I try to organise the set list accordingly to avoid too many tunning issues (even if I'm bringing two guitars one being devoted to the different open tunings mostly Open G and Double Dropped D)

Another component could be to ues common keys to create Songs sequence linked one to the other

Hope it helps
 

OneOcean

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While it matters less in a live setting where alcohol is served, we know that artists/producers spend a ton of time choosing the order of songs on studio albums. I was recently surprised by what I consider an unforced error by a major artist who is a self-described perfectionist and most certainly understands these types of things. John Mayer's latest album, Sob Rock, opens with Last Train Home in the key of E major and the next song, Shouldn't Matter But It Does, is also in the key of E major. They are about 10 bpm apart but still close enough that it almost sounds like a continuation of the same song. I noticed this the first time I listened to the album and this song transition still bothers me as lazy. I'd guess John Mayer was aware of this, but other track list considerations made this a necessary compromise. Maybe he did it on purpose as an ironic play on the song title. Indeed, John, it shouldn't matter but it does!
 

Skyhook

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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?
Create an algorithm for this!
Computers were designed to do exactly this; i.e crunch the results when you know what has to be done but
don't want to do the same calculations again and again and again until death.

Assign properties to each song(key, tempo, vocalist, anything else you need) which you wish to arrange by.
Then sort as per the criteria you've listed above.
If you're not gonna code and compile in an actual programming language I'd suggest you
do this in a spreadsheet program. They usually have scripting languages onboard for things like this.
This would also make it easy to assign properties as columns and songs as rows.
End result would be that you just feed songs to the list, assign properties and they end up in the correct place on the list.

This suggestion is as close to actual code as my MSc in CS will let me go. :lol:

"Real computer scientists don't program in assembler. They don't write in anything less portable than a number two pencil...."
 

rhodesworks

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The immediate suggestion is to do your announcement riff next to last and keep it short, then finish with a bang.
 

RoscoeElegante

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Great thread!

I keep flip-flopping songs and whole sets as I try to work out our new gigs. All original songs. My dilemma is that about 60% of the many I've written are of the forlorn lover type. That can get pretty draining, even for an audience eager for emotional stuff.

Especially when some of my other ones are long ballads about coping with loss/pressures. And several of my stompier rocky ones are, actually, angry jilted lover songs. That's nice and venting, but not exactly "I Want to Hold Your Hand."

So I gotta use my cheerful ones--about parenting, abiding love, goofy resilience--carefully lest poignance slip into merely depressing.

So, on that point, where do you-all like to place your heart-wrenchers? Your playful/goofy ones? Your angry/venting ones? Your wistful ones? What kind of emotional sequence or pattern makes a satisfying experience in, say, a 12-song gig, in a 20-40 person former-church setting?

FWIW, the overall category here is, roughly, "Americana." A pretty folky/folk-rock foundation, with some blue-grassy, bluesy, and ballady qualities. Mostly acoustic, with one or two guitars, keyboards, violin/fiddle, mandolin, cello, percussion in the mix as per each song's needs. One lead singer with various others joining in on some choruses, call-and-response, etc.
 

Teleguy61

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Any set list is overthinking it.
A competent entertainer knows his/her musicians, repertoire and audience well enough
to call a set on the fly.
Plus, that's the most fun.
 

Skyhook

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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.

You do realize we're gonna have to see a video of this now...
 

Ron R

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I’ve always advocated for no set lists. Just play what we feel like playing when we feel like it. But that’s typically been a tough sell to the other guys I’ve played with. It’s a lot more fun IMO.
Set lists are a great way to avoid those awkward pauses where you try to figure out what you're going to play next. Doesn't mean you can't call out an insertion or skip things on the fly as you read the room.
 

Skyhook

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Any set list is overthinking it.
A competent entertainer knows his/her musicians, repertoire and audience well enough
to call a set on the fly.
Plus, that's the most fun.

"Plus, that's the most fun." ... Yeah.. must be why Dream Theater aren't doing it.
They're not that much fun... really. I wish they were because I'll be buying their albums anyway.

 

mdphillips1956

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If you keep your best song till last, and on finishing it the crowd surprises you by calling for an encore... what do you do, play it again?
Better than doing some odd ball reserve song that falls flat!
Mark P............
 




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