Am I Overthinking Our Set Lists?

Marc Morfei

Friend of Leo's
Silver Supporter
Joined
Feb 6, 2018
Posts
3,531
Age
57
Location
Wilmington, DE
I do our setlists and I give it quite a lot of thought. You can really notice the difference when one sing flows into the next and when it doesn't. Here is my criteria:

1. Set Openers and Closers first. Openers should be attention grabbing. Closers should end everything on a high note.
2. Pace. I like to start with medium tempo, build up to a good run a danceable songs, slow down in the middle, then ramp back up to the ender.
3. Vocals. Our lead singer takes half the songs. Three of us divide up the other half. So in a 12-song set she will sing 6, and we will each get 2 each, approximately. I spread them out, so she won't do more than 2 or 3 in a row, and the rest of us together won't do more than 2 in a row.
4. Transitions. I think about how one song ends and the next one begins. I want it to sound natural. I wouldn't do a Journey song right after a CCD song. (I'd prefer to not do a Journey song at all, but that's another topic.)
5. Be Willing to Ad-Lib: Sometimes the next song on the list just doesn't feel right once you get there. Be willing to audible at the line of scrimmage.
 

LittleSonny

TDPRI Member
Joined
Jun 6, 2013
Posts
50
Location
Austin, TX
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?
Read through the other replies and there are some disagreements that I will agree with.
1) Nothing wrong with songs in the same key being back to back. When it gets to three or four in a row,that's another matter.
2) Absolutely nothing wrong with two or more up temp or medium tempo in a row. Too many slow ones, not good.
3) Nothing wrong with vocalist singing two or more in a row. I sometimes perform in a 'revue" where we take three each in rotation.
4) Nothing wrong with songs from the same artist back to back. The suggestion of making them into a medley is a good one.

I would also submit that you are perhaps indeed overthinking. So if I may, allow me to pass on advice I've been given by my musical mentor, a touring musician, producer, and studio owner. These suggestions were made in a discussion of how to construct a set list. These are merely guidelines to creating an experience, a show if you will.

1) Try to create mini sets of three or 4 within the set, each with a beginning, middle and end.
2) Try to arrange keys in ascending order within the mini sets.

And finally the best advise of all to keep it all in perspective and not overthink. This again was from my mentor, James Morgan, and is probably the best advice on sets ever and should be sufficient unto itself. It's a quote from a film director, who's name I can not remember, might have been John Huston. It was in regard to film editing. "Start with something the audience will never forget. Finish with something they'll never forget. And in between just don't annoy them."
 

drumtime

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Mar 17, 2018
Posts
1,406
Age
70
Location
the mountains of Virginia
A set list is best used as an outline IMO. All of the above ideas are good ways to map it out, with the strategy being to keep people dancing, while allowing time for beer buying. Slower songs are good, but only in moderation if dancing is happening. Dead air while the band discusses what to play next is a total vibe killer, and a list is a good way to nip that in the bud. Being married to the order of songs can also kill the vibe - it's important to read the room.

My suggestion is to also include some improv. Jams can be a great way to liven things up, open a set, or close out the night -- if your band can rock an improv number. I'm biased because I like that kind of thing, but IMO (again) being able to slam into something nobody - including the band - has heard before, but makes everyone dance, is a great trick to have in your back pocket. One of the first bands I was in did this a lot, and we always received compliments like, "That Steely Dan number sounded great, but what was that tune you started with? That was awesome." invariably, it was an improvised thing we did to get warmed up, or to change the vibe.
 

Gas4Teles

TDPRI Member
Joined
Mar 15, 2015
Posts
68
Location
Haarlem, The Netherlands
I put a lot of thought into my setlists as well. I also avoid the same keys, etc. not only for the audience but for the band. My philosophy is to try something, see how well it works, and then look for improvements. Over time your setlists/shows should incrementally be getting better and better.
 

kilroy6262

Tele-Meister
Joined
Mar 8, 2020
Posts
122
Age
60
Location
PA
we take turns making set lists in our band, but your rules are almost the exact opposite of what we do. Why can't you have two song in the same key? Do you really think anybody in the audience notices? we try to avoid jarring key changes, but we often segue songs into one another because they are the same key.

We try to lump a bunch of upbeat songs together to make a "dance set" in Set 2. once they're up dancing, keep 'em up dancing. We actually have very few slow songs, because who the hell goes to a bar to listen to ballads?

And we sometimes make double- and triple-shots of an artist.

So, yes, you are overthinking it.
 

Timbresmith1

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Oct 1, 2010
Posts
3,370
Location
Central TX
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!
Now I ponder what I would sing under those conditions…🥴😳
 

basher

Friend of Leo's
Gold Supporter
Joined
Jun 7, 2007
Posts
2,436
Location
Washington, DC
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.

I guess if you've got Bruce Springsteen in control calling the tunes that can work. I've been in bands where we had to take a few minutes between every damn song to agree on what we were going to play next while the audience gradually lost interest. It's unprofessional and embarrassing.
 

kennl

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Feb 6, 2007
Posts
1,950
Location
Moon Township, PA
song sequencing is an art form
pay attention to how iconic performers stage their show - every detail is worked out to present a story to the audience
for a dance crowd, the wrong change in rhythmic meter or tempo can clear the dance floor
 

Stratocast

Tele-Meister
Joined
Jan 23, 2022
Posts
460
Age
66
Location
Papillion ne
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?
If you are basing overthinking on the points you mentioned. Yes. You are. No one in the audience will care about songs being in same keys or beats together etc or even which vocalist and when or where the up tempo songs are. Make sure everyone is playing the same song. That’s important. Our band did a lot of songs with drop tuning. Half steps full steps. Sometimes one would be a whole step down and the rest were half steps down. It was easy to do. Thru electronics. Most importantly. Rotate songs periodically new songs in ….older songs out. Or at least. Mix up the order of the songs within the sets. That way the same audience will not be able to predict when you will play a particular song. And also TAKE REQUESTS. good musicians can play songs not even on their set lists but songs they have heard before
 

rightonthemark

TDPRI Member
Joined
Jan 23, 2022
Posts
3
Location
ohio
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've always been the set list maker for the bands i've been in. my current band has two lead singers. so i do try to make sure they don't have to sing more than two or three tunes in a row. but i actually like putting multiple songs together in the same key and from same artist. it makes for easy flow going from song to song without yapping between tunes. i'll make a playlist of each set and listen to them in the car. if that flow feels good i keep it. if something sounds odd or out of place i adjust the list. our current list has good flow to me.
 

Attachments

  • 7E5FB8B5-EF5F-45F5-A343-29F5E808B2F3.jpeg
    7E5FB8B5-EF5F-45F5-A343-29F5E808B2F3.jpeg
    109.3 KB · Views: 31

Stratocast

Tele-Meister
Joined
Jan 23, 2022
Posts
460
Age
66
Location
Papillion ne
I guess if you've got Bruce Springsteen in control calling the tunes that can work. I've been in bands where we had to take a few minutes between every damn song to agree on what we were going to play next while the audience gradually lost interest. It's unprofessional and embarrassing.
 

Stratocast

Tele-Meister
Joined
Jan 23, 2022
Posts
460
Age
66
Location
Papillion ne
Sorry you had to go thru that on stage. Most of the times those things should be discussed in rehearsal. What irder of songs what keys banter needed. Etc. Sorry your band did not iron this stuff out before stepping on to the stage.
 

AAT65

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
May 29, 2016
Posts
5,915
Location
West Lothian, Scotland
My setlist song database has keys but we don't worry about changing key every song. And I think having blocks of similar-ish material -- in particular there's a block which I call "the camp disco section" which is very popular, and there are a couple of rousing set-closer blocks and a cool-it-down acoustic-based block. And we usually avoid doing the same artist back-to-back, but that's definitely more of a guideline really: Heroes followed by Ziggy Stardust usually goes down pretty well, and we are working on a Queen-Bowie block which will be Don't Stop Me Now - Under Pressure - Heroes.
Another practical consideration is instrument swaps. I play guitar and lap steel, so I try to avoid having just one lap steel song by itself (some songs I have both guitar and lap steel versions of for flexibility).
 

zencat

TDPRI Member
Joined
May 20, 2010
Posts
30
Location
california
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?
My band covers Funk, Soul, and RnB music so there's a lot of up tempo songs with exceptions of a handful of slower songs like: Al Green/Let's Stay Together, Marvin Gaye/What's Goin' On, etc. My take is simple: songs that are vocally harder to sing for the singers back to back; space those apart. Play slower songs, usually no more than two, in the middle of a set list. Begin and end on strong up tempo songs. Voila ... Songs by same artist work well for us. We cover a number of Sly And The Family Stone and we play them back to back. No problem there. Hope this helps.
 

Whitebeard

Tele-Meister
Joined
Jun 26, 2009
Posts
196
Location
Port Richey, FL
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'd lose the song begins with column. Does anyone who is beginning a song not remember how they do it? As mentioned above medleys and or 2 to 3 songs by the same artist are effective. Again, as mentioned above if a singer's voice can handle more than one song at a time and I suspect most singers can then use those nice heated up vocal cords to full advantage. Get the audience on the dance floor and keep them there long enough to work up a thirst factoring in that the house is trying to sell drinks. Have fun and a little interaction with the audience can be fun for them too. Enjoy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 

loudboy

Tele-Holic
Joined
May 21, 2003
Posts
994
Location
Sedona, Arizona
We actually have very few slow songs, because who the hell goes to a bar to listen to ballads?
For bar gigs, we used to play one slow song a night, usually towards the end of the 3rd set, so who (or what) ever could seal the deal and not go home alone.
I've been in bands where we had to take a few minutes between every damn song to agree on what we were going to play next while the audience gradually lost interest. It's unprofessional and embarrassing.
The last thing you want is a full dancefloor standing there waiting for the next tune. The single best thing we've done in any band I've ever been in, is to work out sets where the songs go together in groups of 3-4 with no breaks, then take a second to catch your breath, say something and hit the next bunch.

It literally allowed us to become a top act, with just changing that one thing. It takes about one rehearsal to put it together and the results are immediate.

My rules, which I sort of follow:

First set, warm up with a few tunes that are very impressive to listen to, and show off what the band can do. People are arriving and aren't ready to pack the floor until they've had a drink and settled in. Some examples that used to work well are Trouble No More/Ain't My Cross To Bear by the ABB, and we used to do Stone Cold Crazy by Queen in the late '70s, but I doubt anyone would know that now.

Build the momentum, and end the first set with 3-4 big dance tunes, to let them know what's coming. Keep the first set no longer than an hour.

Second set, all killer, minimal breaks/talking. Do the aforementioned song groups and keep it going. Start big, end bigger and don't let the middle lag. Make this set the longest - 1:15-1:30, as in today's reality most people will leave after it and the venue will want you to keep them there as long as you can.

Third set, anyone who's still there is not going to care what you do, they're not leaving. Play a few dance songs, a few where you stretch out a little, a ballad towards the end, and goodnight.
 

dfab

TDPRI Member
Joined
Jul 21, 2014
Posts
7
Location
California
I play in a 5-piece vocally-oriented rock band called Noizy Neighbors here in the Bay Area. Set lists are a bit of an art form when you attempt to predict the mood of the crowd before the gig. My pieces of advice are as follows:

Read the crowd. If they are in a dancing mood....continue in that vein. If they appear like they need a break, insert a slower tempo tune. Be flexible and prepare to deviate if needed.

Be mindful of the strain on the lead vocal. There are songs that I sing that I need to have earlier in the evening rather than later in the evening due to voice strain. Our keyboard player does a LOT of our heavier rock vocals.....we have to spread his more raucous songs out to give his voice a rest.

Keep gaps between songs short.......and that means be mindful of instrument changes/patch changes/setup changes. We have to structure sequences of songs to keep guitar changes, pedal board adjustments, synth patch changes manageable.

And.......ask the person paying the band early on in the gig if they would like any song changes. That way you get hired again.
 




Top