Am I Overthinking Our Set Lists?


TDPRI Member
Apr 27, 2021
Amarillo, Texas
Regardless of the model you choose to order songs, I have found a very useful tool to help the process. It’s an app called BandHelper. Among many useful functions, you can enter lyrics and charts for your repertoire, build set lists, scroll lyrics during performance on a phone or tablet, all easily edited before a gig or on the fly.. The repertoire, set lists, etc. are stored in the cloud and available to all band members. There are also band management, booking, and calendar functions available. I’m a solo artist, so I subscribe to the basic package which is $2/month. I love it. Highly recommended.


Poster Extraordinaire
Feb 16, 2014
Antelope, California
In my '90s band (bar band) I used to spend forever on set lists with all kinds of reasoning, trying to evoke a perfect listening/viewing experience in anyone watching like I was putting an album together. After a dozen gigs I ended up just alternating between fast and slow songs, because all the thought I put into it was completely lost on our audiences when I asked people. They just want to get drunk and have a good time. Sad to say, but no one probably cares except you and your bandmates.


Mar 14, 2009
Follow the #1 Rule of the the crowd and follow their lead on what to play. Be ready to switch gears and go with what they want.

Scott Bennett

Oct 17, 2011
Pasadena, MD
We had lists when I was out gigging, but would freely substitute depending on how the crowd was feeling. If they were up dancing to the last 3 songs and a slow dance was next, we would push that and call another dance number. Then jump right into it without a hard ending to the last one.

String Tree

Doctor of Teleocity
Dec 8, 2010
Up North
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?
Me Thinks you are over-thinking it.
Set lists are best when it is Really Busy or, really slow.
They keep you focused on what is next.

IMHO- Group the songs in sub-groups of three.
Bang them out in an order that makes them compliment each other.
In the Long haul, Nobody will care about who sang what in which order or in which key.
Spend a LITTLE time as possible between songs, keep it going. THAT is what will set you apart.

If you have to spend more than a few seconds between songs (especially if you are trying to explain it) you will lose your crowd.



May 20, 2003
My humble opinion is that the tempo/feel of the songs matters more than keys, artists, and who's singing. Start each set "up," mellow out in the middle, end "up." No futzing around between songs -- just bang out one after another. Maybe a little chatter with the audience once a set, but no more than that.


Aug 18, 2015
Seligenstadt, Germany
We were a classic fourpiece wit me on guitar, background vocals and occasional lead vocals (I'm a huge David Bowie fan and our singer is not, so I sing Bowie).
Last year our singer was diagnosed with a tumor and underwent chemotherapy (it's actually looking good, knocking on wood here). I also wanted to have a bit less pressure providing chords and lead, anyway we now are a sixpiece with a second singer and a keyboarder who also does some leadvocals. Our setlist expanded and changed naturally.
But my reasoning for setlists is pretty much the same as before:
I try to have several blocks, i.e. have 3 funksongs in a row instead of having a dance tune next to a R'n'R smasher next to a ballad etc.
I prefer sets with 3 blocks around 45 to 60 minutes.
We try to start (and end) each block with something that gets people up to the their feet ASAP and instantly leaves them with the wish for some more.
We usually do a kind of more mellow block in the 2nd set - which is also the kind of spot for our second singer, as she's more into softer stuff. But first and last block are definitely for having a party.
I don't mind having follow-up songs with the same key, I also actually prefer having one singer for 2 or 3 songs in a row. I feel the audience adjusts better to blocks like that.
That's pretty much it.

Happy Enchilada

Friend of Leo's
Gold Supporter
Mar 25, 2021
God's Country
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.
We used to call it "I'm-a Gotta da VD." Our audiences found our rendition ... infectious.