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OT: Set list song order sequencing stuff


TommyRude
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You ever get a set list and wonder what the hell they are thinking?  The order makes no sense, the list has no flow, the energy is wildly inconsistent, pacing just seems out of whack?  Anyone involved with putting together set lists have any tips and tricks?

 

I imagine some folks have this down to an art form, i.e. grouping songs by tempo, decade, genre, artist.  I guess in some cases folks like to mix things up and diverge from what's seemingly expected.  But it seems that for most audiences, you'd want to take them on a journey of sorts, and having chapters that follow some sort of sequence would be a good thing.

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I’m fairly picky about this and I think having hosted radio for 20 years has helped. In terms of concert/jazz club settings I often think in blocks of two or three songs, where I should talk. I often think of a “valley” type shape, where I’ll put the ballad in the middle and work back up to higher energy. 
 

Dance/party/function bands are another story, and while most leaders in that scene that I’ve worked with are really good in their pacing, it can easily be sidelined by planners that care more about the food, or speeches that suck the life out of the room. I would say in those cases to have multiple places that you could start/end a set or medley. 

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Playing clubs and such setlist sometime just have to be put aside and go with the flow of the audience.  All about reading your audience even in the churches I was involved with sometime the congregation was up and wanted more music so the Rev's adjusted and gave them what they wanted.   A couple times his message got split into a two part message.   One time the congregation was so into the music the Rev being a former pianist and MD at the church just went with it and it two hours of music.   Everyone loved how the services went with how congregation wanted.   That also included a few time there was very little music.   

 

Gotta feel you audience. 

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In my main band, one player does most of the set list but we all have input. We think about set openers and closers, put the slow song in the middle of the set, etc. 4 band members sing so we also need to move from 1 vocalist to another and not group songs with the same singer on lead. The guitar and bass player switch instruments so we have to organize the list to keep songs together so there's only one switch per set. I play sax and keyboard so I have to think about how that switch goes, but nobody else in the band cares. :) We're also always adding new tunes so we have to think about where those go in a set, and also what's going off the set list to make room for the new tunes. All in all, it pretty much constrains making up the set list and allows for a few variations.

 

Other bands I'm in, I'm a sideman so the leader(s) make up the set lists. A couple bands have originals and covers so they tend to mix those up. One band is fronted by female singer-songwriter. She sends set list way ahead of time with links to reference recordings, including her originals. It's well-thought out and very organized.

 

Another band has been playing together a long time and I only play with them for larger gigs. They don't use a set list, I'm expected to know the songs on their song list, and they call audibles on stage, originals and covers. They've been playing together so long and know each other so well that it works. Also, they're fun and funny on stage so the audience always enjoys their good time. They could play anything, even train wrecks, and they'd still go over well. In fact, they'd make that entertaining. 

These are only my opinions, not supported by any actual knowledge, experience, or expertise.
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35 minutes ago, Docbop said:

Playing clubs and such setlist sometime just have to be put aside and go with the flow of the audience.  All about reading your audience even in the churches I was involved with sometime the congregation was up and wanted more music so the Rev's adjusted and gave them what they wanted.   A couple times his message got split into a two part message.   One time the congregation was so into the music the Rev being a former pianist and MD at the church just went with it and it two hours of music.   Everyone loved how the services went with how congregation wanted.   That also included a few time there was very little music.   

 

Gotta feel you audience. 

I've been in a band for 6 years, mostly bar band gigs and outdoor party gigs in summer. I took this winter off, avoiding Covid stuffs. I'lll be back at it soon. 

 

So far, we've had a total of 3 times that there was a set list at the beginning of the first set. We never played more than the first 2 songs before that was ignored in favor of running a gamut early on to find out what the crowd liked. Our lead singer/strummer knows lots of songs in a wide variety of genres and styles. He's good at figuring out what the crowd wants that evening at that location. 

 

Maybe the crowd wants something funky, or maybe they want country, we can do those. If there are significant Canadians (very common up to 2 years ago), playing some Tragically Hip would get the dance floor going and the tip jar money flowing. 

 

Sometimes the variety pack is called for, mixed audience so you give everybody a few tunes they'll enjoy. 

 

Back in Fresno I was in a band for 9 years that more or less did the same thing except I don't think we ever had a set list. 

 

On the other hand, the Motown band I was in ALWAYS started every evening with Poppa Was A Rolling Stone. I had a binder on a music stand at first since we started gigging a few days after they hired me. It had our sets in it, in order. We always did the same show, for 2 years. Dance floor was full most of the time so it worked but it will drive you a bit crazy, almost more like a real job or something!

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As others have said, context matters for this. But I can only say that for all the OCDing I, personally, put into sets I am BL for, 1) I almost always abandon the list anyway a few songs in and just "play the room" from there, but also 2) Often the most random, "what were they thinking?!?" set lists that seem to be recipes for disaster on paper, turn out to be the most effective and exciting in real time--to the point that I have changed how I think about my own set lists as a result.

The real benefits of a set list for a band that will otherwise "have" the audience either way, is to cut down on the time between songs. Otherwise, as long as you're not slotting two sensitive ballads next to each other, practically anything goes. (Including putting two sensitive ballads next to each other if you really must.)

About the only generalities I can make is that mid-tempo songs never work, and function as ballads, so you have to bear in mind that they will clear the floor the same as the ballads do. (If the gig is about the floor.) It's nice to build to a barn-burner of a last 4 or 5 songs for those gigs, particularly at the end of night. Leave 'em tired and horny. Beyond that, hopefully your repertoire is doing the rest of the work for you--and if not, it's time to change the repertoire.

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31 minutes ago, MathOfInsects said:

The real benefits of a set list for a band that will otherwise "have" the audience either way, is to cut down on the time between songs.

Yeah. This. 

These are only my opinions, not supported by any actual knowledge, experience, or expertise.
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I play with a band that is celebrating it's 40th anniversary this summer. The band leader's philosophy is not to have any dead air during the set as younger people tend to have short attention spans and if you stop playing for even 15 seconds you will lose them. The band has been doing pretty much the same three sets for about 23 years. Each set is a medley of songs from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. The music is non-stop danceable rock and pop in each set. Some songs we seriously play all the way through but many are kind of a novelty where we do a verse and then into the next song. One example is we play "Livin' on a Prayer all the way through and then break into a bit of "'My Sharona", a couple of verses of "Mony Mony", and then "Doo Wah Diddy". Even though the band ages range from about 50-70 we still play to packed houses of mostly 20-somethings and a few older people including the NJ Governor at the Jersey Shore. We also had a monthly NYC gig that lasted over 20 years until covid that drew a full house of 20-somethings every time we played there. The band also has a long history of playing Comic-Con, Monkees-Con, and Beatles-Con where we've backed up many 60s artists. For those events we do sets appropriate for the gig. April 8 we are doing an all-Monkees party in Philadelphia where we will play the obvious hits along with a lot of lesser-known songs from their catalog.

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I am the person who has had the most input into the song order for gigs. We are a 7 person covers band where 5 of us sing, but a main lead singer does them on about 2/3, and a secondary (not me) sings lead on about 1/4. We do tons of harmonies including songs like Woodstock (CSNY), so for some songs a non-lead singer is almost as busy as the one singing lead. We have a lot of concerns similar to the ones El Lobo described.

 

We have also had songs that taxed the lead singer so we would need to make sure that singer was fully warmed up before that song, but arrange the list so that singer would have vocal rest before and after it. (examples with our previous lead singer were Heart's Barracuda & Crazy on You and Led Zep Rock and Roll, but those songs will not be in our new rotation because our new lead singer has a lower range).

 

With our pre-COVID lineup we had huge issues with rehearsal schedules, which made it a struggle to keep existing songs in shape for a gig while learning just 1 or 2 new ones. This also meant we had almost no songs that were not in the gig list, that we had in good enough shape to perform if asked. 

 

We just got our new lineup set with auditions completed just in January, and our new lineup will allow us to have more regular rehearsals. We are rebuilding our song list, including a bunch of songs new to us (and throwing out some of the trash). We will have our first gig with the new lineup on April 29, so I was just going thru the process of writing a draft song order for that gig during the last 3 days.

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2 minutes ago, harmonizer said:

We have also had songs that taxed the lead singer so we would need to make sure that singer was fully warmed up before that song, but arrange the list so that singer would have vocal rest before and after it.

You beat me to it harmonizer! Giving the singers a break often plays a part in set construction. I know the last thing I wanted to see was a string of songs where I'd be hitting high "A"s for half an hour. So we'd adjust...

 

At the club level, we often regarded set lists as rules meant to be broken. The most uncomfortable feeling in the world is playing to an empty dance floor, and we'd have to throw something out there meant for later in the night. 

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2 hours ago, MathOfInsects said:

As others have said, context matters for this. But I can only say that for all the OCDing I, personally, put into sets I am BL for, 1) I almost always abandon the list anyway a few songs in and just "play the room" from there, but also 2) Often the most random, "what were they thinking?!?" set lists that seem to be recipes for disaster on paper, turn out to be the most effective and exciting in real time--to the point that I have changed how I think about my own set lists as a result.

The real benefits of a set list for a band that will otherwise "have" the audience either way, is to cut down on the time between songs. Otherwise, as long as you're not slotting two sensitive ballads next to each other, practically anything goes. (Including putting two sensitive ballads next to each other if you really must.)

About the only generalities I can make is that mid-tempo songs never work, and function as ballads, so you have to bear in mind that they will clear the floor the same as the ballads do. (If the gig is about the floor.) It's nice to build to a barn-burner of a last 4 or 5 songs for those gigs, particularly at the end of night. Leave 'em tired and horny. Beyond that, hopefully your repertoire is doing the rest of the work for you--and if not, it's time to change the repertoire.

Bearing in mind that we are often "selling beer", it's not the worst thing for band business to have a dull spot mid-set so the crowd can buy more alcohol.

That's how the bar that hired you makes the money to pay you. Just not for too long and be sure to ramp it up directly afterwards.

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21 minutes ago, KuruPrionz said:

Bearing in mind that we are often "selling beer", it's not the worst thing for band business to have a dull spot mid-set so the crowd can buy more alcohol.

That's how the bar that hired you makes the money to pay you. Just not for too long and be sure to ramp it up directly afterwards.

That is essential to making a living in a cover band.   Some old friends had a cover band that worked pretty much full time for years and years.   Musically they were okay, good vocals, but key they knew how to pace sets so people drank and drank.   They held the bar record at a whole string of hotels and bars.  Holding the bar record means you'll be rehired over and over.    A few good business practices, mailing list,  t-shirts, chatting with customers a bit on breaks, and they always had a crowd.  

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Some people like the job of dealing with stuff like that! Doesn't mean they're necessarily good at it, though in my quite a while ago experience with band constellations both song choice (covers) and performance parameters like order and timing would be a democratic matter. I preferred to practice for fun or as little as possible (e.g. 1 time) but that depends on the playing skills and song knowledge of the player.

 

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For those who play with a guitar player or two, song flow and set lists are also somewhat influenced by guitar tunings.  Not the in between songs, playing a cold venue, tuning correction, but having the guitar being tuned for a song.  If they've got a rack with guitars set to a particular tuning, or a guitar tech handing them a correctly tuned one, then it's a smooth transition even if songs are being called off the set list. If not, it's beer selling time.  

We haven't made it to the guitar tech phase yet😀

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On 3/26/2022 at 12:57 PM, Shamanzarek said:

I play with a band that is celebrating it's 40th anniversary this summer. The band leader's philosophy is not to have any dead air during the set as younger people tend to have short attention spans and if you stop playing for even 15 seconds you will lose them. The band has been doing pretty much the same three sets for about 23 years. Each set is a medley of songs from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. The music is non-stop danceable rock and pop in each set. Some songs we seriously play all the way through but many are kind of a novelty where we do a verse and then into the next song. One example is we play "Livin' on a Prayer all the way through and then break into a bit of "'My Sharona", a couple of verses of "Mony Mony", and then "Doo Wah Diddy". Even though the band ages range from about 50-70 we still play to packed houses of mostly 20-somethings and a few older people including the NJ Governor at the Jersey Shore. We also had a monthly NYC gig that lasted over 20 years until covid that drew a full house of 20-somethings every time we played there. The band also has a long history of playing Comic-Con, Monkees-Con, and Beatles-Con where we've backed up many 60s artists. For those events we do sets appropriate for the gig. April 8 we are doing an all-Monkees party in Philadelphia where we will play the obvious hits along with a lot of lesser-known songs from their catalog.

What's the name of your band?

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Way back when I first started playing I noticed a pretty consistant crowd behavior and based our sets on it.

 

1st set - Crowd is coming in, socializing, eating, ordering drinks. A good time to play your songs that sound really good but are not really danceable. Don't waste your best stuff early but impress them with your sound.

2nd set - Time to get them on the dance floor. Bring on the funk and the dance grooves. Make them get up and get it on.

3rd set - Bring on the crowd favorites, even if they are not as danceable. By now they are loose enough to dance to it.

4th set - Party song time. 

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6 minutes ago, MathOfInsects said:

I think there's a typo on your post. By mistake you listed a 4th set.

LOL. It was a change for me going from 4 x 45 minutes sets with 15 minute breaks to nights of 3 x 1 hour sets with half hour breaks. But then I've played a few times when the crowd would take up money and pay us to play another hour. Our record was a 4 hour job with 3 extra hours added at the end. 7 sets. I switched to drums the 6th set to give the drummer a rest. Our poor singer could not talk the next day.

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This post edited for speling.
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