How To Write A Set List



The past few weeks, I have been rehearsing with all my students for Live From The Garage 16 - my end of year student show. There has been a fair amount of discussion about song order. How do you write a good set list? Here is my two cents:


The order that a band performs their songs on stage is an extremely important part of their show. Here are a few tips on how to write a good set list:

Preliminary Considerations

The best order for any given performance depends on several factors:

  1. Whether your band is opening or headlining

  2. How long the set is

  3. Whether your band is playing more than one set

  4. The kind of audience that will be present / kind of venue

If your band has an opening slot, this means you are playing before a better-known band. This type of set is shorter than if you are the main or headlining band. Being an opening band can sometimes be difficult. You should prepare a short, tight set of maximum thirty minutes in length. If you are the headliner, your set can be longer, usually between an hour to an hour and a half. As a headliner, you have more room to play with elements like dynamics or extended versions of songs. In general, it’s best to have a set that is a bit shorter than longer, that way you always leave the audience wanting more.


If your band plays covers, you will most likely need to prepare two to three sets of forty-five minutes to an hour. In this case, you need to place your best songs carefully so that they will have maximum impact. At most clubs, the first set is usually a warm up set. The second set is the main set because that is the point in the night when the most people are likely to be there. The third set can sometimes be just as important as the second or it can be slightly less important, depending on how busy the club is that night. Sometimes you need to be flexible and change things on the fly.


At times, the type of audience and venue must come into consideration. If you are an original band, it may mean playing more slow songs or more up-tempo songs. If you are a cover band, it may mean playing more songs in a particular style or by a particular band. Think about it!


The Intro


Some bands like to have an intro before they begin. If you are just starting out, this is probably not the best idea, as this can get complicated. If you really want to have an intro, just remember that an intro should build the audience’s excitement and make sense with your show. The last thing a band needs is to have an intro that bores the audience and brings down the energy before the show has even begun! So be careful. Practice your intro and test it on your friends first.


The First Song


The first song is probably the most important song of the entire show. As the saying goes, “ you only get one chance to make a first impression.” This is so true when you are performing. If you don’t get the audience with the first song, you are most likely in for a rough ride. When you are performing on stage and the audience is into your show it’s an amazing feeling. When the audience is not paying attention, it’s a horrible feeling. If the audience doesn’t know you, put one of your strongest, if not your strongest song first. Even if the audience does know you, you should still start off with a very strong song.


The Last song


The last song is also extremely important. This is the final memory the audience will have of you. You should always end with a very strong song, that way the audience will leave with a strong impression of you.


Dynamics


There are dynamics in music, within a song for example, and there are the dynamics of the show as a whole. Remember this: if you play every song at the same dynamic level, the audience will get bored and lose interest. It’s the dynamic variation that makes music and shows interesting. A good set always has dynamic variation. If the set starts out loud and fast, it should get slower and / or quieter a little later on. If you want to end the show with a bang, the songs right before the last one must be a little less intense. Imagine you are taking the audience on a journey. The audience wants to feel something, like they’ve been transformed, like they’ve been taken from point A to point B. You know that feeling. It’s the same feeling we get when we listen to music, when we hear our favorite song.


Finally, a good set comes down to how well you know your songs. As you get to really know your songs, you will also get to know which songs are the strongest. You will also know which songs the band plays best. Plan out in advance which songs will be back to back and which songs will have some space between them so your singer can say a few words to the audience. You should rehearse your sets well before the day of a show and record them so you can hear if they are sounding good. Before a show, you should invite a few friends to your rehearsals to get their feedback. Listen to or watch some live performances by your favorite bands to see how they do it.


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