The setlist, you’re most important tool while you’re sitting up there in front of everyone.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten up on stage and thought to myself, “I’ve got this, I know what I’m going to play.” Then after the first two songs, I blank, and I can’t remember what the hell I was supposed to play next, I look around awkwardly at the other band members and mouth,
Now, does it look bad… Honestly, no, not really, most people won’t notice you doing this. But it has a more significant effect than that…
I want you to listen to this because it’s a crucial truth – when you are lost in the set, you have lost your shine on stage.
Let me ask you a question, what makes Mick Jagger so much fun to watch on stage? Is it really his choreographed dance moves? No! Hell no! It’s a rock band, they should be doing stuff on the fly. It’s lame to think they staged all of that out. No, it’s fun to watch him because he is one CONFIDENT dude.
I’m going to rattle off names, Adam Levine, Tyler Joseph, Stevie Nicks, Nikki Sixx, Miguel, Beyoncè, Steven Tyler, Garth Brookes… I’m intentionally going across different genres here. They’re fun to watch because they are outstanding, but they are also confident (at the very least, seemingly confident).
When you turn around and ask the band “What do we play next?” it makes you DOUBT yourself. This is a bad thing! It really isn’t hard to write down what you’re going to do. I don’t know why so many groups have such a hard time with this.
Pop quiz – What do you pissy little sister and your setlist both have problems with? The answer – flow.
That was an off-color joke, I’m just as upset as you are, I apologize to all little sisters everywhere.
A big issue with setlist is the flow of the set. There are a lot of different ways to do this. You’ve heard of the U shape, or the W shape if you’re playing an extended set. I would highly suggest the A shape or the V shape. By this I mean… if you’re going to play a slow song. DON’T DO THREE IN A ROW. EVER. Ok if you’re playing at a coffee shop as background music, that’s ok. But keep in mind that even Jeff Buckley couldn’t save the set and keep someone interested by playing that many slow songs in a row.
People want to come to come to hear something that makes them move or something they can sing along with. I want you to think about the last concert you went to – maybe it was Enya. (In that case, forget everything I’m saying to you) Even if it was a band known for playing light stuff, I would bet you twenty cents they didn’t play more than two slow songs back to back. Even that is such a set killer. You need to grab the audience and not let them go.
If you are looking at the set list and you have half fast songs, half slow songs, it’s time to write some new music or learn some new covers. Ask yourself this question – where are your slow songs going over well? In your home? Late at night? Who is telling you that they want a set of you whispering? There is a place for that, MOST live shows are not that place. This is the entertainment industry. ENTERTAIN ME! I don’t want to be put to sleep. One slow jam is okay, make it beautiful. But make no mistake that more than one is indulgent unless that is your gimmick. You will lull people to sleep, and they will forget you.
Your set should not feature filler songs. We’re better than this people. Don’t play a song because you need to fill time. Even for the bands playing 4 to 5-hour sets at bars. I want to ask you this question. Throughout the history of music, has there been at least 5 hours of music that really kills it for you. I mean, 5 hours?!
Having the same setlist for multiple shows is ok. I’ll be the first to admit that I have had a hard time with this one. I want it to be raw and real. I hate a stagnant set. But I have been told time and time again that the people coming to the shows are different people and those nozzles that tell me that, they’re right.
Furthermore, the reason you love your favorite band is that you can sing along with their songs. Let’s follow this logic through… if you are mixing up the tunes and making it hard to sing along by making little live changes you’re making it hard for them to connect with the song and you. The song you play doesn’t need to change, your connection with them does, and we keep it running with them by having a great time up on stage and keeping them engaged through eye contact and simple stage tricks.
I have seen some astounding talent on a stage not connect with a crowd. I have seen crappy bands connect with an audience and win them over. Who is more successful here? The former was hands down more talented. A great listen. But will they ever be heard without a crowd? Its a sad truth in life.
You need to keep the set moving.
Consider playing condensed versions of cover songs, most people don’t know the words to the bridge of a song. I’m not saying change who you are for the crowd. I am telling you to start playing a shorter amount of time, give them the best parts of you for that short amount of time you’re playing. You don’t need to cram a 40 minute set into a 30 minute allotted time. Give them 25 and leave them wanting more.
Point #Final Point
Slow songs have their place, I’m just saying, it really not meant as an overabundance in a set.
1 Slow song for every 6 explosive songs will be just fine.
Don’t trick yourself into believing you’re the exception. Don’t you get complacent and put fillers in the set list.
If you’re trying to make an impact, make an impactful setlist. That’s where you will win the crowd over. I promise that you’ll start to feel like a king/queen as soon as you step off the stage if you give the crowd what they’re asking for!
DO YOU HEAR THEM?! They’re calling your name! Give them something meaningful, provide them with something they can sing along and move with. HAVE FUN! IF you are not having fun, they will not be having fun. If you have a killer set list, you will have fun. Give yourself the chance to succeed here!