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Creating a Set List
July 31, 2018
The basis of every set list is a good balance of songs. You need some sad ones, some happy ones, some upbeat ones, some slow ones...There are a few different types of set lists you should have as a singer-songwriter. I've got them down to about three;
"For the Audience" Set List
This is the one you probably need to start out with. This set list is made up of songs that your audience will engage with - not ones that you necessarily like. This set list will probably include some songs that you actually rather hate - but if it's a crowd favourite then it goes on the list. For example, I'm not the biggest fan of overly produced music - so basically the upbeat ones you want at a party. But, if I am doing a gig at a private party or event, then I will do this type because it's what an audience engages with.
So, when do you need this set list? This set list will be almost completely for the audience - not for you and not to develop yourself as an artist. The way this will benefit you is with confidence and practice on stage. So, this set list is needed for events when people aren't there to listen to your music, they are there for a good time - such as private parties.
How do you create this set list? Well, I would start with the internet. Literally type in "popular upbeat songs" and go from there. You want the songs that most people will know and will be able to sing along to. From there, go through your own playlist and see if there are any well-known ones on there and just keep searching. Now, when you actually go to play the first gig of this type, gage how the audience is taking the songs. It can be quite unpredictable, actually. There are some songs I have played thinking for sure everyone would engage and love them and they couldn't have been more disinterested! But every gig is a learning curve, so when you are performing each song, make sure to be receptive and note down which worked and which flopped. Keep doing this and then eventually you'll end up with a solid set list.
Although this one has it's place, like I said it doesn't develop or present you as an artist in your own right because you are literally singing other people's songs.
"Songs in Your Style" Set List
This one is pretty self-explanatory. This set list is compiled of songs that are in your style. You can be a bit more liberal with these ones as you can include some that people don't know that you love as well as some that people do know but changed up - this will get them to pay attention. It makes it more interesting.
Now this set list is best I would say for when you are going to be background music. With people listening every once in a while but they aren't there to listen to you and they aren't relying on you for entertainment - like playing in a pub for example. This means that when people do stop to listen, they will be listening to you as an artist in your sound and it is more beneficial to you since not only is it giving you stage time for practice but it is also allowing you to practice your style.
Creating this set list is completely down to you. Of course you need to be considerate of the audience since they are the ones listening to you, but it is your own style so it is your own personal taste - just go from there.
"Your Own Songs" Set List
Again, pretty self-explanatory, but nevertheless extremely important. As an artist, the dream is to play your own songs and having people actually listen to them, so you need a set list for when that happens! You want this set list to be compiled of your best songs. The ones you are most confident in and the ones that best represent you. This is the scariest one because it literally defines you as an artist, so you need to make sure you are completely certain of each and every song. Like with the others, you can gage the audience and see which of your songs get a better reaction and then alter your set list accordingly.
This set list is for those very special occasions when people are there to listen to new music. It's unfortunate that these times are rare, but it makes sense - it's not because people don't want to listen, it's that they don't know you! Typically if someone buys tickets to a concert, they buy them because they know the artist and like their songs. So this set list is for showcases, open mics, new music nights...
I would always suggest throwing a couple of originals into the other set lists I have mentioned, but with this one it is reversed, so that you should throw a couple of covers into this set list, but it should be focused on your own material.