How to Choose a Set for a Music Gig

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Making a set list for a gig is important for a number of reasons. A set list ensures songs flow together with few gaps between them. It turns a set into a performance that gains momentum as it moves to the finale. Finally, a set list is a blueprint that makes it easier to practice and work out the rough edges of songs prior to the gig.

Make a Song List

  • Write down all the songs the band plays or would like to play. Adding new material keeps things fresh and interesting for bands as well as their audience. Ask each band member for input and suggestions. Consider the pros and cons of each song; the band will play some songs better than others. Solo artists deal with the same issue.

Think About the Venue

  • Before making up the set list, it is important to know something about the music venue and expectations about the length of the set. Playing an outdoor music festival in front of thousands of people is different from playing a small nightclub. A set list for a nightclub may not work well in a coffee-house setting. Think about the audience's expectations. Is it a dance situation or a sit-down concert performance? The length of a set may be 30, 45 or 60 minutes. The venue may require the band to play two or three sets.

Create the Set List

  • A musical performance is like a narrative. It should have a beginning, middle and climatic end. The first and last songs of the set make the strongest impressions. Always start out with something powerful that showcases the strength and personality of the band. The opening song creates a mood that builds audience expectations. Throwing in unpredictable twists and turns keeps the audience engaged and excited. Back-to-back up-tempo numbers followed by a slower song or ballad works well for a band. Solo artists in singer-songwriter modes may want to use different strategies. An opening number may showcase the artist's voice or songwriting chops. Set lists should allow you to go seamlessly from one song to the next as the set gains momentum. A general rule of thumb to follow is to save the best for last.

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