Crafting a compelling set list for your next concert

Crafting a set listPutting the right songs in the right order to bring your audience into your performance

[This article was written by guest contributor James Wasem from]

Whether you’re playing to a packed stadium, an intimate theater, an open mic night crowd, or streaming through your computer to a worldwide audience online, you need to deliver something compelling to your fans. There are plenty of creative ways to be more captivating on stage: banter with band mates and the audience, costumes/attire, props, mood lighting, video affects, and anything else you can dream up.

And still, perhaps one of the best ways to deliver a quality concert experience is to properly construct a set list that complements your show, your style, and the venue where you’re performing. This is a crucial element whether you’re playing the Super Bowl halftime show or the open mic in a pub down the street. A well-crafted set list can make or break the vibe of your gig. Chaining too many songs together in the same key, dynamics, rhythm, or timing starts to sound monotonous. Changing things too abruptly can feel disjointed and jarring. And of course, the way you introduce a song, or not introducing a song at all, can have an impact on how it is received.

As musicians, we might feel more in tune with some of the variables I just mentioned. As an average audience member, I might not know how to articulate why a performance makes me feel the way it does, but I can probably tell you how it makes me feel. And I might not even notice that unless something feels “off.”

Unless your live performance is all about ever-changing chaos and the bizarre, then you will probably benefit from finding some structure in your set list and the way you engage with the crowd. And think about all of this in terms of the venue you’ll be playing, or the audience you’re trying to captivate.

Here are some tips to help make your set lists more effective

Read through to the end for some specific online concert tips as well.

Know your flow – How do you want the set to begin and end? Do you want to ease people into your set with some tunes that lead up to a certain climax, or do you want to kick things off and grab their attention right away? Do you want to end the set on a mellow note or go out with a bang? Structure your set list according to the way you want to flow through the set. You should feel comfortable, and so should your audience. If you’re playing with another group or several bands, you may want to organize your set in such a way that you can transition well between acts.

What’s your story? – Are you a storyteller? Do you enjoy personally interacting with the audience during your shows? Factor this into your set list. Many audiences may not be ready to hear your life story or inspirational wisdom at the beginning of the show. But as they get to know you throughout the performance, they become more receptive, and you can become more open. Experiment with telling stories about your songs, and play around with your set list so that the songs and stories transition well, or even flow into each other. Just pay attention to the audience and gauge their receptiveness for a long or short story. Use what works best for you.

You may choose the opposite tact as well. Check out this very personal beginning to an online broadcast on a few weeks ago.

Energy in the room – You can always feel energy in the room you’re playing. Sometimes it is amazing and powerful, other times it can be stale and waning. Many times you can have an impact on this with just your set list. Any bar band or DJ will tell you that you’ve got to be able to read the energy of the audience and adjust your songs accordingly if you want to keep their attention. Be willing to mix things up a bit if the mood calls for it. You may also want to practice ways to move the audience with the flow you want for the set. Again, think about what you’re after with your performance, and craft your set list with intention.

Audience participation – Question & Answer sessions can be fun for intimate gatherings. They work really well for house concerts and online gigs. It’s a chance for you and the audience to participate in a live, creative experience together. Try doing an all-request show sometime. That can be a great way to mix up your “usual” set list and let the audience drive the flow of the show. You never know where that can lead you.

But sometimes you don’t really need or want the audience to be involved – like a heckler in the back of the room, or that guy who keeps yelling “Free Bird” before every song. If that’s the case, consider creative ways to weave one song into another or create a medley of multiple songs.

Your set, online – Online gigs add a slightly different variable in how you interact with the audience. There can be several ways to stage an online concert. Whether you have a local live audience with your online fans, or it’s an online-only broadcast, make sure you engage the virtual audience as you would a room full of people. In fact, you may want to interact with them more. It really depends on the type of experience you want to deliver. Either way, the fans online don’t want to be just another “fly on the wall”. You may want to have someone monitor the chat feed during the event in case any special requests come through. And doing a post-event Q&A session is a great way to make your online audience feel special.

So, get out there and experiment with crafting your new set list!

Do you have any insights you’ve learned with creating great set lists (or terrible flops)? Let us know in the comments below. 

Author bio: James Wasem is an audio/video engineer and drummer, as well as a co-founder and technical director at Gigee provides an easy-to-use online platform where artists can broadcast their own live ticketed events, and make 80% of all ticket sales. Learn more at www.Gigee.ME.

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[Picture of set list from]

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