How To

Set List: What Is A Setlist & How Do I Make One For A Concert?

Photograph of the blog post author, Carla Johnson

Carla Johnson

12.2.2021

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One of the toughest things about being a performer is that unless you come from a genre that’s conventional in academia, (particularly classical or opera), you never really get taught the fundamentals of stagecraft. Most musicians have to learn things such as building a set list, using a microphone, and even setting up a stage through trial and error.

set list

With any other skill, there are lots of differences in how you can approach the more technical aspects. However, there are still a few things that you should know in order to put on as good of a show as you possibly can.

This article is going to give you everything that you require to achieve one of the most significant parts of being a great musician – building the perfect set list!

Many musicians are aware that you should start off your set with a kick and end with a punch. But, how you plan everything that goes between is what can make the difference between a great show and an amazing show.

Picture your set list as if it is describing a story with a precise beginning, middle and end. Then, think about what story you wish to tell your audience. The specific story will vary from show to show. So, let’s see how you can get started in creating your concert setlists!

What Is A Setlist?

set list nirvana

As a new performer who is ready to do a live show, you may be wondering, what is a setlist? A set list is essentially a list of songs which you are going to play and the order they are performed.

While that is put in simple terms, creating a top set list that really works can be a bit of an art form in itself. A set list can be made of nearly any material that can be written or printed on. They are also often laminated, especially for outdoor venues. Furthermore, the setlist is usually taped onto the stage where the musicians can see it. Or, fixed onto equipment such as a stage monitor or amplifier.

Artists and bands use setlists for a variety of reasons beyond the mere order of performance events. They are often used to help create the set’s overall mood by establishing a memorable sense of range and variety in tone, tempo and dynamics between songs.

They are also used to create sets for specific audiences and locations. An increasingly common application is the use of technologies such as instant polling on social media and websites. This is where fans can choose material to be performed.

How To Make A Setlist For A Concert

set list

How you plan everything in between is what can make the difference between a good show and a great show. Here are some tips of how to make a setlist for a concert!

Open With A Bang

Your first impression is incredibly important. So, make sure your first song is what you want to give the overall impression of your band’s sound statement. For example, a Motown jazz band may consider adding a bit of an intro song for the band to play, before introducing the singer. 

This worked wonders for the likes of Frank Sinatra and James Brown. The key is to start strong, this is what will make up the audience’s mind about your band.

Form An Arc

This will depend on your genre however you probably don’t want to see a band which only plays songs of the same tempo and mood, variety is the spice of life!

“Forming an arc” is a way to assemble your performance to start with fast and energetic songs, showing off your principle sound. 

This will then move towards slower songs for the middle of the performance before finally finishing off with more energetic songs. If you were to plot this out on a graph, it would resemble something that looks like an arc.

Improvise

This is also dependent on genre, but if your band is beginning to attract a fanbase, it will become increasingly important to allow some room for improvisation within your set. 

For great examples of improvisation, rearrangement and groove change, check out Justin Timberlake’s medley on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. It’s definietly worth a watch!

Make Sure Your Setlist Flows

From the audience’s perspective, a band that stops in between every song, then says a few words, and clumsily begins the next song can become incredibly tiresome. This could potentially turn new fans away.

Equally, long pauses between songs can also create an incredibly awkward experience for all involved. Instead, treat every concert as an opportunity to engage with your audience.

Think of yourself as an entertainer as well as a musician. Think about some “standby” things to talk about. Such as interesting facts, stories about how the song was written, or what inspired it.

Conclude With A Showstopper

One of the most vital parts of a set is the ending of a performance and a band should ensure it is as unforgettable as possible.

This could be an opportunity for one last sing along with the audience. Or, perhaps the lead guitarist’s final chance for a solo. Ensure you have a good set of songs towards the end of your gig. You always want to leave the audience wanting more!

Not only does this add to your chances of being asked to perform another show at the same venue, you may even get asked for an encore!

You should know that there are not many musical experiences as fulfilling as having a crowd shouting, “More!”.

Setlists are often used to ensure the artist or band creates the overall mood of a live performance. Good artists consider variety in the tone, tempo, and dynamics within their performance.

How To Get A Setlist At A Concert

set list

The set list is important to fans. Fans will read the setlist for a number of reasons.

If you are aware of the list prior to the concert, fans are able to know the songs they expect and not ruin their expectations. Another reason might be that they wish to sing along with the artist as the artist performs on stage. Especially for artists they barely know.

Listening to the setlist in advance can help you learn the words. This is great for those who are not a fan of the artist or the opener.

You can find artists setlists on websites such as: https://www.setlist.fm/artists.

Now You Know All About Set Lists!

set list

So there you have it!

It is important to select the right songs for the right time at your gig to ensure your fans or potential fans have the best experience and want to keep supporting you. Use the tips above and you’re bound to create memorable experiences that will keep fans wanting more!

We hope you found this article helpful! Be sure to share this with your fellow musicians! Most importantly though, share across your socials and tag us @musicgateway! We love interacting with you all!

Perhaps you’re reading this article because you’re an up and coming band? Or maybe you’re in the process of starting one? If you’re thinking about starting up a band, check out our Band Name Generator and our guide on The Best Album Cover Makers For Artists & Bands to help get you started!

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