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Written by Ramsey Brown.
If you are a performing musician, you know that preparing for a set or a concert is extremely important and a meticulous, time consuming process. If you are passionate about what you do, you want to do it to the best of your ability and leave your audience in awe at the end of the performance you have put on for them.
Yes, there are huge logistics involved in putting together a great show such as securing the right venue, selling tickets, promotion and advertising, and proper production and backline. Undoubtedly these factors are of great importance, but oftentimes musicians get so caught up in the big details of putting on the show that they forget to focus on the smaller details of equal or greater importance — such as crafting the perfect set list for the show.
Crafting a setlist may not seem like a crucial decision for the artists on stage, but when you put yourself in the fan’s shoes who are paying money to attend the show, it’s by far the most important part of their entire concert experience. At the end of the day, concerts are all about catering to your fans and giving the audience a lasting impression that they will take with them for years to come.
Coming up with songs to play at your show may seem like an elementary task and something that can be thrown together in a couple of minutes before going on stage, but when you think about it as the body of the entire event and the whole reason why the fans are there, you may decide to put in more time and effort when making your setlist.
There are many different factors that go into creating the perfect set list for your concert. Of course you want your audience to enjoy the set, but how exactly can you ensure that they will? Well, there is no perfect formula to follow, but there are some tips and tricks we are going to share with you so you can make the perfect set list for your next gig.
If you are a performing musician, I highly recommend you continue reading this article. Though you may think you have your perfect set list already down pat, you may be presently surprised with some of the ideas that are shared in this review. For anything in life, there is always room for improvement—especially in the music industry that is ever so changing. We hope this read leaves you more inspired than ever before!
Because we believe that any musician should know perfectly which are the best tips to be able to elaborate the perfect set list, we are going to explain below what we consider to be the keys to make a set list for a concert a real success.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, "there are no second chances for a first impression". Well, in the live music world this couldn't be more than true. It’s important to open your set with a song or introduction that will fully grab the attention of the audience to better help keep their interest for the rest of the night.
If you have ever been to an amazing concert, you probably noticed how great musicians or bands start their shows with a song full of rhythm, energy, and one that everyone can sing along to. It's a resource that never fails and that will make the audience full of excitement and eager to keep listening throughout the show.
First impressions are everything and I can’t stress enough how important it is to make the first part of your show the best. It will set the tone for the rest of the show and spark the connection with your audience from the start.
Of course artists want to play their most popular songs during their concerts that they know their fans will love and sing along to — as they definitely should. However, you don't want your set to be too predictable or have the audience already expecting what you are going to play.
It’s always a good idea to throw in a song or two that is unfamiliar to the music you normally play and give the crowd something unexpected from your norm. If you are a rock band, think about playing a cover song of a current chart-topping pop hit, but make it unique to your style of music.
Music that is unfamiliar to your fans yet still relevant in the music scene will keep your audience on their toes and show your fans that you are versatile and willing to try new things. It sounds risky, but you will never know the reaction you’ll get until you try. This will ultimately make your show more fun, unique, creative, and could possibly be the inspiration for something even greater for your next performance.
One thing that performing musicians don’t do often enough before a show is research about the town, venue, and demographic they are playing to. A little studying can go a long way when it comes to understanding your audience. There are plenty of music analytic sites and tools out there that can tell you exact details about your audience that will help you better formulate your perfect setlist.
Information such as the average age of your crowd, most listened to genre in the city or state you're playing in, your most liked songs, and even the songs that are most likely to become a hit among your fans are all indications that the proper research will give you.
At the end of the day, knowledge is power and with the advancements in technology today — all of the information and knowledge you could ever ask for can be found with a couple clicks on the internet. Use this to your advantage and create a customized set list according to your research you found about your audience.
This point is sort of a piggy back on the last one, but it’s important to reiterate the importance of understanding your fans in order to craft your setlist to them. Again, doing your research is extremely helpful but in addition to this, you can also ask your fans on social media what they would like to hear and see during your set.
You can do a poll on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to take votes to see what is the main song your fans are urging to hear during the concert. This will not only be beneficial during the actual show itself, but it will show your audience that you are actually listening to their opinions and are engaged in what their thoughts are.
This can also be a great marketing tool because surprisingly enough, some people only attend concerts to hear one specific song. If fans already have an indication on the song lists you will be playing, they may be more inclined to buy tickets and attend.
If you have a truly hardcore fanbase, chances are they are going to know every song you play at all of your shows. Instead of playing a show that is filled with music that they already know and love, try throwing in some unreleased music to give them a taste for something different.
This can be a good way to experiment with your new songs and see how the crowd reacts to them before they are even released. You may find that a song you were thinking of dropping doesn’t have the crowd reaction you hoped for. Or vice versa — you may find that your track that you never considered releasing as a single is a hit among the crowd.
Fans thrive off hearing new music from the artists they love, especially when it’s performed live in an intimate setting. This will leave the crowd talking about your music after the show and hyping up your new releases before they’ve even been announced.
You may find this advice contradictory in this article, as we are giving you tips on how to create an orderly set list designed to work on stage and attract fans, but not everything in a concert has to be pre-written to work. Improvisation can also be part of your performance program.
You can plan to introduce new things in each of your concerts without anyone expecting it and thus increase the surprise of the fans and the excitement of the show.
For example, after playing 10 songs in a row that everyone knows, you can venture to play the beginning of a song that no one has heard yet, or you can sing the chorus of a popular song in acapella, inviting the audience to sing along with you.
Not everything has to be calculated to be successful, after all music is something passionate, born from the heart and cannot be controlled, so introducing a little of that passion into your show and letting things flow by themselves is also a good way to make your music shine more.
If you put on an excellent show, it should always leave the fans wanting to hear more music. The end of a concert always has to be spectacular, just like the final bang of a fireworks show. You need to make sure you give the ending your all and reserve a couple of spectacular songs to show off at the end.
Whether you choose to play your best song for last, or introduce something different, you want to use the end of your set to make the audience interact with you even more and boost the crowd energy to their highest max potential. You can sing the chorus of a song more times than usual, let your guitarist do an infinite solo, or just improvise as you go.
Of course, you should always have an encore ready just in case. It's a real shame when the audience starts shouting "Another one, another one" and the band can't grant their wish because they don't have anything prepared outside of their usual repertoire. So prepare a good set list but also prepare one or two songs for a possible encore or fire finale — because in the end those last minutes of the show will be the ones most remembered by everyone, that I assure you.
In short, the best thing you can do after carefully reading our advice is to get together with your team and your musicians and plan an effective set list, full of stylistic twists (within your means) and ensuring that the emotion is present until the last note you play. Don't forget!
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