Set List or Master List?
How does everybody handle material choices on stage?
Have a BL that just pulls things from the air or out of a binder?
Maybe a wheel of fortune thingy set up behind the drummer?
All the bands I work with try hard to accommodate requests.
I prefer to work from a set list. I play 12-string acoustic, and some songs are with a capo on various frets. I play 4-string and 5-string bass with the 5-string tuned to D. I play keyboards, harp, and rhythm instruments. I really need to know what the next few songs are going to be, in order to keep all that straight. I am open to SOME changes, but it's difficult, and usually unnecessary. I don't see how we could do requests, unless they request something we've rehearsed. Any song we play has been rehearsed to the point that we can play it very well. We never just "fake our way through" anything.
My wife tries to "read the crowd," and substitute songs. I can't see that it's made any difference. Our nights ALWAYS go one of two ways:
1. There aren't many people there, and it doesn't matter what we play, we are basically flopping.
2. There are tons of people there, and it doesn't matter what we play, we are going over very, very well.
I always say, play your best material the best you can, and the crowd will be with you. Keep 'em on the dance floor? Not necessarily. Sometimes they should be buying drinks.
Up and down, that's what I say. Sometimes you are a dance/entertainment band, and sometimes you are doing a concert in a bar. Both things have value, depending on the audience you are playing for.
Every band I have been in have used a set list. We sometimes skipped songs especially ballads if the crowd is getting into the more danceable tunes. We have also played songs which were requested. I was in one band where we did a show and each member of the band took turns calling out songs. It was fun but I like the structure of having a set list much better. This is especially important if members of the band have to change instruments during the show.
i dont think the choices should be made onstage. nothing i hate more than watching a a band who is unprepared and having dead air on stage while trying to decide whats next. sure, the occasional request or spur of the moment change is ok, but in general i say be prepared with a setlist.
Well, being in three bands it varies. In my original Indie Rock band, the front man makes a set list, but I bring a master list for the venues that want to hear more covers. We'll read the crowd and play what they might like, or show them the master list if they come up asking for a song. If it's not on the list, "Sorry, we're really an original band selling out to a limited point to get paid!" We're not playing cheese we can't stand or doesn't fit our overall sound.
In my two cover bands, one blues & classic rock, the other blues, Motown & some country, we go in with a three-set list, but try to honor any request we know from a back-up list. In the latter band, we tend to jump around on the set list more to keep 'em dancing, be they slow or fast numbers.
In each band we have about a 50 song library, rarely having time to learn more since most all the musicians I play with have day jobs and play in 1-3 other bands. In this medium-sized city, you have to have several projects if you want to play every weekend! But most of the players in my cover bands can fake a lot of stuff we don't know well if asked, or always pull-off an easy 1-4-5 song.
So my short answer is I like to keep a master list of my own to throw out suggestions. In all of these bands the front man or woman is open to ideas, thankfully!
Nothing kills the energy like dead air.
My main band, the BL works off of a set list for the first set,
then picks out of binder for the rest.
She's *slowly* moving towards set lists.
Where I'm the BL, we use a set list, but sub tunes, and take requests.
Patrons like to feel they're a part of the overall experience.
Audience participation and all that.
They'll go home and tell their friends
"This band I saw last night they played (insert song here)
when I asked for it, and dedicated it to my GF/BF/significant other."
I keep a master list of tunes handy for all the bands.
We used to have a master list and a couple of dry erase boards, and make the setlist as we went. It's fun to kind of mix things up.
+2... I subbed a gig once where the BL called the songs from a master list. Got late in the night, had a packed dance floor, and he could not determine what to play next. Turns to me and asks "what can we play?"... I don't have his set list, and the dance floor emptied in a hurry.
My last band (20+ years together) the BL (keys) and I would call the tunes from a master list. Every one would know what the next song was while we were playing the current one so there was no dead air between songs. If the next song required an instrument change (keys played Cajun Accordion, git played electric & acoustic) change would take less than 10 seconds and we would talk to the people while doing it. Hundreds of songs available but 80 or so songs on master list.
My current band works from set lists but do make changes during the set depending on the crowd/dance floor.
Both bands always play requests although my current band doesn't have quite as much to draw from as my previous.
We absolutely hate dead air and work hard to communicate any changes while we are playing to ensure there isn't any.
Generally a set list is a good way to go because it keeps the songs flowing and eliminates dead space. There are theories about its construction, such as limiting the successive number of songs in the same key; charting an emotional flow that starts strong, pauses with a slower song or two, re-builds energy and ends strong; grouping songs into mini-sets (e.g. a quieter acoustic set inside a primarily electric presentation), etc. But unless you're a headliner in a big-$ concert setting, I believe the "reading the crowd" strategy is a waste of time that mainly serves the ego of the bandleader. In most cases, the band is just a musical backdrop to a scene where the musicians are not the main attraction. People in the audience are paying more attention to their smartphones, drinking, gabbing w/friends, or trying to get laid.
setlists but liberal veering from said list when needed
Set lists with flexibility to handle requests and adjust for dancing.
I agree on both assessments, keep dead air to a minimum if you're making a change or taking a request, but most places where we play covers the audience hardly notices what's going on. Exceptions, big dance halls or original music venues - Keep it tight!
We start off with "How much time do we have?" and work from there. Start off with something on the easier side of things to help us calm down and settle in, and after that it's all up to a vote.
I manage songs through a series of lists:
- Master List: All of the songs that the band can actually play
- Big List: Every wild hare idea that anybody has ever suggested for songs to try
- Work List: Songs to work on for the next rehearsal
- Set List(s): Songs to play for a particular show
Songs move among the lists. Learning new songs is a matter of moving them from the "Big List" to the "Master List". Nothing ever gets removed from the "Big List". Songs get added to the "Master List", but seldom dropped, even if they don't get played much. "Set List(s)" are made by adding songs from the "Master List" according to what we want to achieve for a given show.
Putting on a live show is a lot like taking people on a vacation. It really helps to have a destination & route in mind, & a road map is pretty handy. At the same time, it's nice to have some flexibility to be able to go off on some side excursion, or skip something that might have been planned originally but time ran out, something else looked more interesting at the time, etc.
Some songs are included in a "Set List" with the expectation that they might get skipped on the fly if necessary. It's a lot easier to skip a song that's on the list than to figure out something to add on the fly. Not to mention, hardly anything empties a dance floor quite as thoroughly as a band standing around, asking one another what they want to play next.
I've known several people who thought they were masters of "reading the crowd" to figure out what to play next. Very few who thought that way were actually correct. If you're going to try to do that, you have to be pretty quick to make decisions. It can be a fun challenge, playing in a band with somebody who's calling songs quickly, on the fly. It can be frustrating to play with somebody who just thinks they're good at it.
Regardless how it's done, I think that everybody in the band should know what the next song is & be ready to start it before all the reverberations from the previous song have died out.
we let the audience pick our songs from a hat
Start with setlist and watch the crowd - and unless the setlist isn’t working stick with the setlist, but if necessary be prepared to change it on the fly too.
Gimmicks like "wheel of fortune", picking songs from a hat, etc. could be a lot of fun! Not to mention, anything that involves/invites the audience to participate is great! Maybe even try to develop some sort of smart phone app that lets people select/vote in real time what gets played?
I don't consider "gimmick" to be a dirty word when it comes to entertainment.
12 years no set lists. We also do not use binders. We use computers for our 400+ tunes that we know. Everything is at the touch of a finger. Song comes up on our monitors, we listen and we play. We also do not stop between songs. We have 3 people that call tunes throughout the night. We have a Master List on the home page of our program and call up the tunes by number. Tunes are listed by key. This way, we can play to our audience and it always is fresh and the shows move differently from night to night
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