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gig without a setlist?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by hgregs, May 8, 2010.

  1. hgregs


    Sep 25, 2008
    ct/ny border
    i'm in a cover band, and all the songs are at least somewhat familiar (at the sing-along level). but i need a chart of some sort or some practice time to be able to play a tune at a gig (unless i've played it before). i mean there's an arrangement, and changes, the bridge, how to start/end, etc.

    in a recent band discussion (after having multiple setlist changes and some tunes sound rocky at rehearsal), i was nominated to manage the setlist. i told the band that all i (we) need is a little time to learn the songs before a practice or a gig, and we should be set. but letting it go until a few hours before is asking for problems.

    our drummers both said they don't mind "winging it." one of the drummers went as far as to say he's done 500 gigs, and the majority were done without the setlist even known before the gig. "the kids love everything." meanwhile, it was this drummer that didn't know 3 of the tunes we were trying to get done for this next gig, and thus caused us to scrap them. i.e., they would have been on-stage trainwrecks without practice time.

    none of us are professional musicians. all weekend warriors.

    seriously... do your bands get on stage and play songs you've never played before? am i out of line thinking that's asinine?:confused:
  2. DirtPoorRobins

    DirtPoorRobins Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2005
    A cover band I sub for never has a set list and I play songs with them I don't know all the time. The difference is I have their book in front of me of over 250 tunes with all the bass lines written out. The singer just turns around towards the end of the tune and calls the next one. It does make trying to find the next tune before the drummer counts it off interesting sometimes. :D As far as the band playing a song they don't know, that will never happen.
  3. Stinsok

    Stinsok Supporting Member

    Dec 16, 2002
    Central Alabama
    Don't do it. Make a setlist. Trust me, I have been in a situation where people are wasting time asking "whadda we do next?"
  4. DeluxeRed


    Jun 2, 2009
    It all depends on you and your bandmate's goals for the band. If the idea is to put together a professional show that people will like and come back for (and therefore get you hired), then yes, you need a plan, and that includes not only what songs you want to present but also a show that opens and closes well and controls the flow of the crowd.

    OTOH, if you're just a bunch of weekend warriors who just want to fart around at the occasional party, you'll probably have a hard time enforcing that kind of dicipline on this bunch.

    If that's what THEY want to do, but not what YOU want to do, you need to look for a different band, or change your expectations.

    I love to just jam with my band, and I go to the occasional open jam night, and I won't hesitate to jump in at a party or whatever--I'm really good at playing by ear or following with a gp because I play guitar as well...but when it comes to my named band playing for money, we never play anything that we haven't prepared properly for our show. But that's what we market: a complete, professional, polished show, not a jam band or fakebook band.
  5. Sounds like you need a little more confidence and experience at winging it. One thing is to trust yourself. Confidence doesn't come from arrogance it comes from experience.
    I enjoy a band that plays the room and not just a set list. Learning to read the crowd is a big plus.
    PS: Don't listen to the drummer/drummers, their the first to want to wing it then when they mess up play the blame game. ......
  6. deekay911


    Nov 4, 2007
    Charleston SC
    Unless you are taking requests, have a setlist. If the singer or leader knows what's coming next before each song ends, then he/she has a setlist in their mind anyway - they are just not sharing it!!! It's OK to throw one or two extras in here and there, or swap things around to suit the room, but you gotta have a basic running list. There's nothing worse than protracted downtime between songs while discussions take place on the stage - 'what's next?' - 'what key is this in' - etc etc. That is a real crowd buzz killer.
  7. I work for a singer who often has a skeleton set list but will just throw pretty much anything in whether we know it or not depending on his "vibe from the crowd" Usually somebody in the band knows the song and we hand signal each other the progression. All I need is the key and it's all good.
  8. jnewmark

    jnewmark Just wanna play the groove. Supporting Member

    Aug 31, 2006
    Stax 1966
    Third St. Cigar Records staff musician.
    Played in a horn, covers band that mostly did weddings, and corporate parties for 15 years without a setlist, mainly because the singer/front man refused to use one. He was a very flamboyant/off the cuff entertainer and did not want to be tied down with a set list. He could read the audience like a book. We all knew the tunes front and backwards, and he was a far better judge as to what tune should have been next in line than we were, so it all worked out. We even used to play " Stump the Band " with some audiences, asking them to call out a song and we'd try to play it. We were all seasoned guys so we all knew alot of tunes. I now find setlists to be a pain in the ass, limiting thing now, as most bands can't really judge what an audience wants to hear beforehand anyway. If its just a one set showcase, that's different, but a wedding/party type of gig, I feel you have to be loose and ready to play whatever your audience wants. A good front man should be able to adapt on the go, so a setlist just gets in the way, imho, of course.
  9. russellmania


    Mar 25, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
    I think it's good to have a prepared setlist, with some room for improvising (change orders, skip songs). But more importantly, the band should be able to play all the songs on that setlist.
  10. there are reasons for both..I would suggest until you are comfortable use one.

    It allows you to play to your strenghts and weaknesses. If you are playing a bar, there are things you can get away with at 1 am when everyone is drunk that you can at 9PM when the owner is there.. I suggest you look for the thread on writing a set, I found it helpful.
  11. billhilly66


    Aug 25, 2007
    Plano, TX
    It's one thing to work without a list if you can pull off whatever the singer calls. It's another thing entirely to be train wrecking tunes on stage.
  12. groooooove

    groooooove Supporting Member

    Dec 17, 2008
    Long Island, NY
    i regularly do jamband gigs without setlists. you dont need to write out a setlist if you just use common sence and play songs that feel appropriate at certain times...

    "a complete professional polished show, not a jamband" so jambands arent professional? :ninja: tell that to phill lesh.
  13. DblG


    Apr 27, 2005
    Buffalo, NY
    You can write a setlist for guidance, but you should also expect to deviate from it as necessary. The need for a setlist may also have to consider how big a selection of songs you guys know...if it's limited and you only have so many songs that you consider solid, then a setlist may be the way to go so you can place your shakier songs later in the night as you guys (and the audience) loosen up. I'm lucky enough to have played with the same group of weekend warriors for over 20 years so our pool is large enough where we haven't gone off a setlist for a very long time. The bandleader has his notebook with all the songs we do and reads the crowd. Anyone else is free to call one out too.
  14. blockinlay


    Feb 21, 2009
    Phila Pa
    I sub sometimes, and occasionally I don't know the tunes the other players want to quickly throw in the mix. I'd rather have a set list in advance and stick to the songs on it because I practiced them, but it's all good in the end for a simple bar band. If they change it up a little, I don't care all that much, but running right into a tune I don't know at all makes me feel a little like a fool. I can wing it and really jam it by the end, but starting is sometimes difficult. I watch the guitar player
  15. corinpills


    Nov 19, 2000
    Boston, MA
    This is what we should all be aspiring to. I have done millions of gigs without a setlist- but only with players who actually know a lot of songs. Charts are OK for rehearsals, but the real deal is to know a lot of songs.
  16. DeluxeRed


    Jun 2, 2009

    With all due respect to the (few) touring/festival bands that can make a living at it, in the real world, the quickest way to lose a venue around here is to have the owner even suspect you're "jamming" or extending songs/solos, because that's usually because you don't know enough songs. They want polished bands that know recognizable songs that keeps the crowd there and spending.

    We sometimes change a song order--usually because someone in the band has friends there and they want to do "their song" before they have to leave or whatever--but we switch songs of the same class and manage the flow and pacing, and take the crowd there, not expecting the crowd to lead us. We blend from one song to another, or start the next song with a minimum of time between then, and have set places for breakes and banter. We use different fx/axes/tunings, and need to know what is coming next. We pace the singers. We're always good, always on, every time with a consistent, reliable product. We track what we play where, and come with a new show each time.

    We also get lots of bookings and repeat business. FWIW.
  17. Phalex

    Phalex Semper Gumby Supporting Member

    Oct 3, 2006
    G.R. MI
    We've done it, but it wasn't awesome. The crowd was good and lubricated, and the band was half in the bag, and someone wanted to hear "Mony Mony"..... yeah, we did it. I think the majority of the band had played it at some point in the past with another group of players, but it was fun.

    We've faked our way through several odd requests just because. They are usually well known fairly easy songs that most of us have either played at some point, or heard on the radio for a million years. And we usuallly do something kinda funky with em

    All the above being said, every band member has a copy of the setlist within easy viewing distance.
  18. skwee


    Apr 2, 2010
    Alphabetized book of charts + building of programs prior to the show = good audience and band experience.
  19. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I grow organic carrots and they are not for sale
    I hate playing gigs from sheet music.
  20. standupright


    Jul 7, 2006
    Phoenix, AZ
    Brownchicken Browncow
    Having hosted a really decent open blues jam in the past, I found myself playing a bunch of tunes I had never either heard or played before once we started cycling musicians through. It was a nice challenge and lots of fun. As for the other group I play in, we always have a set list. I think by doing so you can plan ahead of time for the kind of "ride" you take the audience on.

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