Set List, Show, or just 'Wing it?"

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by 51PRI, Feb 8, 2023.

  1. 51PRI


    Aug 7, 2014
    I've been writing set lists for the blues band I'm in, after the band leader passively/aggressively stopped calling songs in response to the lead guitar player calling him out for playing songs, requests, that we don't know. So far the set lists have been hit or miss...not perfect. Sometimes they work...sometimes they don't. It's hard to know ahead of time what songs need to be played when, and the BL has also been skipping songs, or adding in requests. And that's okay. So, for the gig this weekend, I texted "do you guys want me to write out a setlist for the gig this weekend?" The BL responded (quickly) "you guys call em out." And I know what that'll just be the first thing that pops into somebody's head with little, if any, rhyme or reason. So the question is: Do you gigging guys use a written out setlist, or do you do an actual show in which each set is preset to ebb and flow, etc., or do you just wing it?
    LowActionHero and ebo like this.
  2. Oddly


    Jan 17, 2014
    Dublin, Ireland.
    I've always disliked winging it.
    Ideally I'd like a setlist, broken into maybe 3-song sub-sets that overall flows together, but with room for manoeuvre if things aren't going down well.
  3. Geri O

    Geri O Endorsing Artist, Mike Lull Guitars and Basses Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 6, 2013
    Florence, MS
    If it’s a situation where the bandleader calls the shots and maybe even signs the proverbial checks, he/she should be responsible for either making set lists or calling the songs. You don’t need everyone in on calling songs. I threatened to quit a pretty high-profile band 35 years ago after I separated a lead singer and a drummer after they started clashing several times a night onstage over what to play next. How professional did that look on stage, doncha know….I told them to show up with a song listed they collaborated and agreed upon or I was out that day. That wasn’t professional, either, but I had to force their hand somehow. And got kudos from the other 4 band mates.

    I love democracy. But not in bands….:D

    Personally, I’m fine with either a set list or the assigned person calling songs. Then we have my country music artist writing song lists, then going off the list 3-4 songs in. Fine with me, but I can see it frustrating keyboard players, although ours deals with that nicely. The artist is a little bit of a talker between songs, which helps….
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2023
    SemiDriven, 31HZ and 51PRI like this.
  4. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    Set lists, usually months in advance, because my bands need to overrehearse everything to hell and back, and still f*ck it up on stage.
  5. Samatza


    Apr 15, 2019
    I am a big fan of set lists. We have several different versions to suit different audiences so the mix of songs can change.

    Sometimes it comes down to some members need a chart for certain songs, especially new material. You don't want people frantically searching for a chart when you call a song.

    It also helps in rehearsals so that transitions are smoother. Keys players may want to reorganise their patches based on the set list to make switching sounds quicker.
  6. ScottfromCalgary


    May 10, 2015
    We always have a setlist and, as previously mentioned, break it into 3 song runs to keep the momentum going. There's always the option for an 'audible' if we need to make change due to crowd energy, request, etc.
    mdlewis and Plectrum72 like this.
  7. Datsgor

    Datsgor Supporting Member

    Jul 29, 2000
    I'm in two working bands. One wings it and the other has 4 setlists that don't change except when they do and then it's only a song or 2. The thing that bugs me about winging it is the dead space between songs. People looking at each other "what do you wanna play?"...drives me nuts man. The 4 set band flows nicely, and the band leader has put a lot of work into the sets. It's been 5 years and he just recently settled on the final list.
  8. Egg250


    Jan 10, 2022
    In a previous life I was a planner. I plan things. The plan doesn't always remain intact but it is a starting point. It is a guide to keep the band focused. Unless the band is well rehearsed, having played many years together, winging it is almost a guaranteed poop show.

    You've been through this issue with these guys (this band leader) and complained about it before. Why do you continue to put yourself through this and then complain about it? Accept it for what it is, work it out with the band leader (or replace him) or leave this band.
    timmo97 and Bunk McNulty like this.
  9. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Well, I've been saying you're too tightly wound, but no-set-list is really unacceptable. No, no, no-niddly-nope! You're completely right to be concerned, because it's just plain and simple gonna suck. Guaranteed train wrecks and dead air. Gonna clear that dance floor with five minutes wait time between tunes. Gonna have arguments. Yep, you're right, it's gonna be a mess.
    3Liter and BazzaBass like this.
  10. silky smoove

    silky smoove Supporting Member

    May 19, 2004
    Seattle, WA
    As an audience member, at any level of performance, I want a well-scripted show. Dead air is uncomfortable for the band and is also uncomfortable, and boring, for the audience. Start with a set list. Refine it into song groups that can flow from one to the next with minimal to no dead air. Know the changes in advance. Get creative and try a medley if you're feeling like the flow works well. Whatever you can do to come off as more of a pro while minimizing dead air will get a better response from me as an audience member. If there's going to be banter with the crowd be sure that two conditions are met: One, you know when the banter will occur, and two, have the person bantering be capable of saying something with sufficient charisma, interest, humor and/or other entertainment value. Nothing worse than someone filling dead air with awkward banter that falls flat. Also, no noodling on stage between songs. Minimizing dead air will help with that.
    3Liter, BazzaBass, kentiki and 11 others like this.
  11. Zooberwerx

    Zooberwerx Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2002
    Virginia Beach, VA
    Need a set-list as we've got a couple new guys on board...I'd like to give them a fighting chance.

    mikewalker likes this.
  12. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Start with a ser list, but you can change up on the fly if needed, as long as it doesn't slow you down. Dead air is the killer for any band.
  13. silky smoove

    silky smoove Supporting Member

    May 19, 2004
    Seattle, WA
    Addendum to my previous post: Doing it as a “show” is very difficult to do well. Far more difficult than many people realize. It requires rehearsing the show in a different way than just getting together to jam on the tunes in the set. Keep that in mind if you attempt it. It’s one of those things where you typically have to go all-in for it to look and sound good to the crowd. You also have to be honest about what’s working and what’s not. Fix what’s not, enhance what is.
  14. Set-List.

    I'm in a covers band, we play for 3 hours. Our setlist has evolved to cover exactly that time, with a couple of "one more" songs in available.

    In my experience "Winging it", or "reading the room", leads to a disjointed performance trying to chase gratification. There's always dead air and arguments on stage. We play our show, you like it or you don't.

    We only play requests if we were going to play it anyway.
    kentiki, newwavefrank and slagbass like this.
  15. dbsfgyd1


    Jun 11, 2012
    Mascoutah, IL
    Written out, like etched in concrete.

    That said, on occasion one of our 5 singers from time to time do to colds and or vocal strain may need a tune or two off before singing so there are times we may switch up a tune or two, but that is pretty rare. We have never switched an order for the musicians.
    lordradish likes this.
  16. REV

    REV Supporting Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    I like set lists with a few songs thrown in that allow for some extended play.
    DaDo625 and jerry like this.
  17. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    Using set lists (and paying attention to what works and what doesn't in terms of song order and such) is the first step to designing a good show. Yes, you are entertainment, and you should work not only on what notes to play in a song, but how to present the material you know. There will always be room for spontaneous stuff, but if you're just showing up and calling songs in random order, you're not really putting any thought into it, and it'll show.

    My parents used to give me flak for doing the minimum necessary to get by. Not doing any prep for a show in terms of set lists and such is "phoning it in".
  18. bulldean

    bulldean Supporting Member

    Sep 10, 2015
    It depends on the environment/place you are playing. People go to bars and parties to socialize. The silence in between songs gives them a chance to socialize without the band blaring.

    If you are playing an auditorium or a show where you might be opening for someone, it may be best to put together a seamless show running songs together. It's different when the crowd is not drinking and they are just sitting there looking at you.
    nightchef likes this.
  19. Acoustic356


    Jul 3, 2014
    The best bands IMHO have a set list, transitions between songs, planned breaks to talk to the crowd...

    You can tell a well rehearsed band vs one that is winging it, and so can the crowd,
  20. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    I greatly prefer having a set list. Bands think there's a reason to call tunes on the spot, such as sizing up the audience, but it rarely happens, and then they're not quick enough on the draw to do it successfully anyway. Instead, they revert to the same old tunes that are the path of least resistance.

    It's painfully awkward to stand there while the band members flip through their fake books:

    What shall we play next?
    Flip, flip, flip, flip, flip, flip, flip...
    Let's play "Blue Bossa."

    My main band has a strict set list, with comments and directions as needed. The bandleader is careful to pace the tunes, and puts a "barn burner" at the end of each set.