How to write the perfect setlist for your band

How to write the perfect setlist for your band

One of the many necessities as entertainers, is to plan ahead for the perfect performance. From the music itself, the flow of the performance and each band member’s moment to shine. Thus, the need to prepare a setlist has never been so important. Creating setlists that fits the specific audience and the mood. This can be hard to do in advance especially with little experience or none at all. There is a risk of never catching the full attention of the crowd. In this article, we will go over the basics and aspects you should be thinking of when writing the perfect setlist for your band.


Determine the type of event.

The first step when creating the perfect setlist is to determine what type of event you are going to play at. To give an example: If you are going to play at a funeral it won’t fit the crowd to play uplifting songs that usually fit at the Irish pub. The type of event is supposed to help you set the mood and choose the songs accordingly.


In order for you to differentiate the red line between the different techniques. As an example, We can imagine playing at a local pub and that the event will start at 9.00pm. This means some of the people there will already be under the influence of alcohol and therefore there is no need to spend the first 40 minutes building up the mood. Had it been another type of event such as a birthday party, where you may start right after dinner, then you will have to set the mood before being able to get the crowd going and create a party.


Analyse and organise your songs.

Before we can put together the whole set list, there is a need to analyse and organise the songs. We want to be able to start with the more slow and emotional songs in order to build up the tension but since we start at 9.00pm (From the example stated beforehand) we won’t have to start with the very slow songs.


As the first song on the list we can add Molly Malone with The Dubliners as an example, just to get started. From here on we can add another song that people know and build up the power and mood. We don’t want to start off the big boom and then later on go down in tempo. This can kill the mood and destroy the entire performance.


Make sure to analyse your songs and determine if they are happy, and what tempo they have and if it is something people know. Once you have your first song on the list you have your starting point and from there you are able to build up the mood until every song is singalong, happy and likeable.


Add more songs than you need.

When playing events such as the local pub we use in this example you can almost always expect to play a few more songs before going home. I have a funny story about a friend of mine who was playing at a private party and once he was done, he had played a few extra songs and packed all his gear, the guests stopped him by his car to get him to play just one more song before going home. One song became more and even though it was only him and his guitar, he ended up playing for a whole hour outside infront of his car before being able to go home. Therefore we always recommend adding more songs to your setlist than what s needed in order to surprise with extra songs in case of extra time.


Test your material on strangers.

Analysing and adding songs to a list is easy, but knowing if they are working the way you intended is a whole other thing. It is always good to test your knowledge and get a gut feeling on strangers. The reason we recommend strangers is because it is often hard to get an honest answer from friends and family since they don’t want to hurt your feelings or tell you that you are wrong.


It won’t always be possible to test your theories on strangers before your material have to be used, therefore it is also okay to use friends and family, but ask for honest opinions and remember to read between the lines.


After you have tested your material or some of your material on people you will be able to ask them if it was working. Tell them how you wanted them to experience it and ask if they felt it that way. Even though they don’t know much about music they might be able to give you a few pin points in order to achieve your goal. Remember just because you don’t achieve the reaction you wanted doesn’t mean you are a bad musician. This is psychology and it takes lots of skills in order to perfect it.


Listen to your instincts.

Read the audience’s reactions and try to adjust your setlist as you see fit. The test you did earlier for example was done on a specific type of crowd, however if it is not that crowd you are playing for that night, it might not be sure that the flow of your music will work exactly the same way. It is psychology and you have to remember that we are all different. Therefore we recommend to go with your gut and adjust your setlist as much as needed. And if you have to then switch out a song or two in order to get people in the mood, then that is a good idea.


To give you a real-life example, then let’s pretend that we have added 5 Irish pub songs like “Whisky in the jar” and “Wild Rover”, but it turns out that the crowd doesn’t like Irish music. Instead of sticking to the set list we choose to switch out some of these songs with similar songs in a different genre that the crowd likes. It is always important to read the crowd and be able to adjust your material. Always have back-up songs planned out.


We hope that this can give you a few pointers and give you a few pinpoints that will make your material fit your next event and give you even more gigs. Please let us know if you have more tips you would like to share.