Creating an engaging set list

When playing a show the set list is the flow of whole performance.  Crafting a set list that engages an audience so they are dancing like there is no tomorrow one song and pulling out their lighter to wave in the air the next is a skill few bands master.

A lot of groups will just throw a bunch of songs together willy-nilly without thinking twice about the order.  However, the truth is a good set list can add a lot to a show.

When making the set list the first thing you should do is ask yourself some questions about the gig.  Who are you playing for? How long is the gig? What kind of venue are you playing at? Answering these questions can help give you some ideas for creating an order.


For instance, this photo is from a gig we did at Dance Marathon.  When creating a set list for this show we knew that our audience was fraternity students, so we played more cover songs and only fast paced energetic tracks.

Generally I like to start a set with a high energy song.  Reward the crowd for waiting for your band to set up.  Also a strong opener hypes the crowd up for the rest of the set.

Another tip would be to put different songs around each other.  If your band has songs with similar structure and/or similar tempo, make sure you do not play them one after another.  Playing similar songs back to back gets repetitive and the last thing you want is for the crowd to be bored.

I have learned from making set lists that if you are a band that plays original music, learn a cover to throw on near the end of the set. People normally respond really positively to songs they know, so having a recognizable cover near the end of your set gets people in a good mood for your closing songs.

For the last song play the best song your group has.  The ending is the finale and it is the last thing people will remember when they walk out of the venue.  Keep them talking about you by playing the song that will blow their minds.

Something else to consider would be having one or two extra songs to have if you get called back for an encore.  It doesn’t always happen, but if it does it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Obviously there are scenarios where you don’t have to follow these guidelines but most of the time these can help you keep your set stay interesting.

“My favorite set lists combine controversial lyrics with easy listening melodies,” said Shane Stukel, who is a singer/songwriter.  “I’ll usually pick more of my aggressive songs and counter act them with gentle softer songs.  I love sending a message to people, so if people listen to my words and ask me about my lyrics that’s the best.”

The most important thing you can do is learn from experience.  Experiment with your order and see what works better with the crowd.

For more advice on creating set lists check out this article:


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