One of the most common problems I’ve seen playing in bands is the fact that bands don’t change their set lists often enough. Having a good set list and maintaining it is essential stagecraft. There are two common problems that arise with set lists. First, a band will learn 40 songs and then play them for the next 5 years without ever changing them out with new material. Second, bands will play the same songs in the exact same order every night for 5 years. The reason I say 5 years is because that’s the typical life of a band, especially when you don’t change up your set list. So how do you avoid these pitfalls?
The first thing you need to do is make a goal to learn a new song every month. That’s a minimum, it would be better to learn 3 new songs every month. But even learning 1 song a month will keep you with 12 new songs every year. That’s a really good thing because that’s an entire set worth of songs. For help choosing songs to learn, Live Musician Central has created 5 sets worth of downloadable songs for your set list. You can check them out on our Live Musician Central Set List page. You really owe it to yourself and your audience to keep your set list fresh with new music.
The next thing you need to do is mix up your songs every night. This seems like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised at the comments I’ve heard from bar personnel. One night at a gig I was talking to the bartender and he told me “It’s so nice how you guys mix up your songs. We get some bands in here that you can set your clock to the song that they’re playing.” Bands will play the same songs every set, every night in the same order. It gets predictable and boring after people have seen your band a couple of times. People like to hear some different things and even changing the order of your songs will go a long way toward keeping your sound fresh for the audience. My band likes to keep several different set lists and then rotate them out on a nightly basis. It helps keep your band on it’s toes as well and that little extra shot of energy can give a routine song a little boost.
So remember, it’s very easy to avoid getting stuck in a rut with your set list. Just keep on learning new songs and remember to change up the order you play your songs from night to night.