Art of the Set List

A 2019 set list from my band, The Influence

One of the most exciting aspects of playing in a band is trying to figure out what songs the group will play AND what they believe the audience wants to hear.  For the purpose of this post, I’ll focus will be on bands that play cover tunes.  Trying to determine a list of songs the band will play is many times a matter of spirited debate in a band.  Sometimes it’s based level of musicianship.  Bands know that people like to sing and dance to familiar and catchy tunes, so that’s an important factor as well when building a set list.

Once the parameters for the gig are established, such as number of hours you’ll perform, how many sets, what kind of venue it is (some bars cater to certain styles of music), and other factors, it then becomes the challenge to figure out the order of songs…it’s not as simple as you think.  There’s an art to it, because you need to anticipate the energy of the room and how it will evolve throughout the performance.  And stringing together the flow of songs, transitions, ebbs and flows, crescendos, guides the listener’s experience along with the band chemistry…and when the band is on, there’s nothing better than being locked in. 

When building the set list you need to take into account the number of sets you’ll play because you can then treat each one as an independent performance.  There are some bands that create themes for the set, such as only playing songs from British artists as an example.  Sometimes my band will create mini blocks of songs from the same artist, like four or five songs in a row from Queen.  The night might also end with more high-intensity songs, like powering through AC/DC, Twisted Sister, Aerosmith, and Guns ‘N Roses to leave an exclamation point.

In the end, it’s fun to write a set list because it becomes the content that will guide the listener’s experience.  It also helps to bond the band as you work toward the collective mission of making people smile as they listen to you play.  A strong set list, with the right flow of songs, will inevitably make a good performance even more memorable!

What are some of your favorite songs you like to hear cover bands play?       

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