How to Build an Amazing Setlist

A setlist is so crucial, it can either make or break a show. Good playlists take the audience on a journey, it makes them feel the sounds and actually produces a range of emotions. On the other hand, a bad playlist will only make them feel one thing: boredom. If it’s really bad, boredom might even turn into disdain. So overall, not good and definitely not what musicians want the public to associate with their music.

So, what’s the trick? If you ask pros, chances are they’ll tell you to “start with a kick and end with a punch”, but what does that even mean?

And more importantly, how do you do it? It really is all about a bit of planning, and a lot of foresight and self-awareness.

2 Ws: Where? And Who?

A good setlist is designed while thinking of the venue and the audience. That is, venues where the audience is asked to be sitting down having a drink is not the place to play high-strung songs that will make everyone want to get up a make a mosh pit, but that energy is perfect for venues where everyone is going to be standing about. Ask the venue what they expect. They should be able to tell you whether the audience will have space to dance or if they’re just going to be sitting down listening. Once you know, plan accordingly. Songs with complex lyrics and intricate rhythms should be reserved for intimate venues where people will sit down and listen intently.

Keep it Diverse

Let’s see if this rings a bell: you go see a live band, they come up on stage, the music sounds fine, and they have a good command of the stage but they’re just ok. In fact, by the third song you’re kind of bored. By the fifth, you’re just ready to live, and it’s not because they’re bad, it’s just that… all the songs sound kind of the same and it got really monotonous really fast. That’s what happens when bands play similar songs one after another without letting the set breath. The setlist should flow seamlessly rather than feel like is dragging along like a car with a flat tire. You should not play more than two songs with the same key center in a row. Instead, aim for diverse keys and tempos.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you want to leave your strongest song for the end, which means the song immediately before that should give it a little contrast. So, if your strongest song is really upbeat and high tempo, the one before that should be a little more mellow.

Think of the Transitions

What’s going to happen in between songs?

This is something you’ll have to decide as a band cause there’s really not good or bad answers. Some acts tend to go for funny unrelated rants after a couple of songs, others go for telling anecdotes relating to the band or the venue. Basically, you can do anything you want, just beware that whatever you pick can become your band’s signature, so choose wisely.