how to create the best setlist

How to Create (and Remember) the Best Set List


The setlist determines not just what you’ll play at each gig, but how you’ll be remembered by your audience. A live band with poor set planning can risk losing the audience’s attention or fail to capture the right moments for their songs to shine. Some musicians like to wing it, whether they’re taking requests from the crowd or confident in their ability to read the room. However, setlists are an element of live performance every musician should take seriously.

Using a setlist creator tool

Need help designing and remembering setlists for your live shows? There’s an app for that! Several, in fact. Set List Maker Android here or IOS here and Band Helper Android here or IOS here are two popular setlist maker apps, but there are many others as well. Some old-school rockers might scoff at the idea of turning to technology for setlist help. But, to people who are new to performing live there are many benefits.

Most setlist apps not only provide a list of your songs in order, but allow you to instantly access lyrics. In some cases they can be scrolled live on the screen as you play. You can also look up any notes you added during rehearsals. The Set List Maker app syncs between devices so all your bandmates can stay on the same page throughout the gig.

Setlist creator apps certainly beat a piece of paper and a Sharpie when it comes to functionality — although they don’t provide the same fun keepsake to toss out to a lucky fan at the end of the show.

Building rhythm and energy

Smart setlist planning with killer song selections can make the difference for an audience. Either a two hour show, passing in the blink of an eye or an hour long concert that seems to drag on and on. Even if you play the same songs two nights in a row, switching up the order can do a lot to affect the crowd’s experience.

    Tips to creating an effective setlist.

  • Create a rhythmic ebb and flow. A few high-energy songs in a row followed by a few down-tempo ones will allow your audience to catch their breath, without letting them get bored.
  • Mix up covers and originals. If you notice people are starting to drift or lose attention, bust out a popular cover. This gets everyone engaged and singing — then switch back to originals when you’ve regained their interest. Likewise, mix your new material in carefully among your older hits to make the audience more receptive.
  • Leave space for improvisation. Determine with your bandmates where you can work in some really fun solos, and be sure to mix it up. Make sure even if you’re playing the same songs, the experience of seeing you perform live differs from night to night.
  • Save your biggest hits. Always be sure to go out with a bang. Save a few pieces of your strongest material for the encore leaving the audience wanting more.
  • Don’t stress too much about the first song. You might be nervous The sound guy could still be adjusting levels. Your audience might still be at the bar getting a drink. Too many musicians get overly worked up about nailing the first song. Just start playing and trust you and the audience will find your groove.

How to write a setlist based on the gig

Present different setlists that fit all types of performances. At a sit-down gig, focus on slow tempo songs to create a thoughtful atmosphere. Take advantage of having the audience’s full attention to explore the nuances of your sound and let your lyrics shine.

Conversely, a club or cover bar demands crowd pleasers. Remember the audience is there to dance, sing along, and have a good time. Give them a fun show and save your slower numbers for another gig.

Finally, at a restaurant or coffee shop people will likely be wrapped up in conversation or focused on eating dinner. Don’t try to compete for their attention. Just maintain a steady rhythm and upbeat, fun vibes without being intrusive.

Rehearsal space at Rivington Music

Ready to practice your best set list? Book some music rehearsal time now at Rivington Music.  

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