Choosing the right Setlist

Often, when we go to a concert/gig, we want the artist/singer/musician play the songs we like… but how do they choose the songs to play? How do they pick the songs for a Setlist?

1. How choose the songs?

– Generally, the groups when start a tour, they are promoting a new album. That’s why they choose some of their hits and also, some songs of their new releases. 

– But there are artists that don’t wanna play some of their hits for many reasons: the songs has no meaning anymore for them or even doesn’t like it. 

– By the other hand, some artists have the idea that the audience must suit to what the artist wanna play: 

Robert Hilburn, the music critic of Los Angeles Times, tell us an experience with the first concert of Bob Dylan in Israel:

“On paper, Bob’s first concert in Israel seemed a sure success: rock’s most acclaimed songwriter playing in Tel Aviv for an audience that strongly identified not only with his socially conscious music, but also with his Jewish roots. And sure enough, the nearly forty thousand fans in a sprawling park on the edge of the city lit thousands of candles in salute and set off flares that brightened the night sky. But the cheers eventually gave way to confusion and disappointment. Rather than tailoring the material to an audience that had waited decades to hear his early anthems, Bob stuck mostly to newer, lesser-known tunes like “Joey” and “Señor.” There was considerable grumbling in the reviews the next morning in Tel Aviv’s four largest newspapers. The writers used words like “boring,” “monotonous,” “flat,” and “withdrawn” to describe Bob’s manner and song selection. Declared one writer, “Robert Zimmerman, your time has passed.” 

At breakfast, Bob asked, “How was the crowd?” I told him the audience had been disappointed that he hadn’t done more of his familiar songs. Bob scoffed. He said the same thing I had heard from Bruce [Springsteen]. He never wants to feel like the audience is dictating what he should do on stage. Besides, he pointed out, he went to see Frank Sinatra and he wasn’t upset that Sinatra didn’t do many of the songs from his classic Capitol albums. He said he wanted to hear whatever Frank wanted to sing, and that’s how all audiences should approach a concert.”

– Other according to their likes/dislikes/preferences before the show:

For example, Jonny Greenwood, Radiohead’s guitarist in an interview with BBC Radio 6 Music, explained “that the band planned to practice every song they’ve written for the tour: “So we started with one hundred twenty. It’s crazy. I mean, it’s just every song we’ve done. And then we gave up and realised that was stupid and got it down to about 60 or 70, and we played twenty four songs a night. So there’s a lot to choose from.”

Greenwood explained that it kept things “feeling fresh and interesting”, adding: “It drives our crew crazy as you might imagine because they don’t know what to do with the lights. But that’s okay. We’ve always been like that. We’ve always decided the setlist just before we play.” (You can check it out the full article of NME in this link: )

2. Public requests

There are bands that let their fans choose the setlist. Examples of this are Metallica (on tour on 2013), Franz Ferdinand (for a BBC Radio 6 Music Festival), Coldplay among others. 

In the Metallica’s case, was in their 2013 European tour, and only 17 songs according to The Guardian (the full article is in this link:

3. Technical considerations

According to the site DIY Musician, there are other technical considerations, that the musicians/artists use to choose the songs and the order, among others, the following:

– Audience: Who are you performing for? What do they expect? Will the audience be listening, or will they be dancing? 

– Key: According to the article “The key of a song is its tonic chord: E, C#, Am, etc. The rule of thumb for a song’s key center is do not play more than two songs in the same key in a row. Although an audience might not be able to put into words why a band “kind of sounds all the same,” the foundation for that response is having too many songs in the same key played in a row.”

– Tempo: “Tempo is literally a song’s metronomic setting. Most rock and pop music falls into one of three general tempo categories: slow (between 60 to 80 beats per minute), mid (between 80 and 112 beats per minute), and fast (everything above 112 beats per minute). Obviously, a good set list mixes up the tempos in the same way it considers key. Play too many mid tempo songs in a row and your audience will grow restless, sensing something is “off,” but not quite knowing why.”

– Feel: “Closely related to tempo is feel, the rhythmic nuance of a song. Is it a shuffle? Straight rock? Reggae? Sixites pop?”. 

– Transitions: “A transition is the method and/or methods a band uses to get from one song to the next”. 

– Timbres/Voice(s): “A transition is the method and/or methods a band uses to get from one song to the next.” 

(You can check it out the full article in this link: )

Anyway, always there can be a risk of go to a concert/gig and the artist/singer/musician don’t play our favorites. 


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