So, we're playing at the Watermelon Festival tomorrow. It's a community event, put on by a local business. I haven't been before, but it's supposed to be a pretty big and fun deal. Anyway, our set list is made up, entirely (except for a few church songs that we're rocking without the lyrics), of the "secular" music that we've performed in church over the past few years, and I thought I'd share the simple but effective way that I put a set list like this together...
Selecting the songs for this even was easy...because this is a community event, and we were asked to come as a band (and not a "church" band), I just pulled all of the secular stuff that we've played at different times over the past few years. Ten secular songs, three "church" songs without any vocals, thirteen songs altogether.
There are a five parameters that I consider as I'm putting together a set list this big:
1) The key of the song...I actually take a look at the key as well as the last chord of a song.
2) The tempo and energy of the song...is it fast or slow, hard or soft?
3) The dynamics of the song...what are the lead instruments, who are the lead vocals, is anyone going to need a break after this song?
4) The "Big Idea" of the event/worship gathering...is there a "theme", one Big Idea that we're trying to communicate, and how does every element of the event/gathering flow together to communicate that Big Idea (not every song will fit...my goal isn't to fit every song perfectly with the Big Idea)?
5) The message of each individual song...are there songs that seem to naturally fit together (within the Big Idea) because of what they're communicating, are there songs that would clash because of what their communicating?
Knowing these five things helps me to figure out what my order is going to be. Knowing the Big Idea is usually most important to me, followed by key tempo, dynamics and message.
Knowing the keys of the songs, as well as the final chord, helps me figure out which songs will flow more naturally from one to another. Our flow style lands somewhere between the "stop and go" and the "anti-climax" (Read Here for more about flow styles). Knowing the tempo and energy level of the songs helps me figure the order out as well...are there any songs that share the same time/tempo, are there songs that would cause a little roller-coaster feeling if played one after another?
With a long set, like what we're doing on Thursday (we normally play for about 25 minutes on Sunday, usually no more than two-three songs in a row), it will be important to evenly spread the workload out among everyone playing and singing. I don't want to sing lead for 30 straight minutes...neither do I want our drummer to play two incredibly difficult songs in a row and get too tired. And, I don't want to do all of our electric guitar driven stuff up front, or all of our piano driven stuff at the end...an even set just works and sounds better.
And, because we're using secular songs, it's important to us to make sure that the message of the songs comes across in a relevant and clearly organized way. Also, because this event is a family-oriented fund-raiser, we want to make sure that the overall theme of our setlist fits with this events Big Idea. And, of course, you want to start the set well and end the set well.
So, first, I wrote out all of the songs in our set in alphabetical order, noting their keys and final chords...
Then, I created another visual that grouped the songs together by their keys. This allowed me to see, very easily, which songs could work together or flow into the next naturally. I know the basic tempo and energy level of every song in my head without writing it down, and that is something else I was considering during this step.
I then began putting a list together, not so much worried about my last two parameters until I had the set together. After I had a list together that flowed well with keys, tempos and energy, I checked it to see if the dynamics and message all fit nicely as well, which it did. Below became our final set list that we'll be playing tomorrow (I've added some notes to help you see how my process all came together)...
Meant To Live (D-Em) Electric driven, female vocal lead, familiar song that most will recognize
My Hero (G-C) Same time as last song and begins with heavy drums which means a fast and clean transition, female vocal lead
All To You (D-G) "Church" song that we'll jam to and use to introduce ourselves, more laid-back energy than the first two songs, no vocals
Beautiful Day (D-G) Nearly same time and chord progression as last song, difficult electric and bass line, male and female vocal lead
How To Save A Life (Bb) Softer, Piano driven song that will give everyone else a break to loosen up and tune up if needed, male vocal lead
I’m Free (E) Hard, electric driven song that will bring the energy back up, male vocal lead
You Are Good (E) Another "church" song to jam to and give our vocals a break, no vocals
You Are Loved (D-G) Very mellow song, piano driven, male vocal lead
Hanging By A Moment (E) Very familiar song, a little higher energy than the last song, guitar driven, female vocal lead
Best Of You (C#m-E) Highest energy song of the set, female vocal lead
Everything You Want (G-C) Very "groove" song to relax after the last song, great message to follow the message of the last song, male vocal lead
Everlasting God (B) Last "church" song to jam with, high energy, great electric guitar lead stuff, no vocals
Home (F#) Last song, power chords, very familiar, male vocal lead
Anyway, that's how it works for me. It's somewhat different on Sundays, mainly due to the fact that our set is much shorter.
How do you organize your set lists?