Am I being unprofessional here, or expecting too much?


Set List?


I suppose I brought this on myself. I used to have to beg them for a set list - which would be written a half hour or less before downbeat, because I play keyboards and since I was using a MIDI switching system and am not a real keyboard player and use music for some songs, I have to have patches and music in order etc. Coupled with the fact that this is one of those bands that feels we have to go from one song immediately into the next (unless it's the guys who feel that who have a problem with something breaking at the show, which always happens, and they want to wait until they fix it) I don't have time to fuss with things during the show so I really need to set up as much as I can.

I got a new keyboard which has allowed me to simplify things greatly and it doesn't matter if I set things up in order as much (plus I don't need the music for as many songs anymore) so the set list order is not so crucial, and neither is me knowing it before the gig.

However, is it too much to ask to have a set list during the gig? Am I being a diva? There's a list taped to the drum riser. Half way through they say "here's the list we're using". Oh, thanks for letting me know. Then, I've got to climb through to get a peek at it, and it's upside down, and of course every time I go to look it's dark on stage.

They try to shout the names of the songs to me but they've reduced the names for most songs to one word (and one syllable) so I can't always tell what's being said.

I think even though we're just a "semi-pro" band (by somewhat recent and heated TGP definition) I believe we should still approach it as professionals. They're always on about how they want to have this awesome show and hit them song after song. But there's no list. Sometimes the bass player has to ask me, and the other night we were all starting at the other guitarist to start and he finally says "what are we doing" - he can't see it either.

I had this entire discussion with the leader a couple of months ago. I suggested we have one set list for the nights we do 3 sets and another for the nights we do 2 sets, and we can include alternates for songs we don't always want to play every night (so no two shows or venues back to back are identical) and we can include variations for events where we may want to do "album sides" or other special things we sometimes do.

And I have no problem going off list or substituting as necessary - things happen. But, I'd like to work primarily from a list at the show, and even better, have them prepared ahead of time (like weeks to months ahead of time) so we can touch up tunes for a particular gig, or be prepared for the general order, etc.

They were sending out lists by text (which is a nightmare to read and print out) but I'm fine with a sharpied piece of paper taped to the floor.

Another issue that's come up a number of times - the amount of work they want to put in (and that I have to put in) is, shall we say, too much. We learned a somewhat modified version of The Wall to play along with a somewhat edited version of the film. We spent months learning the songs, rehearsing it to sync it to the film, and we've only performed it twice. Personally, I had to learn all the key parts (I'm a guitarist and to add insult to injury I got to play very little guitar from one of my favorite albums and favorite bands and favorite guitarists - one who I could actually play well) and come up with all the sounds, as well as build necessary effects, figure out all the splits and layers and how to organize all the sounds to get to everything I needed in time, and I even printed out music necessary as well as organizing all the patch changes and everything. After all that work, I expected to play the thing more than twice (to add even more insult to injury, the bass player brings in a keyboard at the dress rehearsal to play along with things I was already beating myself up trying to cover - had I known he was going to do that I would have had a much simpler job of that tune!).

So recent gig leader says to me they want to "bring back" some songs. Well, for them "bring back" means bring back songs they used to play and already know. For me (and to some degree the other guitarist) it means I'm going to have to learn them on scratch. On keys. Not my main instrument. And they're keys-heavy songs (some rather virtuosic) and while I'd love to learn them, I can't just "bring them back". Plus, I've got to set up all the keys sounds - some of which have to be edited or created from scratch, and organize them into a playable sequence of patches. To add even more more insult to injury, some of these are songs I already had to learn for them before - on guitar. So now I've learned them twice.

I spent a week trying to learn Jump for a gig, busting my but trying to get that keyboard solo down (and I had to create a patch) and we only played it twice.

I told the leader I would need at least 2 weeks PER SONG for these songs. This is Friday. So what happens? Sunday I get a text "hey can you rehearse this week"? Well, what are we going to rehearse? Which of the 4 songs I told it you it would take me 2 weeks to learn are you asking me to now learn in 2-3 days for a rehearsal? Are we touching up the existing set (and the songs we keep skipping becuase they're not on the list that we've forgotten but could work back into the set in a week) or are we learning new material? And if so, what material?

Then I get, "we want to bring back X" - well, that's one of the songs I said I need two weeks on. If that's the song we want to "bring back", I need at least two weeks to work on it. And I need to know which of the songs we're going to work on so I don't waste time working on the wrong song (or like they typically want to do, which is learn 4 or 5 songs in a week (we're talking Karn Evil 9 here, not Tom Petty). If I go to rehearsal this week, that's yet another day I can't work on the song. All I can do is show up without having anything ready. "We also want to work on that song we started on". Oh, the one we started to learn but kind of put aside. Since we maybe worked on it only twice and never went any further with it, I've kind of forgotten it. So I'll have to rework that up. If I work that up - a week at least - I won't be able to spend any time on the other song. Which one do you want? Which one is the priority?

So I'm ranting here, but everything is always "fly by the seat of your pants". I'm sorry - while we actually excel at that, and I like it, I also like some structure when we're trying to "work". I guess my work ethic is different (or rather, they have none). It's almost as if they thing we say "we want to play X" and all of the sudden, it just happens. We tried two songs that just flopped. And honestly I think the reason they flopped is because not everyone learned all the parts correctly - they just got the "gist" of the songs. And these are the types of songs where expectations of them being played "like the record" are high, and they aren't the type you can "arrange" or "improvise through" and so on. Another song nearly had a train wreck and has two major errors in two different places. It's because people don't know their parts well enough. Me, honestly, I don't know my parts well on that one either but I think me and some of the other members are to the point where we're not going to put in weeks of work on a song that we might drop in a week (which we might drop because it doesn't sound good because no one knows their parts...).

Anyhoo, I'm kind of ranting and venting.

But this always happens to me. I get frustrated with a band because they don't do what I see as basic preparation (and communication). Then I come off as the whiny one (at least I think I do) or the ahole becuase I'm the one who has the problem with it. One of the beautiful things of being a hired gun is I just do what I'm told and keep my mouth shut. That's fine when I'm learning songs on guitar and gigging them. But when it involves all this extra stuff, I have trouble not saying something about it. And the leader knows I put in all this extra effort and thanks me for it and will even say "I know you said two weeks" and then kills me with kindness. But at some point I feel like I have to put my foot down and deliver ultimatums, which never go well (I'll never be a diplomat).

There are more pros than cons in this band, and it's there are some really strong aspects - more so than any other band I've ever been in - and the negative stuff is really minimal in comparison, in the grand scheme of things, and as compared to other bands I've survived.

Still, am I asking too much? Set list for the show, preferably in advance, and advance notice of songs to learn, with time enough to learn them?

I mean, if they can't wait for me to learn the song, maybe I'm not the guy for them. But it makes me feel guilty like I'm holding them back. Even though they've said they understand, it still makes me feel bad like I'm not a team player or I'm not putting in enough effort, etc.

Rant over.


Gold Supporting Member
I always send my drummer the set list a week before the show (she likes to make her notes) and print and extra one out for the bass player (he doesn't make notes).

If was doing covers and expected people to learn songs before shows, I'd certainly be in contact with the band about which songs I'd want to do for upcoming shows and it wouldn't be on a couple days notice....

You're not unreasonable at all.....I want the people that I work with to be comfortable and feel taken care of when it comes to all of this stuff. I absolutely understand they need the tools and time to get it right and I want it to be right.


Silver Supporting Member
I'm with you OP, what you are asking is perfectly reasonable and one of my pet peeves. If your band is able to play song after song with very little down time in between then I'd say it's not a big deal, but your description sounds like it is. My previous band was very good musically but totally disorganized in the same way. Our singer would take way too much time between songs and then suddenly call out "song x 1234!". You need as much time as possible to change gears mentally before the next song.


I've worked with some very professional folks who simply call the next song on the fly. Reading the audience can be important in some situations.

I saw Billy Joel a few months ago and he left song decisions up to the audience. He'd say "song X or song Y" and the loudest screams won. The band never failed to deliver.


As far as changing sounds/patches from one song to the could suggest that they start implementing what I refer to as "mini-sets"....pre-arranged blocks of 3-4 songs in a row, played in the same order every night. So when the bandleader calls out the first song in the block, the band immediately knows what the next 3-4 songs will be. This would give you a chance to prepare and have all your patches already lined up for the entire block.....and instead of scrambling after every single song, you're only scrambling 2-3 times per set.

They also have to understand that you can't be expected to play it "like the record" without ample preparation time. As a guy who dabbles with keys myself from time to time, I know all too well how time-consuming it is to find just the right sound(s) for a song; in many cases, finding the sounds and arranging the layers takes as long or longer than learning the parts. Let them know that if you're given only a day or two to throw a song's going to sound like something you just threw together in a day or two.

The set list issue is something each band must work out for themselves. I personally feel that a set list is the way to go, even if you don't necessarily adhere to it all the time. But i think it becomes a pride thing for a lot of guys....especially singers. They often have great faith in their ability to get a feel for a crowd and find the right song for any situation....even guys whose track record suggests that they might be better off using a set list.

Some friends of mine are a very successful band that plays 200+ dates per year all over the southeastern US. To compensate for loud venues and such, they have managed to work their entire library of songs into a system of hand signals and gestures. As one song is nearing its end, the rest of the band looks to the singer, who gives a hand signal for the next song....and as soon as that first song finishes, they're immediately launching into the next one with no dead space whatsoever. Very efficient and very professional.


Silver Supporting Member
We make set lists on our breaks between sets, based on the crowd. Once we are playing, it serves as an outline and it can vary from there.

We have fun up there, sometimes the singer will yell out "Give me a G" so we all groove to a G. It could go a number of places... Mony Mony, Fortunate Son, etc. we will mention this over the mic, get that groove pumping, then he jumps into whatever song and we follow along.

That's just how we do it, every song isn't done like that. Having groups of 2 or 3 songs that play well together is handy as well.

I know if we start playing New Orleans is Sinking, the ending will have some shots and then we will go into Roadhouse Blues and then Tush. All Summer Long will Medley-ish into Sweet Home Alabama and sometimes Werewolves of London, or sometimes not.

It's just finding a system that works.

snow and steel

Silver Supporting Member
If they want to "fly by the seat of their pants" that's totally do-able - if ALL the songs are known by everyone. Sounds like that's a partial issue here. Your keys bit is an issue too, so it sounds like they nee dot be aware of "these thing can't lead into these other things without giving me time to change settings". Give it to them like this; They want a "professional high energy show"... right? well its neither if the band isn't in sync or set up to play the song called out. When its explained like that she should understand why you want something a little more regimented... or at least organized into groups that you can work with.


My old blues group used set lists. They weren't set in absolute stone; we often switched stuff around, but at least we knew what we were going to play each time.

I did, however, quit including the songs' keys and rhythms on the lists. If they didn't know which key and rhythm after all our rehearsal before we began gigging, they'd have been hopeless. And I plan to use that rule in my next blues group, too. If they don't know the keys and the rhythms for each song in the repertoire by the time we get gigging, they probably don't belong on a professional bandstand.


Silver Supporting Member
It's not too much to expect your band mates to be aware of the situation of each other member and to adjust their expectations and behaviour to the reality of those situations. You can only be as spontaneous as the situation of the most vulnerable band member will allow. In this band they must use set lists decided well in advance. Even when you know all the numbers, you'll still need to change patches.


Sounds to me like your not getting much joy out of playing keys,and with your bandmates seemingly taking you for granted,it may be time to switch back to an instrument you can actually play without so much futsing around.
I've never played with a keyboardist, so I'm not up on these 'patches' ....but are they the same as a guitarist and his multi effects patches???that you scroll through? ?
Cant you have a base couple of sounds(B3/Rhodes) that you can roll with if you dont get time to find your patches??
No offense, your band may be brilliant, or they may be horrid, but they are definitely a train wreck waiting to happen.

Yer Blues

I read your entire post.. I don't have much to add. I think the mini sets N9ne mentioned above are always a great way to go. It doesn't sound like the bandleader is going to change things though so you just have to decide if you want to keep rolling with it or move on.


Silver Supporting Member
The only thing unprofessional is the length of your rant post.

Set list, at the latest, should be finalized after sound check. Every band member should be responsible for his/her list by whatever means necessary... I get the singer's and organize the list in my iPad.


I've worked with some very professional folks who simply call the next song on the fly. Reading the audience can be important in some situations.

I saw Billy Joel a few months ago and he left song decisions up to the audience. He'd say "song X or song Y" and the loudest screams won. The band never failed to deliver.

not sure how that detail relates to the topic at hand. I mean Billy Joel? A guy who has had what, a 45 year career as a performer? His band is likely full of seasoned session guys. Are you suggesting that the OP should just be able to fly by the seat of his pants because Billy Joel and his band can? I would suggest to you that the percentage of "pro" touring bands that don't have a pretty strict set list ahead of time and haven't rehearsed that set list is tiny.


If you have calmly and clearly stated the need for a set list, and that some songs require more time to pick up, then your job is done.

If they call a practice without the time you clearly stated was required, I would show up and if I was not ready for a certain song, I would say with a smile "I told you I was not ready for that song, lets rehearse something else." It's his fault, not yours.

As for midi patches...well....if he is just going to randomly select songs, and you told him you needed a list in advance, I would just have two or three stock sounds, a b3, piano and e-piano and select one of those, whether it fits or not. "Remember when I told you I needed a set list, that's because I need to set up the required sounds, if we do it on the fly, this is what I have."

In advance of the rehearsals and live show, be clear, non-aggressive and on the record. If he changes the cards, it is his responsibility. Be ready to calmly reply "we discussed this in advance and you were ok with it." Either it will improve or you will be out of the band.


Simplify your live rig. Less sounds, but make them good sounds.

For guitar, I used to have a multieffect/channel switcher pedal board with a bank per song, and 5 patches per song/bank. The banks were arranged as per the set list. Sometimes the singer would go off list....and I had to scramble. I was not crazy about that, so I simplified my life and went back to a delay, a compressor, a Univibe, two levels of dirt from the amp and my volume control. I could cover most everything, and the crowd did not know the wiser. Plus my tone was better.

Adapt and survive!


Dang Twangler
Silver Supporting Member
You and this band are not a good match.

This may be true.

Trying to change the way the band operates is futile, so you need to take it upon yourself to adapt to the situation. You can:
A) quit
B) adapt your gear/settings to allow you to go with the flow
C) adjust your attitude to match the band's
D) none of the above, and stay miserable.

You mentioned the problem with learning the new material that the band wants to resurrect. It sounds like it's important to you to be able to nail the solos and breaks, which is admirable, but you don't have to nail them on short notice.

If you have 2-3 days before a practice to learn a song that has a ton of parts, you should probably spend your limited practice time learning the song structure, the changes, where the breaks happen, etc. When it comes time to take the big break, just vamp through it. They'll get the picture: you don't mind learning the songs, but it takes time to get them right.

Aaron Mayo

Yeah I don't get it, just need to do it once and tweak it here and there. Plus it's just a guideline. I'm tired of asking, so I just let it go.


I didn't read the whole post of the OP, but yes, everyone in the band needs a set list. I've been in bands where we agonized days in advance about the order, and in bands where we made the set list minutes before each set. I did once play in a blues band where the leader call the songs and I didn't like it.

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