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Set list disagreements


It's the singer's call. If he/she makes a wrong decision, politely point that out the day after the show and make sure you remind him/her of that when the setlist is being put together in the future.


Silver Supporting Member
For my bar /cover band, we play all of our more challenging or obscure stuff early in the night. People are usually just hanging out anyway, so they seem to appreciate more interesting song choices. Plus we’re into it, so that energy comes across.

As the night goes on and the liquor is flowing, we transition toward party/dance tunes as (hopefully) everybody gets rowdy.

Once the party gets going, I’d rather play Jesses Girl for the 1000th time to a crowd of dancing hotties vs pulling some obscure tune out of nowhere and watch them scatter like ants.

So first half of the night is what the band wants to play, second half is for the crowd...works for us.
This dude gets it.


Silver Supporting Member
Expectations, clearly stated, up front, make it easier. If everyone is explained what expectations and obligations there are up front, it is hard to hear complaints.
Where did you draw the line on the quality of personal performance?
Did all manage to create NfN covers?
When I start playing with a working band there is already a song list. When the band is actually working and I am being paid I really don't care what tunes are in the song list or where they are in the set lists if there are set lists. I will play them. Occasionally I might encounter a band who needs a guitar player but I don't think I am a good fit. Then I might not start working with that band. I can find a different band. But if I have agreed to work with a band I don't mind playing a few tunes that I really don't like. Three to five minutes later I will be playing something else.


I once told our piano player that I was really bored with many of our most popular covers. He’s been a full time musician his entire adult life. He told me that was nobody’s fault but mine and that I really needed to work at those songs, find new things to play on them, and to work on making them exciting again. Just one way to look at it.
This is a great piece of advice. Like, I can't even tell you how many times in the last ten years my bar band has played The Joker - a song that I didn't like even in the best of times. So, what do I do? I concentrate on how I can enjoy it. I put in little flourishes here and there. I learn to love the way people dance to it. We jokingly add a bar or two of the Shaggy song that samples it... You know, we have _fun_ with it. That's what you gotta do :D


Gold Supporting Member
This is a great piece of advice. Like, I can't even tell you how many times in the last ten years my bar band has played The Joker - a song that I didn't like even in the best of times. So, what do I do? I concentrate on how I can enjoy it. I put in little flourishes here and there. I learn to love the way people dance to it. We jokingly add a bar or two of the Shaggy song that samples it... You know, we have _fun_ with it. That's what you gotta do :D
One of our musicians friends can rap so when she comes to our gig, we play Good Times and throw in a few verses of Rappers Delight in the middle. People love it.


Silver Supporting Member
The question I have for people who say they can be in a successful cover band by playing more deep cuts and playing them well: Do you think or do you know this? Have you done it? Have you seen it? Which deep, technical cut have you played which you can objectively say that a crowd showed much appreciation for?

I'm really curious because at one time I definitely thought more like some of the idealistic comments here .... I just had this belief born from what my musical friends and me like, that I could pick interesting cover music that an audience would respond to and leave behind the same-old-same-old. I would say things like, "If it excites us to play it, it has to excite people to hear it!" or, "people who like so-and-so will appreciate this deep cut by so-and-so".

After many years of trying to push against the expectations that people ordinarily have of a cover band, refusing to play certain songs and watching songs we love get no kind of response while songs that are of no interest to us fill the dance floor and the tip jar, I finally had to admit that it doesn't matter what I think people should like. A cover band can try to be an arbiter of good musical taste, or they can be successful. I have yet to see one be both of those.

Also, something I did not anticipate before getting much experience playing in cover bands was the need sometimes to have substitute musicians. The worst thing you can do if you want to be gigging regularly in a local place is cancel the gig because 1 person can't make it. You get maybe 1 pass at any 1 place if you already have an otherwise great reputation, but that's about it. If your set list if full of deep cuts other musicians can't prepare for, you could be in for a bit of trouble on that front.

Part of me still wants to think that if you have a way of getting in front of enough same-minded people on the same night, you can make a go of it. IME, that's actually harder than playing any song, and there's virtually no way showing up for a random cover gig is going to find that sort of audience. Deep cuts, even performed really well, tend to be about as welcome as deep cuts on the radio, which is about as welcome as a fart in a space suit.
After years of playing covers I believe it’s all about probability:
- if you play the standards there’s a high probability the audience will like it
- if you play deep cuts (we’ll) there’s a high probability that most of the audience won’t care for it, but a few musicians in the audience will like it

I feel the audience can tell the difference between a bad a good band, but few care if the band is great. They want to hear the music they grew up listening to, and most of the details of how the band plays it is irrelevant.

I’ve found what also helps is stage presence. If you show emotion while playing then that gets the audience into the songs more too.


Silver Supporting Member
Where did you draw the line on the quality of personal performance?
Did all manage to create NfN covers?
I've never had an issue with quality of performance. But I also haven't gigged in years. I did quit a band over lack of practicing and the band members missing changes and screwing up songs, but I was hired to play in their band that was already functioning. My post is about setting up a band or how to better organize if you are hiring people to your band. Obviously during practice if someone was not up to snuff you tell them they're not cutting it. But the bands I was a part of forming, which was a few, were all set up this way. When I joined a functioning band, it was their rules, not mine, and most were weekend warriors who wanted to make enough to support bad habits and take advantage of some of the benefits of being in a band, but weren't serious about the music. I left quickly.



Silver Supporting Member
Original music? Do whatever you want. One of the things I love about Phish is that there is no predetermined setlist. Even the first song is discussed after they hit the stage, right before they launch into it.

For cover music, I think it's smart to have an opener and have songs that cluster together so that there's not a lot of downtime, but how are you reacting to your audience if everything is predetermined? When I was in a cover band a few years back, we played a regular Sat night gig at a Lake Resort and the crowd was always different. We tried to stay in whatever zone got people up and having fun, which changed from night to night (largely based on crowd age).

squeally dan

Silver Supporting Member
I have all kinds of problems with the universal barband playlist.
Outside of the fact that I think the audience WILL approve of well-performed fringe songs that are good songs, based on their merit.

But related to the OP even the well worn ones contain arrangements, exceptional performances and intricacies that get smoothed over, inappropriately, and that diminishes the value of the song.

If you can't do it like the record, OR an equal quality interpretation of the composition, reducing the song to a campfire singalong version bugs me to no end...and don't tell me you have never done it under pressure at the cover band level.
It's a cheap out from doing the homework and upping the game.
It will continue as, for better or worse, music has to start somewhere, but the drive and interest in a band progressing is rare in the shallow end of the gig pool.
I’ve tested your theory and have not found it to be accurate thus far. No matter how well your band plays an obscure song, 99% of the people at a bar do not want to hear it.

Ernie Johnson

I'm thinking that you probably meant to use the word repertoire instead of set lists in the first sentence. Set lists of course is the arrangement and sequence of your band's songs at a live show. Repertoire, overall, is another issue entirely. Am I on the right track?
You are correct, sir. I should have mentioned that I'm jamming with long time friends in a couple bands. Not interested in playing pop songs in a bar/patio. I just wish everyone else would loop so that they can get it as close as possible to authentic.


Silver Supporting Member
I'm wondering how all bands arrive at their respective set lists. This seems to involve sacrifice for some while others get their way.
I've spent so much time trying to learn a diverse range of music and to take the time looping at half tempo to authenticate the difficult solos/harmonies of hundreds of tunes. But the bandmates I've jammed with always want to play simple music that soon bores me.
I end up quitting and now believe that no one seems to care about playing anything that requires all band members be proficient and able to authenticate more intricate music.
I believe you can really impress and turn on the audience and don't have to play what you think they want to hear. I hate to think I've wasted my efforts.
I've not read through the thread, but this resonated with me. My last band had doubts about what kind of reception we'd receive from the Tears for Fears tune, "Year of the Knife"--a non-hit and fairly obscure. It was a smashing success. Now granted, we were a TFF tribute but that was one that we deemed a bit of a risk. Can always put a tune out there and if it doesn't work, strike it from the list.


This is one of the problems with my last acoustic project. Started out with a singer and two guitars trio. First rehearsal we all come with 10 songs each and agreed that each member would name 1/3 of the setlist BUT each had veto power if a song was out of their ability or just didn't like it. This worked for a while but the other guitar player began adding more songs and rejecting other suggestions. Compounding this is the singer became a musical jukebox often starting to sing any song that popped into his head during rehearsal fueled by the other guitar playing right along. I hoped we could agree on a set list and rehears off that list...but it never happened. Each rehearsal new songs got played but somehow tossed by the next rehearsal. Eventually a female singer was added at the suggestion of our original singer. She brought a long list of songs she wanted to add but also would start asking us to play songs we never played before during rehearsal. My head was spinning. For a lot of reasons including this I had to drop out of the project.


I've got two answers to this. The first one isn't a very nice one.
In bands, I only play songs I want to play. I've only played in bands as the singer (and rhythm guitar or bass) and I will not, under any circumstances, sing a song I don't like.

I prefer setlists to be sorted out ahead of time. No disagreements can really happen because if you can't deal with me calling like all the shots on the songs we play then go do something else, I'm not a team player.

I was always open to suggestions and would listen to songs that were suggested if I didn't know them, and I did incorporate a lot of songs that were suggestions from others - because I liked them. Good songs only. According to me. Lol.

My other answer is from a soloist perspective - there's actually more disagreements happening now, between myself and myself, than there was when I was in bands (I don't recall any disagreements ever even happening).

So, I took a break from playing for a good 4-5 years or so with just the occasional jam session thrown in, and maybe I did like 1-2 gigs across those years.

I got back into it recently, have played maybe 5 gigs within the last few months and have managed to land some extra bookings.

Anyway, I went into the first 5 or so with my old setlist because why not.

I learn two things:

- Some songs that were hits, aren't good to play now.
- Some songs were just songs I loved but nobody knew.

Both of the above hurt my gigs (imo). Maybe I've grown up a bit, but playing songs nobody really knows or likes kinda sucked, even if I loved the songs.

So I had to wrestle with myself.. do I stick to my ehh.. younger-me-guns and keep playing what I want, screw everyone else - or do I just play stuff people know, everyone has a good time, I get more repeat gigs and I can play and listen to whatever I want in my own time.

Well, alongside that came the understanding that as an entertainer, I'm basically just a salesman, so I went with option 2.

Updated my setlist a while back, scrapped the songs that just didn't work for any reason (mostly, people didn't know them or dig them like they used to) - added some other *older* songs.

Yeah, I went backwards at first. I kicked out the flops, and added older classics into my list - songs the older punters know and love because they're still the main clientele when gigging around my area.

So that updated my setlist and had it feeling... maybe not "fresh", but more enjoyable. A little more generic, but definitely more "gig friendly". This helps me land repeat gigs.

I'm still always on the hunt for old school songs to throw in, that everyone knows and loves - but I've also started to add newer songs, chasing down hits from the last decade or so and adding them in - it can be difficult to pick out the "timeless" ones, because there's actually not that many.

For example, for a while, "Somebody That I Used To Know" was everywhere, right - but then it disappeared, and now it's not really popular. Despite it being a huge hit when it came out and dominating the airwaves for way too long, it's not a well-known song now. Weird how that stuff works out.

So now I've got weird little disagreements with myself over what a timeless song is, what songs have potential etc - when looking at songs from the past decade, I need to think... is it going to work *now*?

Another example, One Republic's Apologize. A monster track when it came out. Now, it's not really a great one to play, it doesn't get the reception it used to, and it's kinda boring to play. So it's like.. even when a song was massive.. it can be tough to pick out the ones that have stood the test of time - even a short test of time, like between 1-10 years.. some hits haven't stood it. Lol.

Anyway, as a solo act, my disagreements are all with myself. Trying to find the right balance between playing songs everyone knows and loves, my own musical integrity (which I've sacrificed massively recently) and also wanting to play songs that aren't the same as every other act.

More thought and "discussion" goes into my setlists now, than it used to when I was playing in bands.
I disagree with myself more than I disagree with others with this stuff because I overthink these things.
And also have anxiety issues. >_>

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