Whether it’s a songwriter round at a neighborhood hang, a five-song set at a community concert, or a showcase for potential management, you need to not only carefully consider your choice of material but the order in which you will you sing those songs you select.
Each live performance will impact your choice of material for the song set and its order. So for each gig you need to consider your objectives for the evening. Beyond the desire to grow your fan base, become a success, and be a household name because you sell millions, you need to ask yourself a few simple questions so that your performance will be on target.
What The Audience Takes To Heart
So, start by asking yourself and band members the following question: what do I/we want the audience to take to heart? In other words, what do you hope they think and feel beyond just having a good time or rocking out. If your initial responses are things like “have fun” and “rock out,” then further define that in terms of feelings. You want to get these objectives, and there can be several, as specific as possible. This will help you determine what songs to play and sing.
Once you have determined and agreed upon your objectives for the gig, choose the songs that play to those objectives. But also include two songs that counter the objectives. These can actually help to drive your objectives by providing a break, giving the heart and mind a chance to step away, kind of like enjoying a rest stop while a long, exciting, scenic road trip.
Tag Your Tunes
Before determining the order of your song set, look at each song and tag them in terms of tempo, any unique style element, feeling or emotion, and message. The message can even be just a few simple words, but it must be clearly defined.
It could be “makes me think about how much I care about her” or “it makes me question what I really believe in.” So, have a clearly defined message for each song you’ve selected, along with its feel emotionally, tempo and any unique style element.
Your Song Set Tells A Story
Now your performance is to tell a story that will have the audience taking home those thoughts and feelings you identified as your objective for the gig. You want to start with a piece that sets the scene emotionally. You don’t want this to be your most emotionally charged piece or most dynamic song technically or lyrically. You want it to be a good song that sets the stage as a teaser for what the evening is all about.
From there on you want to mix things up so that you take your audience on an emotionally moving and thought provoking journey that provides a variety in terms of style and tempo. That’s not to say you can’t have a couple upbeat pieces in a row and then do ballads back to back. But you want to avoid repeating yourself.
On The Other Hand
A good phrase to bear in mind is: “on the other hand.” Let’s say you have two songs of similar tempo and style in a row because you feel they go together. That’s fine, but make sure they are very different lyrically, or the audience is likely to tune out the second song.
You want to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. You will put them to sleep if you don’t mix things up from song to song. By using the phrase, on the other hand, you ask yourself to consider a different lyrical or stylistic spin on a song of the same tempo as the one that preceded it in your set.
The master at teaching the art of song selection and order is Tom Jackson. For more than 20 years, he has been the quintessential mentor, guru, and king of live music production. Based in Nashville, Jackson offers workshops and a variety of powerful training materials that will help you define your live music performance, refine your image, and keep things growing as you pursue your singing success.