You are what you sing. As strange as that sounds, there is more truth to that statement than you might realize, especially in the eyes and ears of an audience that doesn’t know you very well. The songs you sing have the potential to make or break your performance and to define or distort your image and persona.
To help you choose material for a song set, think about your performance in terms of where you want to take your audience emotionally, stylistically, spiritually. There are many possibilities in terms of mood, tone, humor, tempo. Ask yourself in what ways you’d like your audience to be moved. What would you like them to take away from your performance?
I Sing What You Want To Hear
So your performance really needs to be more of a happy union of “I am what I sing” and “I sing what you want to hear.” In other words, you want the material to appeal to and represent your audience in terms of struggles, longings, love, disappointment, dreams, and so on.
What You Sing Best
Ask three or four people you know and respect about your strengths as a performer. What do they feel are your strongest points of appeal? What styles do they feel you sing best? What emotions or feelings does your voice most commonly evoke?
In addition to these qualities, determine guidelines for issues with range, versatility, skill level needed for your accompaniment, and any other technical parameters. Get input from any band members, backing vocalists – anyone who will sing and play with you at the gig.
At this point you will have a better sense of what to look for, that you sing well and will be easy for others to back you up. So choose four or five songs, based on the criteria established, that you personally will enjoy singing.
Take Your Audience To Heart
Now think about your audience. What do you know about the venue or its location? What acts are routinely most successful there, and what do these acts have in common? What cover songs are most popular? What local issues are being faced that may be sensitive areas or opportunities for humor in a song choice or in chat time between numbers? To get this information, talk with the venue’s manager, bartender, or even a regular customer, just two or three people that are qualified in assessing the tastes of traffic at the gig.
You want people that have a finger on the pulse of the vibe of the venue and on the collective heart of its patrons. This will help you choose your songs that say:”I sing what you want to hear.” If you do mostly original songs, or happen to be a singer songwriter, use the criteria established for the songs that define you and the criteria for the songs that define the audience. Based on your catalogue, find the songs that are the best fit.
The Song Set As Storytelling
Once you have the songs you love to sing and the songs your audience likely wants to hear, you need to think of the evening as a piece of theatre, with highs and lows, tension and relief, tears and laughter. Remember you are a storyteller that delivers messages from heart to heart with each song you sing.
Choose one of the patron’s popular songs as an encore piece. This will reinforce the power of the evening, further endear you to them in their hearts, and increase your chances for a future booking.
As You Grow, Stretch Your Material
Remember that as you mature as a singer and performer, the voice changes in depth, resonance and expressiveness. Your interpretive skills grow with experience and confidence. Another likely result will be that your song choices will change as your range and skills are enhanced.
But remember to not let your audience be the guinea pig for testing your technical expertise. Only enhance or increase the level of difficulty once it’s been mastered in lessons with your vocal coach, voice teacher, and programs like Mastering Mix and Singing Success. Save the experiments for rehearsal.