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More Than a Set List

Most artists call it their set list.  And for most artists it involves putting your songs in some kind of order – fast, fast, slow, fast, slow, etc…

But, that’s not the best way to do it if you want to have a successful live show every time you perform!

To me, it’s not the set list.  It’s “the graph.”  And it took me years to develop. 

It involves bringing your audience the right thing at the right time in order to capture and engage them.  (the psychology of the show)  And, it also involves getting a vision for your show.

So how do you do it?  First, look at your songs.  I lay all the songs out on a sheet of paper and define or categorize them and give them a number rating of one through five.

Now I’m not talking about how good the songs are with the numbers.  And I’m not talking about how fast or slow they are.  I’m talking about whether they’re emotional, energetic, and powerful (then they’re a “5”). 

Or maybe it’s the kind of song that if you do it right, you can hear a pin drop when the song is over, because the audience doesn’t want to break the moment, (then it’s a “1”).  Or, maybe it’s a typical radio song (a “3”).

Then I think of my audience, and in my mind’s eye I see (get a vision for) what response I want to get from my audience after each song.  I should back up a little bit and tell you that when I say “songs” I’m really more concerned with “moments” and the moments within the songs.  Because people don’t go to concerts to hear songs, they go to experience moments.

So as I lay out the songs and plan the concert, I look at the song and ask myself “what moment is inside this song?”  Is it a fun moment, a touching moment, a musical moment, a visual moment?  There are a lot of different kinds of moments, and I want to begin to plan on using those different moments to change the pressure on the audience.

And then you develop the plan.  The placement in the show is important.  I often spend weeks mulling over the order of the show.  I mull over the songs themselves, listening to them over and over trying to get a vision for what moment there is in the song.  I listen for different parts of the song.  (to be developed or drawn out)  I keep listening and looking for moments in each song.

As I envision those moments and what they’ll do for the audience, which I work out in rehearsal, I can plan a show that’s not only creative, but gives me the opportunity to be spontaneous without “winging it!”

My graph is outlined in detail in my Live Music Method book, and in one chapter I give alternate graphs for different situations.  Obviously, there are so many different situations you will find yourself in, when it comes to shows. 

If you understand the concepts of WHY the ‘Moments’ are brought at the time they are within the show, you can use those concepts to tailor your own set list for the specific situation you have.

If you find that this blog has created questions in your mind, and you’d be interested in a webinar, please comment here.  If there are enough of you interested, we’ll see about getting one set up.  Until next time….Tom

Tom Jackson

Tom is uniquely talented and skilled at transforming an artist's live show into a magical experience for the audience; helping artists at every level create a live show that is engaging and memorable, teaching them to exceed their audiences' expectations and to create fans for life. Tom has taught indie and major artists of every genre. He has worked with Taylor Swift, Le Crae, Home Free, The Tenors, Shawn Mendes, The Band Perry, Francesca Battistelli, Jars of Clay, & many more. Tom also teaches at colleges, conferences and events worldwide.

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Greenroom Comments

  1. Tom, I copied this link to my readers; I hope they are paying attention. 🙂

  2. John Mianowski says:

    As musicians, I think it’s natural for us to think in terms of “songs”. It is our stock in trade, after all.

    Our audience, for the most part, is not made up of musicians. They don’t think the same way we do, which is neither good nor bad, just something that we need to understand and respect.

    I wonder if we could come up with a different system for designating songs? Using the 1-5 scale seems to imply that there’s a ranking, which needs a lot of explanation to overcome. It’s hard sometimes to make people understand that a “5” isn’t necessarily “better” than a “3”.

    • Hi John, Thank you for your comment. I go into detail on the numbering system in my book and DVDs, explaining that the 1-5 system, is a song type, not a rating. (A number ‘1’ song being a “you can hear a pin drop” ballad, a number ‘3’ song being a radio song and a number ‘5’ song being a super high energy/get them on their feet song.) I hope this helps. If you have suggestions to make this clearer, I’m open.
      Thanks again! Tom

  3. Yeah, I’d like to know more. Especially from the standpoint of how this works in a 3 hour bar gig verses an actual 2 hour concert where actually come for the show.

    • Hi Marty, It’s definitely tougher for a 3 hour gig where people aren’t there to really listen to you! I hope to write more about this in the future. Until then, listen to your instinct and the audience. Thanks again. Tom

  4. Hi there, Tom, thank you for bringing this up (once again). And, yes, I’d be interested in a webinar around this!

  5. JN cortese says:

    Intrested in webnar.

  6. Webinar would be awesome!

  7. Great Intel. I am interested in a webinar. Thanks


  8. A webinar on this topic would be great!

  9. Craig Voelker says:

    I’d love to be part of a webinar. Went to one of Tom’s events and will never forget it. Totally opened our eyes to what an audience wanted.

  10. I am interested Tom! In fact need to come see you soon for my training!

  11. I would check out a webinar on this.

  12. Thanks for the illumination and inspiration, Tom
    Webinar on this aspect would be great

  13. This is something I focus on a lot with my band. Would love a webinar to expand on this more. Specifically interested in discussing the different types of “moments” you can touch on in a show, especially if it’s longer than 1-1.5 hours.

  14. Webinar would be good.

  15. A creating graphics, song power levels, and moments webinar is welcome.

  16. Tom, a very timely article as I’m planning our next show now. I would be very interested in a webinar on this subject so here’s hoping that happens soon as I would appreciate knowing more about what you have to say regarding this subject

  17. Tom: Our songwriters group has 4 concerts a year, and we have been using this method from your book for all of our concerts. When I start planning a concert, the first thing I reach for is that chart! Many thanks for this valuable tool. A. Johnson, Alpha & Omega Christian Songwriters

  18. Hi Tom,

    Big fan of yours. I’ve already purchased your book and DVD set and have gone through and studied them all and continue to do so. That being said I am very interested in the webinar and hope more people follow suit.

  19. Caleb Allen says:

    Webinar? Oh yeah! I’m down. Thanks for helping me to think differently about my music.

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