Lessons about Performing #blahblahblah: Set lists!

‘Snot that I’ve really stopped my lessons for performing musicians so much as I’ve just kinda mashed ’em into a pile of gibberish and stopped numbering them or even organizing them into a remotely usable fashion!

You’re welcome!

Today’s article really belongs under that heading and I’ve been meaning to write this for quite a while.

Yup… I’ve mulled this over countless times.

Unfortunately, one word for you. Weed.

Well, two words. Weed and time management. I told someone that I’d been planning on writing this one and that I’d try to get to it. So, today’s that day. ‘Snot gonna be good, coherent, or even useful – but it might be fun!

Yup. I’m pretty sure that’s all the intro this needs!

On set lists!

I have to do some serious digression to make this clear – or at least I’m pretty sure I do. (I’m still sometimes baffled that you read this silliness. Thanks!)

My art is faithful replications. That is, I’m a cover artist with some degree of precision. My goal is to sound exactly like the original artist.

For some fucking unknown reason, a number of responding comments indicate that they think this makes me ‘soulless.’ They think this means I lack passion. They’re wrong, of course. They couldn’t be further from the truth.

Ain’t no way in hell that I’d be doing this without passion.

What they don’t see is the view from the stage. Well, they would if they read the damned articles I write! But, they don’t.

See, I love doing faithful reproductions. I love it – with a great deal of passion and dedication. (This is important!)(Ed. Note: No, not really.)

Each song that I perform has an emotional attachment with nearly the entire audience. Each one of them has a memory, good or bad, associated with that song.

I’ve tried really hard to put this into words, but it boils down to the audience has given us permission to help them emote – and music is the tool that we use to do that. They laugh, they cry, they sing along, they dance, and they share a wealth of very personal moments with us.

When you come to see me perform, you’re saying stuff like, “I want you to remind me of that time when…”

That’s a pretty damned big obligation to lay on a bunch of people whose lives are probably themselves a mess! You put way too much faith in our ability! Seriously, most of us are a mess.

There exist songs that I know, from experience, will make people in the audience tear up. Dunno why, necessarily. Sometimes that’s a mystery – but that’s okay. ‘Snot really my job to always understand why. It’s my job to play what’s on the paper.

I won’t say I make them laugh or cry. I enable them to do so.

It’s a pretty awesome responsibility. We’re getting paid to tell people how to feel. We should be careful with that power. (We’re also getting paid to cause permanent hearing loss. Sweet!)

Ol’ Buddha takes a left turn:

Man… Y’all should just skip down – I’ll remember to put a bold heading thing there. I’m still gonna type this – but you should skip it.

On the list of other articles I’ve been meaning to write is the sheer awesomeness that is playing at high volumes. Just a turn of the knob and I can be as loud as a jet taking off – maybe even louder! (DO NOT DO THAT!)

What people often don’t realize is that playing at high volume is very, very different. Oh, man… It makes every mistake shine through. It takes a very, very gentle touch. It takes precision and it’s a skill that one has to learn if one wants to do it.

You don’t just go from your practice amp to pushing out something absurd like 2000 watts and still sound good. You don’t even really go from 400 watts to 2000 watts without some learning curve.

When your kit is capable of doing both indoor and outdoor events, it sure does mean you have a lot of extra power! I’m pretty sure OSHA should shut us down. We’re a fuckin’ health hazard.

A little further off the path is unions – but I’m gonna avoid that today! You’re welcome!

Anyhow, I don’t have words to describe how awesome this is. I don’t.

The best way to describe it is to say, “Imagine being able to drown-out a jet…” Except, it’s not quite that precise. Doubling of watts is equal to only about 3 dB and dB drop by something like 6 dB by doubling the distance.

I frequently get questions like, “How many watts were you pushing?” Umm… I don’t know? We don’t actually have that figure. ‘Snot like we’ve got everything turned to 11 and can give you anything even remotely accurate. I usually respond with something like, “About enough to power five homes for a day.” ‘Snot even a remotely accurate answer, but it seems to keep them happy.

I can’t put that into words. It’s better than fire-breathing monster trucks taking sweet, sweet jumps, I’ll tell ya that! It’s pretty much a knob that lets you decide exactly how great the day is going to be!

It’s also damned difficult to control that much sound. You really do need someone good up in sound. They do make or break you, but you have to give them something they can work with.

I’m still trying to come up with words… I’m just not that great a wordsmith.

I’m pretty sure, not positive – ’cause it’d make people mad, that we could break windows with relative ease. Pretty sure – though we’d need to be inside a confined space, like in a bar. From there, if we unload everything in the truck and turn everything to 11… At that point, I’m pretty sure we’re gonna smash some windows.

I’m pretty sure we’re even going to smash double-pane industrial windows and safety glass. Don’t quote me on that – but I’ll let you know if I ever do.

So, take that feeling – and paint it into words. I don’t have them. It’s on the same sheer-joy level as playing with explosives. (I really, really need to start getting these comments approved of by a legal department.) I won’t bother getting into the science but, given the distances involved, we’re able to be louder than fireworks!

Damned right!

If that mental picture doesn’t bring you sheer joy, you’re on the wrong site! You want a site with responsible adults. You won’t find that here.

Ol’ Buddha gets out the GPS:

Slight confession: I kinda forgot what I was writing about and had to scroll back up to refresh my memory. That’s ’cause playing at absurd volumes is just that awesome. Right now, my imagination is busy with smashing out windows!

So, we’re playing with their emotions – and they’ve given us permission to do this. They are PAYING us to do this. We must do so with care and precision. We must be attentive to their needs.

This extends into set lists and set lists are very, very important.

To put it simply, you don’t go from Paradise City to Tears in Heaven. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen worse and I’ve been paid to play worse choices. The 80s were horrible!

You have some very personal choices to make – but make those choices while being cognizant of the emotional impact each piece has on the audience as a whole.

You can bring them up, bring them down, make them laugh, make them sing, etc… You can even get ’em to pretend they know how to do an Irish jig! Damned right, you can! It’s awesome!

It’s how you take them there. That’s what your set list is. It’s pretty much a map to a wild ride of emotions – and you get to decide where to bury the treasures.

At the end of the day, and with very few exceptions, I end things on a positive note. My conclusion is that they’ve come to see me as a way to step away from their daily lives. I’m there to entertain and I want them to leave on a positive note, happy and satisfied with a job well done.

I can’t tell you how to pick this map. That’s up to you.

I can tell you that careful selections for your set lists, and the order they are in, is probably one of the very best tools you have at your disposal – it’s almost as awesome as the volume knob.

What songs you choose, and the order you play them, really helps to drive the emotional experience of the audience.

And, it’s so often overlooked… So very often…

You may not realize it, but how many times have you left the dance floor early to go get a beer? How many times have you turned to talk to a friend (or shout at them) about something other than the show? How many times have you just felt the song didn’t really fit? How many times have you asked yourself, “What kinda batshit crazy moron decided that playing this song next was a good idea?!?”

Well, those are often signs of a failure on the artist’s part. Though I suppose the first one might be a sign of alcoholism, now that I think about it.

Your set list should paint a picture, perhaps. It can be a roller-coaster ride, a crescendo, tipping right on the edge and taking them over at the end, or whatever. But, for fuck’s sake, try to be aware of how people are going to emotionally respond – and actually, you know, have a damned goal in mind.

Me? I want people to be happy and forget about life for a while. I want their complete attention. I want them active and participating. I want them to experience a time that reminds them of the reasons they have those memories and emotions attached to those very songs I cover. That’s a huge part of my passion and why I love faithful reproduction.

At the end of the day, I’ve dug up old memories (sometimes even painful ones – I see a lot of tears) and created new ones. I will not preach, but I will say it can be a very healing and satisfying thing to individual audience members. It’s a great power and privilege. Use it wisely.

Finally, like always, these are just tools to help you become a professional performing musician. You can pick what you will and leave what you want. I can’t make you a rock star – but I can probably help you afford Ramen. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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