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My 4 step formula to creating the perfect setlist for weddings, events and venues!

Updated: Jun 5

Function singers and musicians are more than that title. We're also low-key DJs. The job not only requires us to perform live but to actually create the setlist for a variety of events, venues and audiences. So I think we need to start with the question of why is setlist creation so important? Who else has been there? You're on the dance floor, feeling yourself and more than ready to keep dancing for a while...and then boom! The band throws in a depressing mellow track to stop you in your own tracks! Immediately clearing the dance floor (read the room bro). Alternatively, have you ever experienced an event where the musician through their chosen tunes is so perfectly in tune with the vibe. They've either taken you on a ride leaving you with lasting memories of the day or blended in so perfectly with the venue that you almost didn't notice that they were there. They've embodied the spirit of the event perfectly. Whether a success of jarring failure, this is all down to the setlist created. Over the past 7 years of performing live at an assortment of events, venues and weddings and through my own journey of setlist trial and error, and yes there's definitely been some errors. I've come up with a 4 step formula that I use when curating EVERY setlist that I ever perform. It's worth noting that although I am in the niche of being a vintage style singer, I still perform a variety of sets, from traditional 1940s war-time events, to jazz lounge acoustic and PM party vibes. I use this formula for each and every one, so it really is adaptable and appropriate, music style and genre regardless.


1. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE AND THE TRAJECTORY OF THEIR JOURNEY You need to be able to understand where and why you've been booked. I like to to imagine the setlist and audience journey similar to a line graph. For example you're playing an acoustic lounge background style set, so you don't want there to be any major peaks and troughs, just a simple consistent wave of musical intensity. Alternatively, say you're playing the evening do of a wedding, where we want guests to be up and on the dance floor and letting their hair down. The trajectory of the evening would be diagonally upwards on the graph. Therefore, the tempo and energy of your performance and song choices should reflect either of these. (See snazzy graph below). If you're unsure what your client actually wants, it's always a good idea to communicate this upfront. Leading onto the next important factor of knowing your audience! As obvious as it sounds, you wouldn't open a VE-DAY memorial service with an AC/DC song now would you? I think the image of that example explains well enough the importance of knowing who you're performing to. For venues where perhaps you don't deal with the booker or clients directly, do your research and try and gain a scope of the place and the type of act they have beforehand. Have contrasting set lists pre-made to accomodate for the variety of venues and vibes.




2. START WITH SOMETHING STRONG

And by strong, this doesn't have to be a high energy, loud, grab your attention style song (like Highway To Hell). It's more about choosing a song that sets the tone of how this performance will go and who you are as an artist. For example, unless a couple have chosen otherwise, I like to start my Ceremony Guest Arrival setlist with Let There Be Love (not the Oasis version, although that could also work depending on their music taste) by Nat King Cole. As it's a nice background style jazz song, it isn't too invasive and jarring while guests say their hello's and compliment each other's outfits. The lyrics also beautifully state that the day is going to be all about love! Similarly for the same wedding, once the Ceremony is over and we're into the Drinks Reception. A great setlist starter I use is, Pencil Full of Lead by Paolo Nutini. It signifies that we're moving onto a more upbeat part of the day, but again it isn't too obnoxious and insulting as guests cornflab about the adorable ceremony and figure out where they're moving onto next. Plus the repeated lyrics of "best of all I've got my baby" is pretty cute for a wedding no? 3. DON'T BE AFRAID TO MIX THINGS UP Have the confidence, unlike our intro musicians to read the room and change things up. Yes, it's important to map out a client and event journey beforehand and order your setlist to accomodate that, please do! However, there are many reasons why things may need to change during events and weddings. Maybe the wedding party are running late, so you have to vamp in some extra unexpected love songs before the ceremony starts. Or perhaps you've thrown in too many uptempo songs in a row and your audience is dying for a sit down and a drink. Rather than ignoring this and sticking to your script, be present and pay attention to what your audience is feeling and how they're receiving the setlist so far. Although I pre-create my couple's set lists for weddings, I always communicate to them upfront that I may go off piece if the vibe requires it. This also means that you really need to know your repertoire, to be able to throw in a curve ball energy shifting song on the fly. Which is a great skill to have as it requires you to be a more present performer, and isn't that what live musics all about? Truly being in the moment with your audience? If you're not fully confident in doing this just yet, it may be worth adding a few spare songs in your setlist plan in advance in the instance that you should need to mix things up.


4. LEAVE A LASTING IMPRESSION Please bare in mind that this next statement isn't to take away the great effort and performance given for the past however many hours. But audiences are most likely to only really remember the most recent thing that happened. So if you end the setlist (and by end I'm referring to the last 3 songs at least) with songs that people don't know or are forgettable....it's likely that you will be too. (Sorry!) Which is why Tip Number 1 so important - Know the trajectory of the event. For example, here's the drafted finale that I made up and use for an upbeat setlist for a Jazz Lounge that I regularly play in Manchester. I'll explain why. - Don't Look Back In Anger, Jazzy Post-modern Jukebox Version. (Because, Manchester...know your audience.) - Valarie Amy Winehouse (Everyone knows it, everyone loves it and wants to dance along!) - Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Michael Bublé Version (By now people are already up and dancing , so lets keep them there and end on a high.) Sneaky Encore if the room want it (ergo Tip Number 3) - New York, New York (A jazz and swing anthem, with a great crescendo ending! If they've asked for the encore, audiences are more than happy to keep dancing. However, if they're a little tired from the previous rocking and rolling, the only dance move they have to do it a simple step kick).

So there you have it. I've found this 4 step formula to creating wedding and event setlists to not only help create the most appropriate and memorabl gigs for my audiences. But with all of these factors in mind, it makes the process of creating a large number of unique clients set list, much more efficient! So if you're a function musician in the wedding and events business regardless of your music style genre or niche, I see no reason why this cannot work for you too. Happy setlist-ing! All the best, Abbi-Kaye (Viva la Vintage) x


a picture of viva la vintage singing at the fitz jazz and lounge bar in manchester
Viva la Vintage - The Fitz Speakeasy Bar, Manchester

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