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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
How to prepare and manage a set liist?

Hello, friends.

I am writing to ask your suggestions regarding the best way to plan a set list, especially using an mp3 player or cell phone, and whether or not it is even necessary to plan a set list at all.

I am a one-man-band, playing saxophone with prerecorded accompaniment, at wedding receptions and parties. I use a dedicated cell phone as my mp3 player, which I plug into my mixing console, and from the console to the speakers. I use printed music only: some homemade, some from Internet sources, and some from play-along books that I have bought over the years.

To be honest, up until now, I have never used a playlist. I have just prepared 800 songs, months, weeks and years in advance, and chosen which ones to play, on the spur of the moment, during the event, depending on the mood of each part of the event. Of course, it has helped to have those soundtracks grouped by genre into about eight different folders, but beyond that, they are just in alphabetical order.

This may be a very faulty method, as it certainly has its drawbacks, but it does seem to have its advantages, as well.

Recently I was playing at a Fundamental Baptist wedding party, for example, and did not know beforehand if the audience would be open to other genres of music besides old hymns, or jazzy arrangements thereof. After half an hour of playing, however, and seeing their reaction, and hearing some of the songs that they had chosen to use, themselves, in the background, as the guests were arriving, I realized that they were much more open minded than I had expected. I then began to include some of my ballads, pop music, and other things, and they loved it all, much to my surprise, so I was glad not to have created and stuck to any "set list" per se, because otherwise, I would have been stuck on the hymns.

To be honest, most of the events where I play, have lots of spontaneity, such as when the bride shows up an hour late, and I just fill the air with music until she arrives. I have been playing in Latin America, where this is rather common. Still, this makes it easier to get away with doing things a little spontaneously on my part, but requires having lots of "extra" songs on hand. The host of each party is usually poorly prepared anyway, and ends up having gaps in the program where my music would be entirely appropriate, so I have to have extra music for that, too. It has made me wonder whether set lists were even necessary or not.

While thinking of what to play next, sometimes the next song just pops into my head while I am still playing the previous one. Typically, however, I just keep the notebook binder of sheet music close by, and flip through the pages, between songs, until I see one that I think will fit the mood of the moment, but I have to do it fast, and I usually don't have time to grab other notebooks and flip through those, also, unless the song comes to mind just as I am ending the first one, and I immediately grab the notebook where that song can be found. After that next song, I will likely flip through this second notebook for another song, rather than go back tot he previous. As you might imagine, my decisions end up being heavily based on the alphabetical order of my songs, of course, although I do have three or four genres mixed in together, in each notebook.

I have tried scrolling through the titles on my cell phone, instead of the notebooks, but it did not seem any faster; in fact, it gets confusing when several titles are similar or identical (e.g., "Mornin'" by Al Jarreau vs. "Morning" by Kenny G).

Since my soundtracks are grouped by genre into separate folders, I can usually find the soundtracks pretty fast, once they come to mind. The problem is that I sometimes find myself flipping through the sheet music for a long time until something finally hits me, and that can take anywhere from 15 seconds to 60 seconds usually, which is a bit too much, don't you think? The drawback to my whole system is that I have to act fast when choosing the next song. My audiences have been forgiving, so far, but the day will come where they will be much more demanding, especially as I get better jobs playing before more discriminating audiences, rather than some of the charitable events where I have even played for free (nobody can complain when you are playing for free). To be honest, I have never played at dance parties, so I have not had to play songs back to back as you might hear at a night club. My parties tend to be dinner banquets, church wedding receptions, extravagant birthday parties, and Christmas parties.

So, I thought about creating a written set list, one or two weeks before the event, as I suppose that most musicians do, but I need advice on how to do it efficiently, especially whether I should do it through a cell phone app, or whether manually or written out.

I thought about using the "playlist" feature in media players, but that seemed to be very tedious. Each event is unique, as the tastes of the audience vary, and even ethnic considerations must be taken into account. If it is a crowd of 70-year-old Army veterans and their wives, I may have to rely heavily on my oldies collection. If they are middle-aged Hispanics, I will not play any of those songs, but rather Latin pop, Latin ballads and boleros, for example. In either case, does this mean that I should sit down and sort through my entire collection of 800 soundtracks, and build a unique playlist for each event, one soundtrack at a time?

And what do I do when I suddenly discover that more songs are needed than what I had planned? Oftentimes I arrive at a party, only to find that it is starting 45 minutes later than announced, and I have to play, in the meantime. Now I have to play more songs that what I had planned. What to do? Exit the playlist and grab something from the "leftovers" folder? Or plan twice as many songs for the playlist, and then just exit early, whenever time runs out?

Also, as the mood changes throughout each party, what should I do to accommodate that? If I discover that the time of fun and games is ending earlier than expected, and now several people are making short sentimental speeches about how much they love the bride and remember her childhood, and are sad to see her move away with her new husband, to start a life of her own somewhere far away, and people are moved to tears, and I still have another five songs of "cheerful upbeat music" on my playlist, but the mood now seems to call for soft, sentimental music, should I just trash the playlist and go back to my "leftovers" folder? Should I have planned several different playlists for each party, based on the mood? For example: solemn songs, light cheerful songs, slow romantic songs, edgy upbeat songs, etc? so that I could jump from one to another? Of course, there is no way to know how the moods will swing until I actually get to the party, and experience each moment of it myself, and until I actually see how the audience receives the songs that I play, so that I can better discern their likes and dislikes. Sometimes I wonder whether I can really plan out a set list, days before the party ever begins. What do you say?

Since playlists are simply collections of "shortcuts" to the song files, would it be better just to move those physical sound files into collections manually, and hide all the others in a separate folder? In other words, to have one folder of "100 possible songs to play tonight" in no particular order, and another folder of "600 leftover songs for emergencies"?

By the way, how much silence do you think I should allow between one song and the next at a typical wedding reception.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
I'll try not to be so verbose on future posts. I also tend to explain my situation at the beginning of certain posts, just so that others will know the context and have a better point of reference in order to share their observations and suggestions, so forgive me, those of you who have read my introduction on other posts.

If I knew how to edit my original post, I would condense it immediately, but I see no means.

But anyway, here are the main issues that I am facing:

Most of the events that I play at tend to have a lot of spontaneity, in which the host interupts the program in order to tell some jokes, or have someone make a speech, or make announcements, or lead the adults in a sort of game. This tends to change the mood of the moment, so whatever I had intended to play, I end up substituting something else.

Since I have no printed list of songs that I intended to play anyway, but just flip the pages in alphabetical order until I see something appropriate, I end up spending 30 sec trying to find the next song to play, not to mention another 15 sec trying to find the accompaniment on my cell phone. One or two close confidants have told me that those periods of silence are a bit too long, and I agree.

Now, I have most of my music reduced to 8.5x11 sheets with three-hole punches kept in alphabetical order in notebooks. I have one notebook for "jazz" tunes, another for "Latin," another for "Pop/Rock/Oldies," and then I have about thirty books of play-alongs, 9x12 in size, like Music Minus One or Hal Leonard books, which I pull out when a song comes to mind. I cannot fit them in with my notebooks unless I go photocopy and reduce everything onto one-sided copies, and perforate the sheets, but maybe that would help. What do you think?

So the "search time" in itself is an issue, but at least the notebooks are in alphabetical order, whereas the play-alongs are not (and of course, I have to make sure I find the Bb section within those play-alongs.)

So anyway, I'm thinking of printing out a playlist next time, of more songs than needed, and just sticking to that playlist, even if interruptions take place and the mood is affected. What do you think of that plan?

Of course, if all of my scores follwed the same predetermined order as the playlist, it would shorten the "search time" even more, but I cannot imagine doing that for every gig, and then putting it all back into alphabetical order. Is that what you do?

Otherwise I could skip the printed version altogether, and just make a digital playlist within my mp3 player somehow. (I've been using the Android version of Maple Player, but poor playlist accessibility is its only drawback. I'm thinking of trying Musicolet or else the media player that came with the original KitKat OS on the phone) Suggestions?

So then, if I did that, there would be no room for mood swings or spontaneity, I guess, and I would still have to jump, to find my notebook and flip to the song within 15 seconds, which would be hard to do, I guess.

So what is the method that you solo performers use for this kind of situation??
 

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Maybe a laptop or small PC with a large (wide) screen. You'd need to set up a searchable database for genre or mood, but once done, the search is mere seconds. The score would appear on the screen and maybe a footpedal type mouse could flip to the next screen page.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
yes, that's one possibility. thank you for that suggestion.
 

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You are a man of many words and that's great. I know a guitarist that has an 800-1000 song list and reads scores for all of them. He also uses a full-size laptop, so he can put them in specific categories and quickly access them.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
I see. But that is still essentially what I'm doing with my MP3 player, only the screen is smaller, and I'm not using digitized sheet music yet. Do you mean to say that your friend is able to pull up the score as well as the accompaniment with just one click? If so, that is definitely a streamlined solution. I never thought about that possibility. It was my understanding that digitizing sheet music simply enabled the musician to pull up the scores but still required him to come out with his own method for storing the accompaniment soundtracks. You seem to be suggesting that he does both in one quick operation. Otherwise, perhaps what your friend does is to keep all of his sheet music in one part of his laptop and all of his soundtracks in another such as in a media player, so he pulls up the sheet music with one program that remains open continuously I assume, and then he goes to another screen where his media player is already open and selects the corresponding song or vice versa. yes, this is certainly a faster approach, even if he doesn't perform both operations within the same computer program. Very nice idea. In fact, with that idea on a laptop, I would not need to invest in another larger tablet than what I have. My eyesight is not great, and I use eyeglasses, as it is oh, so I need fairly large screens for anything. I appreciate that information
 

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I would have seperate folders/playlists for each genre, and each of those in alphabetical order. VLC and Musicolet are the best ones I have found for this. If you do end up using digital sheet music, some apps, like MobileSheets, actually let you bring up both the sheet music and the sound file together within the same app, so that when you bring up a new song, a play button comes up in the corner, although I haven't tried this feature yet.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Woa. That is nice to know. So that concept--having the score and the sound file in the same program-- truly exists, then. I will definitely have to look into that, but it is going to be a long process, because scanning the scores is the tough part.

As for the separate folders, I have got that part down already. I have a hierarchy like this:

Two root folders:
1. Individual songs (acquired from random sources, now grouped in printed format in notebook binders by genre)
2. Collections (i.e., from 9x12 play-along books that I cannot tear apart nor keep in a 8.5x11 binder)

Within each of these, I have an identical array of subfolders:

Birthday (songs used ONLY for birthday events)
Christian (for church parties)
Christmas
Country
Italian Classical Folk (Bocelli, Puccini, etc.)
Jazz
Latin
Movies
Pop Rock Oldies
Wedding (songs used ONLY for wedding ceremonies)

Everything within those are the individual songs in alphabetical order.

However, in my "collections" root folder, I have the same array of subfolders, but within those, I have individual collection folders for each CD that they came from, (typically from play-along books) For example, in the "jazz" subfolder folder I have this array of folders:

Chuck Mangione
Cool Jazz Classics
Dave Koz Sax Play-Along
David Sanborn
Grover Washington Sax Play-Along
Smooth Jazz Classics
Smooth Jazz for Saxophone - Minus One
Super Groovers

And, of course, each of these "collection" folders has the individual songs found therein.

Likewise, my Christmas subfolder in this "collection" group would include each of the Christmas CDs that I had transferred to my mp3 player originally, and each CD collection therein is tied to an individual Christmas songbook that the CD had come from. So, when I have to play from the "collections," instead of grabbing my notebook binders by genre, containing all the "individual" songs from random sources, I grab the songbook collection that I need, and flip to the page that contains the song that I am looking for.

This means that I end up with about thirty songbooks on a table beside my equipment, and another seven to eight notebook binders labeled by genre, each containing all the "individual" songs.

Consequently, if I could somehow compile BOTH the songbook collections and the individual songs, into notebook binders by genre, it would make it easier, not only to FIND a song, but to get ideas regarding which song to play next. (I usually just flip pages until I find something within whichever book or notebook binder I happen to have open at the moment; not a very professional approach, I know. Having songbooks 9x12 in size, and the rest 8.5 x11 in size, does not make it easy to group them. I wish there existed 9x12 binders, so that I would not have to go and figure out how to reduce and photocopy 200 pages of sheet music. I cannot even scan them on my scanner, because the glass is limited to 8.5x11.
 

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...
This means that I end up with about thirty songbooks on a table beside my equipment, and another seven to eight notebook binders labeled by genre, each containing all the "individual" songs.
...
At that point, it may make more sense to have the gig come to you. :mrgreen:
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Ha ha ha
 
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