Self-Indulgent Song Choices vs What Audience Wants to Hear and Dance to

DrummerCA35

Senior Member
Our band plays a mix of music. The idea is to play dance music.

Our set lists consists of songs that may make some of you groan. But it's our attempt to play crowd pleasers that pack the floor, and it's fun to watch people dance rather than leave, and we're being paid to do so. Examples of these include:

Uptown Funk
Brick House
Funky Music
Get Down Tonight
Disco Inferno
Celebration
Don't Stop Believin'
September
Give it to me Baby
Get Lucky
What I Like About You

...and so on. No magic here, tons of bands playing similar sets. We try to add some things that work that may not be AS commonly played like "Centerfold", "Rapper's Delight", "My Sharona" and so on.

A new singer has wanted to do some songs such as "Dirty White Boy", "Let's Dance (Bowie), and so forth that are NOT among the more popular and commonly played dance songs.

I realize that not every song needs to be a dance song or even an overplayed song. But I know what it's like to play a song that consistently clears the floor, sometimes even clear the venue, and the crowd just leaves and goes to the bar across the street or something.

Yes, we play for the enjoyment of it, but does it make sense to play and learn songs that don't work when we are being paid? Some of us are in sync in this band on this and others are not. I know some people are bored to tears playing "Mustang Sally" and "Funky Music" and with good reason. Hell, even I'm bored with "Funky Music" at this point. However, seeing a packed dance floor makes up for it, and I'd rather have that, then play a song that's never worked for the band.

We've added "I can't for that" by Hall and Oates, and funked it up some, and with a sax in the band it actually sounds killer to me. That's an attempt to do something a little different.

How do you guys in cover bands choose your songs, and who chooses them, and how the hell do you get rid of them when they're not working? It should be easy, but you'd be surprised on how some people create their own version of reality when it comes to holding on to songs that they like but don't work.
 

NVIC

Senior Member
Yeah I love 70s R&B, disco but those songs are cringe worthy, overplayed, etc.

Love the Hall & Oates choice. Bet it sounds great.
 

The Sloth

Member
Will one 3 minute song actually clear out the place though? I say let the band have a couple per night, as long as they aren't Stairway to Heaven and Bohemian Rhapsody, and they work at least somewhat towards the band's overall goal.
 

Hollywood Jim

Platinum Member
Creating a set list that your audience will enjoy is always a great challenge. I think musicians should be committed to entertaining the audience.
If you are committed to their enjoyment of music, you will discover what they want to hear.

Two weeks ago I was playing a blues jam and the guitar player said over the PA system “it’s my girlfriend’s birthday today and I’m going to play a song for her”. “Go ahead honey request any song you want and we will play it”. She said I want to hear “Mustang Sally”. The guitar player had a fit. He wined and complained that he hated playing that song. He played the song and vowed to never play it again. (I thought that was a little tacky to say in public to his girlfriend.) I actually enjoyed playing Mustang Sally that night. The song has a nice groove and I watched his girlfriend and the rest of the audience singing along and really enjoying the song.


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DrummerCA35

Senior Member
Yeah I love 70s R&B, disco but those songs are cringe worthy, overplayed, etc.

Love the Hall & Oates choice. Bet it sounds great.
The thing is, when we play "September" by EWF, or "Get Down Tonight" or "Brick House", people usually love it. I'm heartily sick of "Funk Music" but people packing the dance floor makes up for it. I never seem to tire of "Brick House."

The Hall and Oates song - "I can't go for that" --- We kind of funked it up some, similar to this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoXxdObGKuI. I have had a great time rehearsing it. We will see how it actually plays out. I've never seen other cover bands do it.
 

DrummerCA35

Senior Member
Will one 3 minute song actually clear out the place though? I say let the band have a couple per night, as long as they aren't Stairway to Heaven and Bohemian Rhapsody, and they work at least somewhat towards the band's overall goal.
Yes, it's happened. We played at this bar where there is another one across the street. It's in a college town. The students go from bar to bar. We were playing to hardly anyone, then the kids came to where we were playing. We were doing the crowd pleasers ("uptown funk", "shake your booty", "give it to me baby" and the like) and then we did one of our duds "Canned Heat" by Jamiroquai that has NEVER worked. The crowd literally cleared, and left the bar, and went back across the street. I kid you not.
 

DrummerCA35

Senior Member
Creating a set list that your audience will enjoy is always a great challenge. I think musicians should be committed to entertaining the audience.
If you are committed to their enjoyment of music, you will discover what they want to hear.

Two weeks ago I was playing a blues jam and the guitar player said over the PA system “it’s my girlfriend’s birthday today and I’m going to play a song for her”. “Go ahead honey request any song you want and we will play it”. She said I want to hear “Mustang Sally”. The guitar player had a fit. He wined and complained that he hated playing that song. He played the song and vowed to never play it again. (I thought that was a little tacky to say in public to his girlfriend.) I actually enjoyed playing Mustang Sally that night. The song has a nice groove and I watched his girlfriend and the rest of the audience singing along and really enjoying the song.


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Yeah! No offense to the "Mustang Sally" haters, but I'm not among them. We play it Commitments style with breaks, and for me my favorite part of the song is the breaks. I like playing (hopefully) tasteful snare/tom fills bringing the band back in after the breaks.

In my view, these songs are STANDARDS, in the fashion that "Satin Doll", "Girl from Impenema", "Kansas City", "Route 66", etc. were for the previous generation.

To me, "Get Down Tonight", "Funky Music", "Mustang Sally", "September" are oldies but standards.
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
"I want to play in 17/16 but I don't want to do that in my closet."

—Bill Bruford
 

The Sloth

Member
Yes, it's happened. We played at this bar where there is another one across the street. It's in a college town. The students go from bar to bar. We were playing to hardly anyone, then the kids came to where we were playing. We were doing the crowd pleasers ("uptown funk", "shake your booty", "give it to me baby" and the like) and then we did one of our duds "Canned Heat" by Jamiroquai that has NEVER worked. The crowd literally cleared, and left the bar, and went back across the street. I kid you not.
That's a clear case of a self-indulgent audience. I suppose losing people in 10 seconds is par for the course in this playlist culture.
 

mikel

Platinum Member
I think Funk is far less overdone than Blues. If I see one more add for a new "Blues" band or blues guitarist looking for band, it will be too early. Nothing against the genre, I was heavily into Blues boom in the 60s and still love all the old blues greats like Sun House and Howlin Wolf, but I am tired of the 12 bar bands in the pubs churning out the same old "Blues" stuff.
 

DrummerCA35

Senior Member
I think Funk is far less overdone than Blues. If I see one more add for a new "Blues" band or blues guitarist looking for band, it will be too early. Nothing against the genre, I was heavily into Blues boom in the 60s and still love all the old blues greats like Sun House and Howlin Wolf, but I am tired of the 12 bar bands in the pubs churning out the same old "Blues" stuff.
OK, I really feel the same way. Now, I love playing a blues song or two...I LOVE to play a blues shuffle, with triplet fills and so on. However, I'm sorry, but I cannot play "Stormy Monday" and take it seriously. I just can't. And thank goodness, I don't have to play "Stormy Monday."

At a fill-in gig a few weeks ago I did get to play "Route 66" and "Crossroads", and "Kansas City" and loved it.l
 

River19

Senior Member
There is nothing in the whole world cooler than "Daryl's House". I just love everything about what he has does there.


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Agree. love the variety of artists he brings in as well, very talented group of musicians he has there.

After playing in cover bands for years (very active wedding band etc.) the set list and what to play and when to play certain things is like pitching. You ahve to read the crowd and the mood and once you have them on the dance floor having a good time and the energy level is up, for God's sake call an audible and change things up so as not to ruin the vibe. But make those audibles quickly as delays in between songs are worse than bad songs....almost.

Don't play the dance floor clearing tunes just because they are next on the set list....the set list should be a living document that is not set in stone.

As for more self-indulgent tunes, we would mix them in as the first songs we would play coming back from a break or something like that. we had a fantastic lead guitarist and we would bang out a couple SRV tunes here and there along with a few more oddities where he would play deeper cuts that aren't as dancable.

At the end of the day, you are there to create a vibe and keep people there buying drinks or enjoying the event. Do whatever it takes to maximize that end.
 

New Tricks

Platinum Member
A new singer has wanted to do some songs such as "Dirty White Boy", "Let's Dance (Bowie), and so forth that are NOT among the more popular and commonly played dance songs.


1) I like every bit of the "stereotypical crap" you listed. It's fun, easy and it makes people happy. If I/you like it and the audience likes it, that's a win win.

2) However, putting Lets Dance anywhere near Dirty White Boy is odd. Let's dance is not only a great dance song, it was a popular hit song and it's musically interesting with a bit of sophistication.

Even though other bands don't play it, it fits perfectly with the other dance stuff in your sets. And, it has dance right in the name. What more could yo ask for :)



I'd suggest developing songs/sets of different genres and see what the general public has to say. A band I'm working with is working in that direction.

Our genre is 80's but the music split off in two directions back then. We are working on the guitar driven Bon Jovi/Van Halen end of the spectrum as well as the synth driven Duran Duran/Blondie side. If one genre is more accepted than the other, that's the direction I'd be inclined to go. As long as it's not Neil Diamond or Wipeout, I'm good with it. :)


3) I love Mustang Sally. Always have :)

4) The Blues comments brought back an old memory that is related to the discussion. It was 1981 and my band was playing new wave music to a 20 year old new wave crowd. For some reason, we had an old blues song (Walking in the Sand) on the set list that had nothing to do with The Police, Talking Heads, or Billy Idol. Every time we played it, the crowd would dance and applaud like crazy. I was stunned. It's not a dance song. It stopped a couple times and changed direction. It wasn't modern music. It was a cover of a 70's Aerosmith cover of a 60's song. I did not understand it but I also didn't question it. It taught me to keep an open mind.
 
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Morrisman

Platinum Member
Like many of these questions - it depends.

The cover band I'm in has 150 songs on the list, from 'Shake Rattle and Roll' to 'Shake it off'

What we actually play depends on age of the crowd and the volume/energy level required. Our set list for a gig will also have a list of useful spares at the end. Our lead singer is good at reading crowds, and will call different songs if required for a change of mood.

At a typical conference/corporate dinner, we'll play some jazz standards during dinner, with sax but no vocals.

After speeches we might do an 'acoustic' set -'Blue Bayou' 'Fire and Rain' etc with acoustic guitar, brushes, percussion, piano & bass.

Then the main dancing sets will be age appropriate. An over 50's crowd will get more songs from the 50's - 80's, inc Mustang Sally, some Joe Cocker, Beatles, ABBA, Blues Brothers, Fleetwood Mac.

A wedding with all ages will get 2 or 3 songs from each decade, with each set starting mid tempo and moving up to loud, fast by the end
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
If you're playing for an audience, you play what they want to hear. Period. There's not even a question about this. If it's a venue where people dance, you play dance music. If it's an older crowd, you plays classics and oldies. If it's a wedding, you play "Mustang Sally", "Midnight Hour", possibly "Sunrise Sunset" and eventually get around to "Celebration" by Kool & the Gang. It doesn't matter if the band members like the songs or not, you play what's appropriate. Or, don't accept those kind of gigs, a road that many musicians travel down.

The setlists for such varied gigs don't require a lot of research or strategy, but it certainly helps if everyone in the band is on the same page, and has experience playing out. If everyone is new, there needs to be a voice of reason, maybe someone more experienced, that the members respect, to help guide song choices. The question has been asked here, with some proven answers (do a search.) Go see some bands, and observe which songs get a good reaction, and which don't. Go to working bands' sites, and note which songs they play.

This is a case where being different doesn't necessarily work. If you want to work, play the songs that working bands are playing.

But musicians that think the audience will love the band just because they're having a great time playing their personal songbook, will be doing a lot fewer paying gigs. On the other hand, if the goal is strictly to have fun playing, rent a rehearsal room, and enjoy. Just don't ask where the gigs are.

Bermuda
 

Midnite Zephyr

Platinum Member
We play a lot of crowd pleasers:

White Rabbit
Paint It Black
Tin Pan Alley
Come Together
Born on the Bayou
I Put a Spell On You
Fever
Friend of the Devil
Midnight Rider
Roadhouse Blues
Bad Moon Rising
Helter Skelter
Breakdown
Sympathy For The Devil
Me & My Uncle
Gimme Shelter
Funk 49
Wooden Ships
Piece of My Heart
Spooky
Midnight Moonlight
Fortune Teller
Up On Cripple Creek
People Are Strange

It's not all dance music, lots of self-indulgent guitar solos in there, but I don't see a lot of people leaving either.
 

JustJames

Platinum Member
There's that condescending post from Bermuda.
Absolutely!

If by condescending you mean "informative post from somebody who knows what they are talking about".

Now this post that you are reading now, that's a condescending post.

See the difference?

To the OP (and without condescension):

It's a question that comes up in my band all the time...are were there to educate (no!) or entertain (yes!)? And we're all guilty of suggesting pet songs that may not have mass appeal. The good thing, if you're in a classic rock covers band, is that there is just so much good material to cover, that you can cover both bases, as long as you remember to include the sure fire numbers.

I would definitely include "Let's Dance" without a moment's though.
 

New Tricks

Platinum Member
I didn't read it as condescending but perhaps it was the "Period. There's not even a question about this".

No matter what the source, I've always been a "question authority" kind of guy because there are always questions, options and alternate routes.

There are examples of people doing the absolute wrong things and achieving some success. That's why I think it's a good idea to never say never....unless you are saying never say never.



The good thing, if you're in a classic rock covers band, is that there is just so much good material to cover
Yes^
 
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