When you start out as a bard, the odds are you’ll only play one or two songs at any given event. However, if performance becomes important to you, then you may get to a point of doing more than two pieces. Once there are more than two pieces, a set list becomes a consideration.
The order in which you perform pieces, and the pieces you select for your setlist will have an impact on how people experience your work. There’s no magic formula here, but there are some things that are worth considering.
Picking your setlist should be about deciding what you think will best fit the audience, the event and the space. This gets easier with practice. Early on you may be performing everything you know and not be able to pick and choose. When you’re going into an unfamiliar space, this is only ever a best guess, but it does always help to think about what might work best.
The first consideration is your voice, or in the case of other kinds of performance, whatever it is of what you do that is most vulnerable. Give serious thought to how you are going to manage your personal resources as you perform multiple pieces. This is much easier if you aren’t solo, because you can take it in turns to do the heavy lifting and give each other breaks. A minute off while someone else introduces the next piece makes a lot of odds.
Your most showy pieces are also likely to be the most demanding ones. It is worth having some easier material in your set so that you get breaks, especially if you are a solo performer.
It’s a good idea to start with something attention grabbing. Put more ponderous pieces, and pieces you are less confident about in the middle. End with something you are totally confident you can do well even when tired.
Practice your set in order, before you do it live. It’s worth checking how things fit together and making sure you can do what you intended. Also check the timing and make sure it fits the time slot you have. Have a plan for if you need to cut your set, and a plan for if you need an encore. If you come in a couple of minutes under your time slot you’ll be far more popular than if you over-run.
Ideally your set should maximise diversity to make it interesting for people, while balancing the need to make things smooth. If people have to watch you tune a new instrument ahead of each song you’d better be able to engage them by talking while you do it. Maximum showing off doesn’t always make for the best set, and it is important to remember that entertaining people comes ahead of impressing them. Focus on giving your audience a good experience and a lot of other things will be easier to figure out.