The Introvert Musician

Profitable Set Creation

Time Saving Lessons For The Beginner Cover Artist


The Goal

This guide is going to show you how to use observational skills (people watching mostly) to create a winning formula for success. The formula will get you well on your way playing to customer demand, at venues that pay.

In other words, a professional musician .

You’re going to learn how to build rapport with all the people you need to have in your corner for success. Unfortunately, there are quite a few people on the list. (I’m sorry if this puts your poor little introvert heart to the test.)

With this information, we can craft a set that meets the needs of each of these groups.

Things I’m Assuming

You have some basic level of musical competency.

If you can’t play & sing at the same time, I’m most likely not you’re guru…at least not yet.

You'd like to play cover songs for money.

You’re not expecting to play a bunch of originals & become a mega-star swimming in cash. (That’s another matter entirely.)

You suffer from stage anxiety.

This anxiety is preventing you from performing professionally. (The info is good for any newb but is tailored specifically for this purpose.)

Who Needs Observing?

Since I’m asking you to step out of your comfort zone I’m gonna try to make it easy-peasy. To do that, lets begin by isolating the groups people are going to fall into and what those groups want. We can then use this information to make better professional decisions.

1. The Audience
2. The Customer
3. The Competition 

The Audience

These are the people in the bar, restaurant or venue. You’re trying to convince them to continue spending money. They are the most important group. for both prep and while performing because, if they all leave, I can promise you, you’re not getting called back. You want to see how they react to other groups and what specifically it is they react to. And the same thing when you actually start performing


Another aspect of the audience you need to consider is the setting.  The venue itself. You’ll find that at the very least each type of venue has it’s own quirks that define what is acceptable. Bars are inherently more boisterous than wineries. Is the venue a listening room or a dive bar? All venues are different at happy hour than they are at midnight. Keep these in mind when defining your audience.


The Customer

The next most important group is the customer. They’re the people at the establishment you’re actively trying to convince to give you the time of day. Good music is a plus to them but at the end of the day register receipts is what they care about. With these people you want to see what they look for. What other types of group they book, etc? You also want to pay attention to how they interact with people. In truth, they are going to be the most interpersonal relationship you develop on this path. Take care to get a solid picture of their character up front.

The Competition

The last group is competition. I personally don’t like the word competition. That said, until you’re in the thick of things it might be difficult to see them as anything else. In truth, they’re an independent performer trying to carve out a niche for themselves just like you. The most important things to know are what they offer. Each group has its own character which comes through in song selection. You want to carve out your own unique niche.
Getting to know the other players out there can also introduce you to potential partners. If you see someone out there doing something you like, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Ask if they have any interest in jamming sometime. In my experience calendars often clash and no one is playing out as much as they like. I currently have 3 different acoustic duos that do different things. Two of which play different nights at the same venues. Having multiple groups allows me to offer customers different options. This also allows me to maximize my own profitability. The best part is not having to overdo it on making new acquaintances.
A third thing you can get by watching other acts is pretty simple. What do other performances look like. There is going to be an element of “fake it til you make it” int he beginning. You need to build up your memory of positive performance experiences.
The last benefit to getting to know these people is learning what musicians are assholes. This shouldn’t be difficult, other musicians tend to warn newcomers.

Let’s Get To People Watching!

I know this first part is gonna hurt, but you only need to do it here in the beginning. You need to go out to venues around those people and watch some acts. You can’t observe what you don’t see. You don’t need to be a Chatty Cathy, you need to watch, and I know you love people watching. Watch the people respond to the songs…or not. Both pieces of info are great to have. You’re trying to see what works.
You’re also trying to see what’s missing. If there is stuff they are not playing there can be a few reasons:

No one has thought of it til you.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you had a world class breakthrough and were first to market? 

No one has found a way it works.

Maybe you’re not the first to think of it, but you could be the guy who packages it right.

It’s not that type of venue

Sometime’s it’s just not the right place for it.

There is no market for it

Sorry. Some stuff only plays well in the bedroom.

Let’s Take A Quick People Break

Once you’ve collected data you need to decide what you think was missing. What did they want? Were they requesting things? Was there a pattern? Make some inferences and come up with some songs that cement “noticeably different.” For instance one of my duos focuses on hard rock & metal songs while another focuses on R&B & Hip-Hop from the 90’s. Both sets are constructed in a way that set us solidly apart from other acoustic groups. Each one works better than the other in some venues.


How Many Songs?

Have a basic concept for your hook? Lets start constructing your outline for your beginning set list. I’d focus in the beginning on getting a solid 40 songs which should be able to cover a three hour show. (Unless you’re doing 50s music then aim for 60…at least a lot of them were the same song with different words.) I’d break down my first set up like this:
50% Standards
40% Hook Focused
10% Self Indulgent 


For the sake of this guide: songs that pretty much everyone plays. I’ll warn you these are not gonna be your favorite songs but we’re shooting for cash. Don’t be afraid to get basic…UGG boots and pumpkin spice basic. Those people tip. So Oasis, Tom Petty, Bob Seger, blah, blah, blah…like it or not they will get you out of a jam.

Hook Focused

These are obviously the ones that are gonna represent your angle. These songs define your niche. Could be Irish music, progressive rock, female rockers, 80’s pop, whatever works for you. Be good at these. If people aren’t used to them in a given format they’ll remember you for sure. Make sure it’s as “the guy who breathed new life into a classic.” Don’t be remembered as “the guy butchered my favorite song.” We want them wowed, and here is where we do that.


Self Indulgent songs are just that, songs for you. They exist only because you want someone to hear you do them. These could be originals, non-hook covers, or just general slow material. Ten percent is the max. You want more tips? Stop wasting time making yourself happy on stage. Take all your money to the bank. Build a sweet home studio. Record yourself playing whatever you want and throw it up on youtube. This has worked for plenty of people and doesn’t interfere with the bottom line.

Let’s Observe Just A Lil Bit More

So, the hook worked and you convinced someone to let you on a stage. Are you getting paid or did you chicken out and go to an open mic night? I’ll allow it this once but you’ve already worked too hard to not get paid. While you’re here play the hook material. Is it working? Are they asking for something else? Are they right? You simply never knew you were the white Hootie? More data means better product. Get to work on the ideas.
Like slow, sappy music? Cool. Play it at home though. As much as you can, keep things upbeat. You’re there to keep people happy, not leaving, and most importantly buying alcohol. Slow music, no matter how good you are, kinda ruins the vibe. Doesn’t matter if its happy hour or a late night bar gig, upbeat always trumps down-tempo. I personally try to only play slow material by request. People tip for requests BTW. I’ve seen hundred dollar bills and split $150 between three guys to play one song before. Drunk people do weird things.


The Last Little Bits

First! “No matter what job you have, you’re in sales.” Playing music, sweeping floors, walking dogs. It doesn’t matter. You need to understand that if you want to keep working and make more, you need to be bringing in new clients and upgrading what you offer to your current customers. Maybe it’s trying to get an extra hour of gig to raise your take. Maybe it’s trying to get a bulk deal on dates. I book almost exclusively in bulk. It’s a great way to be done booking by November of the year before. I promise though once you begin reinforcing  your value by starting here you’ll be a sales force for your self, the best product because you’re already an expert. 
Last! While you marinate on this last bit, remember what everyone is thinking about. “What’s In It For Me?” That is the question all this observing has been for. You’ve been trying to figure out how to answer this question for each of these parties.  There is an order you need to think about this problem in.
Venue Owner -> Patrons -> Yourself
If you keep this in mind and craft your set accordingly you’ll be farther along than some pros I know.

What To Take Away!

Have I mentioned that I have crippling social anxiety? Have i mentioned how un-enamoured i am with drunk people. Should I add that I spend every weekend around them? When a paycheck depends on them you’d be surprised what you can bear. Which is good because we’re about to put your people watching skills to work.
Watch them, pay attention. Notice how they react to each song.
Each show you do, add a few more tunes. Pay attention to the audience reaction. As you add material, you can start cutting and refining. Before you know it you have a songbook of over 1000 songs like mine and can field most requests. Which as things go on is where you want to be. Requests are what sets you apart from the pack because you can read and react to the crowd. A happy crowd is a full bar. A full bar is happy bartenders. Happy bartenders means happy receipts. Happy receipts means happy owners. You’ll play forever if you pay attention and deliver on your half of this agreement.