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Plan your sets.

Say that you’re a poet or singer who has been allowed to open, after begging for the opportunity for months, at a club for a bigger name group. You have been told to perform three pieces. What are you going to perform? After having been at hundreds of concerts and recitations, this author has come to the conclusion that the best thing to do is a serious sandwich on light bread. Play an upbeat happy or funny poem or song, follow with a more serious poem or song, then go back to upbeat, uptempo, happy or funny. This gives the audience tastes of your range. It first introduces you as upbeat, and audiences generally prefer upbeat performers. Then it shows you can be serious. Third, it ends upbeat as a way to get the audience back up and clapping and ready for the main act. That means that main act or the club will want you to open again.

What if you have a longer set? What if you are the main act? The sandwiching still applies. You can do three happy songs in a row, but three sad or slow and downbeat songs will have the audience searching for sharp objects or exits. Find a way to sandwich your serious works between lighter works. What if all you write is serious stuff? Find something less serious to write about. Find other people’s poems or songs to interlace with your depression. Give the audience highs and lows.

Always start and end on a high note, a happy song or poem, a message of hope. The high-energy beginning gets the crowd warmed up to you. The ending sends them away energized. Don’t send the crowd away to park their car and let it run while closing up the garage. Send them away with hope, a smile, a laugh, or even determination, but not crying.

Lastly, when you become a big-name performer, you can break these rules occasionally and get away with it. But don’t try it before building a real and loyal audience.

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