A Handy Guide to How Long a Set Your Band Should Play

Categories: Sound Off

sleigh-bells-set-list.jpg
Melissa Fossum
Sleigh Bells has earned the right to play more than an hour. Your friend's garage rock band? Not so much.
Despite putting on a fantastic show at the Marquee Theatre last Wednesday, the New York kids collectively known as Interpol put on a set that clocked in at just under 60 minutes. It wasn't exactly the Rolling Stones at Altamont, but there were many in the crowd who were vocal about what they thought should be an acceptable length of a show, while others simply shrugged their shoulders and wondered what all the whining was about.

When you purchase a ticket to any concert, you run the risk of not getting the experience you paid for. Outdoor shows get rained out. Favorite songs don't get played. Opening bands go over their allotted time. Sometimes a musician is just having a very bad night. The one variable any musician can feasibly control is the length of his or her set list, but do bands like Interpol even have to give their audience more than an hour of their time? 

See also: Interpol's Concert at Marquee Theatre Was Fine, But Way Too Short
Six Reasons Your Band Should Not Play Longer Than 20 Minutes

Perhaps the solution is establishing a standard length of show that is matched to fit the band's degree of success and output. Submitted for the approval of both musicians and ticket buyers everywhere is a set of rules and expectations that ensures neither party has to look at their watch and complain a concert was too short.

20 Minutes or Fewer
Maybe it's your first show. Maybe it's your eighth. Regardless, you don't have an album out, though you might have a couple of songs you recorded on your iPhone during practice on your Bandcamp page. Maybe a few dozen of your friends follow your band on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. You might be playing house parties, or maybe you are the first band on a five-band bill of somewhat notable local acts. The point is, since no one really knows who you are, no one is going to give you the benefit of the doubt. You're only really going to shine for a handful of songs. Focus on the handful of songs you perform best and don't milk it. Leave the audience wanting more, not hating you for playing too long.

Twenty to Thirty Minutes
Congratulations! Your band must have just released a buzz-worthy single or EP that has caught the attention of local media, or maybe some bloggers. Sounds like you are going to play all eight tracks of your DIY masterpiece straight through, unless you're going to throw in your unique take on a cool song by one of your influences. Sounds like a great show, but to warn you: If you've heard one Smiths cover, you've heard them all. You might want to wait until your full-length comes out before you take this show on the road.


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14 comments
GODVOX
GODVOX

Who is the fucking imbecile that wrote this crap.?  Seriously its completely inaccurate ..Ill bet a million dollars this ass clown has never made a dime paying music and busses tables at some food court somewhere

GODVOX
GODVOX

Interpol sucks... the 8 people that watched that garbage were ripped off the second these no talent hacks hit the stage
So in their case about 20 seconds is too long

Mik Garrison
Mik Garrison

most of my gigs are 3 hours, I must be the most famous musician EVER! ;)

Alex Pilafian
Alex Pilafian

dude for real. just pick the best couple songs from the new album and do those. I think I just fell in love with you

Jewel Sparkles
Jewel Sparkles

or just play whatever the hell you want to. this is what I'd do if I were a touring artist

Ryan Abbott
Ryan Abbott

How about this tip. If you are a veteran (20+ year group) touring to support a new album; your setlist should contain NO more than 3 songs from new album. Truth is, that new album isn't as great as you think, and the crowd paid 100+ a ticket to hear your hits and some deep cuts off the old albums. Want to piss off a crowd? Do 60 minutes of mostly your new material.

Dfactor
Dfactor

Great article by the way. I agree. Gonna instill this in my own band. 

Dfactor
Dfactor

Unless you're Guided by Voices

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