A Handy Guide to How Long a Set Your Band Should Play
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.
Melissa Fossum Sleigh Bells has earned the right to play more than an hour. Your friend's garage rock band? Not so much.
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?
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.