Here's How Long Your Set Should Be

Categories: Commentary

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Brandon Marshall
Jenny Lewis can pretty much play as long as she wants, as far as we're concerned.
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 setlist, 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.

20 to 30 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.


30 to 60 Minutes
Your debut album is starting to find an audience, or better yet, your second album is building on the promise of your first. Perhaps you're starting to get hit up by local promoters, and the media attention you're getting comes from outlets your friends have actually heard of. People are starting to like your band, and they are paying their hard-earned cash to see you -- yes, you -- play. You do not want to let these fickle audiences down, because hype sells tickets. You can even burn some time by interacting with the audience or telling the story behind your hit single. It's make-it-or-break it time, so keep it short, sweet and to the point.

Now, say you've already built the local audience, and you're being championed by the likes of Pitchfork, NPR and British music journalists looking for the next best thing, and you might be it. A somewhat prominent national band has picked you up to be their opening act. Great! Don't blow it. Focus on the hits, and don't delude yourself into thinking people want to hear your B-sides.

Continue to page two.



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19 comments
mondogarage1
mondogarage1

Show reviews aside, the general quality of Westword music writing has really gone down the shitter since Dave Herrera left, sadly.  Feels like it's just become another holier-than-though Village Voice wannabe, with a whiff or three of Pitchforkitude.

Mike Skeel
Mike Skeel

Says who? If I like the band and enjoy their music, I want them to play for hours. This highly opinionated journalism is starting to get pretentious

Mike Wall
Mike Wall

Paul McCartney sucks and so does u2.

Shelly Lynn
Shelly Lynn

Chvrches and Mazzy Star played sets that were under an hour and I was pissed both times.

Erich Dye
Erich Dye

bullshit.straight bullshit.WTF Westword.

Jøsh Kåmm
Jøsh Kåmm

Fuck this article the westword has really gone down hill

Ted Nordheimer
Ted Nordheimer

"Grateful" indeed another WW fail in every respect...feel sorry for 'writers" they know not what they say......

Byron Gautreaux
Byron Gautreaux

Have you guys ever heard of a band called Umphreys McGee?!?!? Sounds like whomever wrote the article has kankles and can't stand for too long. Go get those checked out and see some real bands that love playing until the middle of the night!

Mason Whitener
Mason Whitener

a 90 minute set? If you dont get that from all headliners it was a waist of money! ALL headliners should play at least 90 minutes

Tony Olivas
Tony Olivas

I saw ween for three days and it ended up being 9 hours of pure awesome

Michael Hartman
Michael Hartman

Thank you for being a music fan instead of a wanna-be elitist.

Candie Bernard
Candie Bernard

When I go to a concert (and I've gone to many), I want to get my money's worth. When bands play for 2-3 hours I'm not angry, I'm grateful.

Matt Hannan
Matt Hannan

If Springsteen doesn't play for two hours he's sick or dead.

Kevin Martinico
Kevin Martinico

I refrain from commenting on a lot of the ridiculous things that are posted, but this is just stupid. Lucero and Drive-By Truckers are just a couple bands that come to mind that blow this theory out of the water. Every band should play as long as they want. If the audience doesn't have the time, they will leave early. Nothing about the articles makes any sense!

Michael Hartman
Michael Hartman

Totally clueless article. You play for how long the venue hired you for. Keep being a fanboy and stop telling musicians how to do their job.

Carolyn Lu
Carolyn Lu

Ummm...Elton John, Bob Seger?? Just to name a couple that could play for more than 90 minutes. Back in 1980 Seger played in 100 degree temps for 2 1/2 hours...the crowd was wild. He treated us since we stuck around all day in the heat. Awesome.

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