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

Categories: Fiesta!

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.

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?

See also: 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.

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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6 comments
Chasingrunawaynitros
Chasingrunawaynitros

You obviously have never been to a Dead, Phish, WSP, etc show. 90 minutes is the 1st SET.

Franklin Steele
Franklin Steele

These are obviously meant to be fun but I think there's some wiggle room... If My Morning Jacket is the third band on the bull behind two 90 - minute plus acts then you're really missing out if they only play 30. I think the rule in reality should be: play for as long as you're actual entertaining people. 35 minutes of one band isn't equal to 35 minutes from another, regardless of hype of sucees. We've all seen local bands tear down a place with a half - hour set that could have gone another 15. I know you wrote to leave people wanting more. Just yammering now.

Luke Koontz
Luke Koontz

How long is Phil Collins' Sussudio? That long.

Ryan Mackley
Ryan Mackley

If you are a big band like The Cure that has a lengthy list of songs that everyone wants to hear, don't bring an opener, and play for about 90 minutes. For the most part a 3 band bill should be 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and 40 minutes with no encores. If it is a 5 band bill then, then those openers should all be 20 minutes and the last two 30 minutes and 40 minutes. Now if this is a bill of mostly unknowns or at a festival then maybe everyone should play a 20-25 minute set. Don't do an encore unless the audience asks for one. Also, don't hold back songs in order to assure that they ask for one.

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