It is one of the most baffling features of the music scene. Not bad sound, nor low energy, nor too much alcohol can ruin a good band’s set more than overstaying their welcome on stage. And yet this very night there will be plenty of audiences around the world checking their watches and trying to see how many more songs are written on that damn set list.
If you think that your band is not guilty of this, you may want to double check. Even though you have been on the receiving end of a set that never seems to end, that doesn’t make you immune from wrongly thinking that you need to add a couple more songs than what’s required.
Here are a few things to consider when putting your list together:
Obey the Set Time
If you are slated for a half hour, that doesn’t mean 30 minutes of music. There is stage banter, tuning, segues between songs and other incidentals that can add a significant amount of time to your set. That means you should be closer to 20 minutes than 30 if you want to get to all your best material without the sound guy getting angry.
No False Endings
If you have a song that ends with a big, noisy riff and tons of feedback then make that the last song. Even if you haven’t played that long, when you start another song after that, it is so disappointingly anticlimactic. All of the momentum you expertly built is ruined because you didn’t stop when you were ahead. On the flipside, if you need to change instruments for certain songs, do that earlier in the set. Don’t let everyone think you’re done only to see you pick up another instrument and start over again.
Less is More
There are very few instances where a band plays too short. Yes, if someone paid fifty dollars to hear all your #1 singles, then you probably want to make sure you don’t leave too early. But if you’re trying to win over new fans, you should be sculpting a set that has no extraneous bits and pieces that risk people getting bored. Shows that have four, five or even six bands means people are going to get sick of you the second you test their patience. Your music can be complex and difficult, but nearly every musician can pull that off in less than a half hour.
When you’re playing and you see a few people turn around and head back to the bar, know that at least another ten of them are thinking about doing the same. Keep the audience mesmerized until you’re done. Then, if they want to hear more, the only options are buying a record or coming to another show. Play any longer than that and they may end up feeling like they’ve already heard enough.