August 29th, 2013
Now that I’ve played about 20 shows this year and have attended at least a dozen others, I’m really noticing some strong trends, both positive and negative. I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a pessimist, so I’m going to focus on a lot of negatives, but I’ll also offer some solutions.
Packed Bills, Short Sets
The thinking goes like this: if each band brings a few dozen fans, then more bands means more more people at the show. For the most part, this is true. However, I do think that at 4 bands you begin to see diminishing returns.
From the band’s perspective, packing up, traveling, setting up, and tearing down for a 25 minute set is generally not worth it. Doing all that work to only play a half a dozen songs gets old.
From the fan’s perspective, waiting hours to see your band isn’t always that great. Venues are loud, standing gets tiring, and drinks get expensive. This means that most fans show up for only their band’s set or sit outside for most of the show, thus negating the whole concept of bringing more people to the show.
Finding 5-6 bands to play the same night can be tough, which means bands on big bills often vary drastically in style and quality. This is bad for both audience and band, as a great band’s set can be ruined by the preceding band’s lack of practice or non-complementary style. Packed bills are no good for anybody, especially because every show seems to have a…
Every single local show starts late. There are numerous reasons, but the top two are:
- Late set-up
- Delaying until more people show up
Fixing a late set-up is easy, but it requires cooperation from bands and venue. I’ve showed up at venues that are locked, and I’ve put my stuff on stage and sat there until after the official show start for the sound guy to show up. I’ve also seen bands show up with only 5 minutes to start and casually order drinks before bothering to unpack. Get there early, not ridiculously early, but 30-60 minutes should do fine, and seriously, get everything sorted before schmoozing and kicking back.
As far as the first band not wanting to play to an empty house… tough. It’s a given that as the opening act you play for a smaller crowd. If you play a 30-45 minute set, most of the crowd will be there for your last 2-3 songs anyway, so you won’t miss too much by starting on time. That will then prevent the headliner from…
Headlining to Nobody
Without a doubt, at every show I’ve been to, the headliner plays to the smallest crowd. This is because of late starts, long nights, loud venues, etc. When things get going so, so late, the headliner ends up starting after midnight and often has an hour or more of music planned. Nobody, I mean nobody, sticks around at local shows from 8:45 for the opening band to 1am for the end of the closing band. 4 hours is a long time for anybody to stand, order beer, and get their ears blasted off. The sweet spot for crowds seems to be 9:30-11:30, so a well timed show gets all bands some attention in that time.
The Ideal Show
Enough complaining, time for the proposed solution. The ideal show consists of 3 quality bands with complementary styles playing from 9-midnight.
- Band A, 9-9:45
- Band B, 10-10:45
- Band C, 11-midnight
Simple, no? Each band gets some of that 9:30-11:30 sweet spot, audience members can stay for the whole show, and the venue gets a nice boost during prime hours. Everybody wins!