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Set Length! (Was: Keeping your sets interesting)

Ooh - something else I forgot to mention on the Keeping Your Sets
Interesting thread.

Set Length!

One of the hallmarks of not-very-interesting sets is that they are
almost always too long. (Duh, right?) I've been to a number of
performances where I loved what they were doing for the first 20
minutes. Then they kept going, and going, and going, and 40 minutes
later I was vowing to never see that musician/band again.

Inexperienced musicians seem to often want to maximize the time they
spend on stage at any given concert. In the end, the time you spend on
stage is not going to be what the audience remembers (unless it's
extremely short or extremely long). What folks will remember are the
times that you are at the top of your game, and the times where they
would chew off a leg to escape. Obviously you want to maximize the
former and minimize the latter.

Some major touring acts tend to play for a few hours. That works for
them, because the audience paid a lot for the tickets, and they're
usually familiar with the songs that are being played. On the other
hand, harsh noise shows often line up 5 to 7 bands, and each plays for
only 10-15 minutes. For social events like art gallery openings, it's
probably ok to play for longer, because the audience is expected to
wander around, and tune in to you only occasionally.

For local-level stuff where the audience is paying attention to you, I
find my ideal set length as an audience member is 35-45 minutes. It's
rare that I encounter 60 minute sets that wouldn't have been better as
45 minute sets. It's better to leave your audience wishing you played
longer than wishing you got off the stage sooner.

By the way, a new podcast of my radio show is up:

Matt Davignon
Podcast! http://ribosomematt.podomatic.com