Bands: Opening A Show? Don't Overstay Your Welcome Onstage

I enjoy opening bands. Well, not all of them. I guess I should say I enjoy the idea of opening bands. I never understood people who view supporting acts as something they’re made to sit through to get to the part of the show they really came to see. And I’ve never been one of those people who likes to arrive late to a show in hopes of missing the openers. At some point, my favorite bands were opening bands, right?

There’s something I’ve been noticing lately about opening bands, though: there’s a fine line between holding the audience’s attention and wearing out your welcome. I’ve attended a few shows recently where during the course of a band’s set, my feelings jumped from “these guys are great,” to “man, they’re really drawing this out,” to “get off the stage, already.”

“Leave ’em wanting more” is an ancient showbiz cliché, but I really feel like it’s a great rule for bands (particularly supporting acts) to live by. I’m a musician myself, and I fully understand how fun it is to be onstage. It’s what a lot of us look forward to more than anything else we do, and you want to make it last. I get that. But if you lose perspective on what the audience is seeing and feeling, you risk hanging around too long and annoying potential fans.

Some thoughts on this:

– Just because you’ve been allotted a certain amount of time for your set doesn’t mean you have to wring every last second out of it. If you’ve played your decided-upon songs and you’ve still got ten minutes left, it’s probably better to just leave it at that, instead of trying to play something just to pad out the remainder.

Playing past your allotted time will not only annoy the venue, but the crowd and the other bands on the bill as well. Disregarding the schedule set at the beginning of the night is a jerk move that can throw everything off, possibly cut the headliner’s set short, and it will not endear you to anyone.

– Asking the sound guy (or whoever’s in charge) if you “have time for one more” seems like a polite gesture, but from the audience it can look like you’re dying to stay up there as long as possible, and that doesn’t always look good.

Your drunk pal screaming “play one more!” does not constitute a foot-stomping encore call – he’s not necessarily speaking for the room. Plus, opening bands generally don’t do encores. If you’ve said it was your last song, make it your last song.

– It can be tough to read the crowd from onstage, but try to assess how things are going. If you sense interest waning, there’s nothing wrong with trimming a few songs off the end of your set and bowing out before a real lull sets in.

Here’s another reason I was thinking about this stuff: My group played a show a few months ago that had a very full bill, and as a result, our set time was limited to 25 minutes. At first I was a little rankled by the situation, but it turned out to be one of the best shows we’ve played in years. We whittled our setlist down to our strongest songs, were able to maintain a high energy-level throughout, and kept the crowd with us the entire time. I had more people come up and talk to me about our music after that set than at any other show in recent memory.

We got in, got out, and never gave people a chance to get bored. Yes, I would have like to have stayed on stage a little longer, but there was something really invigorating about stopping when the energy levels were still high. I think it also gave the impression that we hadn’t given away all our tricks, either, because I had a lot of people asking me for CDs after we were done. They knew that we hadn’t played nearly all our songs and wanted to hear more.

Clearly there are exceptions to these rules, and all situations are different. What has worked for you as an opening band? Do you have any good stories about bands overstaying their welcome onstage?

-Brad at CD Baby

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