How Long Do Concerts Usually Last? – Key Factors Behind It!

Author: Brian Campbell | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Music, in its truest form, is meant to be experienced live. That’s why there’s something magical about concerts.

Whether it’s seeing your favorite musician in real life, or experiencing a once-in-history improvised solo, there’s always a cherished memory you can take away from a live performance.

Let’s imagine you’ve bought a ticket to your favorite band’s concert. You know where it is. You have a rough idea of what they’re playing.

Only thing is, you don’t know how long the concert is! How do you plan around this?

While concert length is never set in stone, there are plenty of ways you can still get a good estimation. Let’s check ‘em out!

The Basic Consensus!!

Before diving into the factors, lemme give it to you straight.

You can expect an average concert length to range between 1.5 to 3 hours (not including parking, finding a seat, etc.)

However, this is by no means set in stone. Depending on the factors below, a concert could last anywhere from 40 minutes to 4 hours! The vast majority will be under three hours, but it’s still worth doing your research.

Factor 1: Performance Setlist

Back in the day, lots of pop and jazz concerts were driven by spontaneity. Nowadays, that’s not the case. Most bands and groups have a predetermined setlist that they adhere to during their entire tour.

Selling music is an industry, and so is streaming music. Performing music is another industry entirely, regulated by rules that are just as strict. This means that more often than not, every song, light dimming, and comment is scripted – even a band’s “tardiness” can be preplanned!

As a future audience member, this means you can have a pretty solid idea ahead of time of what they’ll play. Social media accounts can give you clues regarding a specific tour, while setlist.fm can give you more concrete details based on hashed-out research.

For rock and pop concerts, an average length concert will include between 10 and 20 songs. Jazz concerts feature around 10 tunes. And if you’re at a classical concert, you can be lazy – the program tells you exactly what they’ll be playing!

Factor 2: Event Context

“Event context” may sound fancy and obnoxious, but all you have to do is ask yourself the following:

Why are they in town?

If your group is touring with a headlining show, then that means they’re the sole stars of the show.  Because of this, they have the flexibility to plan a longer show based on fan expectations, discography, and personal quirks.

If your group is touring to promote an album, their approach will probably be more focused. While they still want to please fans by playing familiar favorites, their primary goal is to promote new material.

In this case, you can expect them to stick mostly to new material, with a shorter concert time. You may not know it super well, but you’ll get to make history by being one of the first fans to hear future classics played live!

If you’re attending a music festival, then your expectations will change drastically. While festivals can last for multiple days, they feature dozens of artists.

As a result, each artist will only perform an hour at most – most often, it’ll be around 40 minutes. It’s an industry, remember? Just like TV ads and primetime, time slots and length are hot commodities.

Lastly, if you’re attending a concert in a small venue, then things could get more spontaneous. Intimate settings like coffee shops and jazz clubs foster more connection between performer and listener. Most will be on the shorter side of things, but that could change if the mood lets it!

Factor 3: Venue

This one’s all about logistics. Yeah, it can be boring. However, it’s helpful because it can give you some of the most concrete details possible.

Venues have to adhere to special laws due to location, unions, and building policies. For example, many city theaters have an 11pm curfew, while others are in areas with noise ordinances.

These specific factors bring me to an important point, which is a solid rule-of-thumb you can count on; if you’re attending a weekday concert, it will usually start around 7, and rarely go past 11pm.

The industry understands you have places to be – they will make sure you have time to get to the concert in the evening (hence the 7pm time), and will make sure to kick you out before you start losing sleep!

Size is also a crucial detail. If your venue is large, then it’s meant for industry-tailored experiences. Everything will be planned ahead to a T. If you’re at a smaller venue, however, concert length can afford to be flexible.

Lastly, if you’re at a famous venue, it may run with new quirks altogether. For example, the Fillmore West in San Francisco catered to psychedelic rock concerts in the ‘60s. They would host two shows per night, and it was very common for the second one to last well into the wee hours of the morning.

Factor 4: Genre

Alongside the last two factors, genre may be one of the most important factors affecting concert length. The more you know about your band’s genre, the better you can predict how their performance will go.

If you’re attending a typical rock or pop concert, you can expect the artist to deliver what a normal audience is expecting; short songs, catchy tunes, and manageable attention spans. You’ll get a digestible dose of your favorite tunes, usually lasting around two hours.

If you’re attending a metal concert, jam-driven gigs, or bands with a more experimental edge, you can expect a longer runtime.

This is usually because of the characteristics inherent to the genres; metal songs can stretch to 10 minutes, jam bands will improvise, and experimental bands will get fancy with their musical noodling.

Lastly, jazz concerts and classical concerts are easy to figure out. Jazz concerts usually last 40 minutes to an hour and a half. And classical concerts? – you guessed it! – it’s all in the program (those classical musicians sure like punctuality!)

Factor 5: Backlog

“Backlog” sounds scary, but it’s actually really simple. This is the easiest factor to consider.

Backlog refers to how much material a band has to work with. If they’re newer, they have less songs to play. If they’ve been around for an eternity (*ahem* looking at you, Rolling Stones!), then they easily have dozens to choose from.

If your artist has been around for a while, they’ll need to stretch their concert to include favorites from various albums and eras.

BIG FACTOR 6: Industry Standards!

Now we’re getting to the heavyweights – the guys that influence concert length the most! As I’ve hinted at above, the performing music industry has lots of regulations and rules for controlling concert behavior and expectations.

Using the factors above with your own research, you can use the “industry standard template” to help you estimate concert length.

First thing first: most concerts will have two sets, separated by a brief break. The first set is usually an hour to an hour and a half, while the second can stretch to two hours. Breaks usually last 20 minutes.

If you’re doing the math, this allows a range of 2.3 hours to a whopping 3.8 hours (which rarely happens, unless you’re a diehard fan and know what you’re getting into).

That’s not all though! Many bands tour with a “opening act,” which is another band that plays a smaller set before the main band. Often this second band is lesser-known, but a promising up-and-comer band.

LOTS of legendary bands started out as openers. While time will vary, an average opening act will last between 30 and 60 minutes. They want to provide a great performance on their own, but don’t want to shadow the primary band either.

Secondly, many bands will end their concert with a planned encore. Audiences and bands alike expect cheers for encores, so they’re often built into the schedule. Between cheers, setting up, and actually performing, encores usually last 20 minutes.

Factoring all that in, and you get 4.1 hours to 5.1 hours!! But don’t worry, concerts rarely extend 3 hours; if they have an opener or encore, they’ll usually shorten one of the acts.

BIG FACTOR 7: Know Your Artist!

Lastly, we get to the heart of it all: know your artist! Many artists are known specifically for their performance quirks and traditions. For these guys, experiencing their stage antics is just as special as listening to their music.

For example, Bruce Springsteen is known for routinely pumping out 4-hour concerts. If you’re a fan of the Boss, you already know you’re in for a marathon of a performance.

Other bands have their own legendary specialties. The Rolling Stones deliver a high-energy performance that celebrates the raucous spirit of rock, as faithfully as they’ve done for 50+ years.

Radiohead will often perform new versions of preexisting songs, or perform the skeletons of songs still in progress. For Radiohead diehards, attending one of their concerts means you might hear a once-in-a-lifetime arrangement of your favorite tune.

The list goes on and on … but chances are if you really love the band you’re seeing, you already know what you’re getting into 😉

Conclusion

Concerts have always been a great way to make memories and learn new things. Whether you’re attending to make great memories, learn performance tips, or simply to relax, they’re always unique experiences to call your own.

Whatever you do, make sure you plan enough time to find parking, walk to your venue, check in, AND find a seat. The last thing you want to do is miss the beginning of your favorite band’s concert!

So, go check your city’s upcoming events, find the concert of your dreams, and get planning! You won’t regret it 🙂

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About Brian Campbell

Brian has been playing piano since elementary school and started learning guitar in 7th grade. He teaches K-8 students in Columbus, Ohio, and writes lessons covering a broad spectrum of genres. As a child, he moved back and forth between Colorado and West Africa. He credits those experiences with opening his eyes to the cultural and artistic diversity he appreciates today. Several of his favorite musicians include J.S. Bach, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Radiohead. When not doing music and teaching, you can find Brian reading, hiking, traveling, or making just one more shot of espresso.

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