What do concert audiences really want?

Audiences only really like two parts of a show — the beginning and the end.  You should prolong the former by rolling directly through your first three numbers without pausing.  Then make sure you end suddenly and unexpectedly.  Audiences rewards who stop early and punish those who stay late…

Finally, there’s nothing an audience enjoys more than hearing something familiar.  If you think your songwriting and all-round musical excellence are enough to entertain a bunch of strangers for an hour with songs they have never heard before, bully for you.  The Beatles didn’t, but what the hell do they know?

That is from the entertaining and insightful David Hepworth book Nothing is Real: The Beatles Were Underrated and Other Sweeping Statements About Pop.  He lists the following as the ten best blues songs ever:

Memphis Jug Band: K.C. Moan

B.B. King: You Upset me Baby

Blind Willie Johnson: Dark Was the Night

Mississippi Fred McDowell: Shake ‘Em On Down

Lightnin’ Slim: Rooster Blues

Muddy Waters: Too Young to Know

Elmore James: I Can’t Hold Out

Otis Rush: All Your Love

Richard ‘Rabbit’ Brown: James Alley Blues

Blind Blake: Too Tight

By the way, Paul and the Beatles really did record both “I’m Down” and “Yesterday” in the same day.


Real musicians often play for their friends, and their friends listen for more than an hour, often, even if the music is freshly dreamed up.

But that is the world of music, not the world of "selling LPs".

their friends "happily" listen for more than an hour, I meant to say.
I guess you had to be there, maybe you were.

Yeah a musician once told me covers is what pays the rent. I'm learning how to do playlists. Windows Media Player allows you to burn even copy protected CDs, then you can use Groove to find the meta data for the songs. Pretty cool. Even educational podcasts are covered by Groove. Useful for when I'm exercising, as I don't listen much.

Rip not burn is the term of art. You can rip a CD. Yes I'm doing that, some old 90s CDs.

Ripping a CD is taking the music on it and putting it on some other medium. Burning a CD is the opposite: taking the music from some other medium and putting it on a blank CD.

Audiences do like familiar songs, absolutely true. And record buyers want to see a few familiar titles to have some clue what they are going to get. Producers and labels will insist. As told to me many years ago by a certain famous jazz musician.

For the record, Beatles were not overrated. Some pathological troll will soon be here saying that, so just to keep it real.

Beatles were overrated. Only cucks and soyboys listen to that sh$t.

I'll be the pathological troll. The Beatles began as entertainment providing adolescent ditties for bubble gummers and became so successful that they began to take themselves seriously. Elvis Presley blazed the trail for them with his appearances on television variety shows in the fifties, notably the Ed Sullivan Show.

Best blues songs ever? Guess he's never heard Willie Dixon and Koko Taylor sing "Insane Asylum" or Charlie Musselwhite's "She May Be Your Woman".

Sooner than I expected.

I will conclude that without serious musical training and expertise and having lived through the period before, during, and after, it is difficult at best and probably impossible to understand and properly appreciate the contribution of any musician of any genre.

Of course, everyone is free to express their preference and opinion without having any qualifications for doing so. That's what makes America great. Such is life in Trump's America.

"That's what makes America great. Such is life in Trump's America."
Then, why Americans complain all the time about other Americans?!

American custom and tradition. It's what makes America great. Getting better and better every day in every way, showing the rest of the world how to kick ass and make better burgers and fries.
Also, half of Americans hate the other half. And for good reasons!

I got the I-don't-think-even-the-best-blues-songs-are-worth-listening-to blues. Depressing.

No one actually likes the blues. Least of all Cowen.

Audience only listen for the beginning and end... sounds like a non-concert goer?

Care to divulge?! This is quite the claim!

How does that explain Phish? Or Jazz?

It doesn't explain Phish. LSD explains Phish. Source: early twenties me.

'The Beatles didn’t, but what the hell do they know?'

Not much, considering the longevity of their concert career. A Hard Day's Night is a very entertaining film that also provides some insight into why their last normal concert was in 1966. Along with incidents like this - 'A trip to Asia that July ended with a frightening incident in the Philippines, when an inadvertent snub of the dictatorial first family provoked a nationwide turn against the foursome. Their entire police detail was suddenly withdrawn and the Beatles were left to defend themselves against a hoard of angry nationalists who manhandled them all the way to the airport. Only after being stripped of concert proceeds were they permitted to leave the country.' https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/remembering-beatles-final-concert-247497/ It is also provides a fair amount of information why the Beatles were simply not that good in concert after they became massively popular.

When it comes to studio technique and creativity, obviously it is hard to overrate the Beatles.

There's an interesting part in the film of the Shea Stadium concert that accompanied the release of Eight Days A Week a few years back. The audience can't hear the Beatles due to the poor sound system (the stadium's PA system) and all the screaming. The band can't hear each other. Yet, you see George Harrison adjusting the controls on his guitar, to get the sounds he wanted. At least he cared.

If you want to hear how the Beatles sounded live, it's best to listen to the BBC recordings.

I think the rock concert developed tremendously after the Beatles stopped playing live in the middle of their careers. I don't recall the Beatles contributing much to live performances in the way of sound quality and quantity, lighting, and set pacing and encore construction.

Of the famous British Invasion bands, I never saw the Beatles or the Who. I did see the Kinks, but not until 1980 and 1981, by which point they were state of the art crowdpleasers.

My impression is that the Beatles and Stones were a little primitive at giving the people what they want. Here's the set list from the Rolling Stones show I saw at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, CA in 1978:

Let It Rock
(Chuck Berry cover)
All Down the Line
Honky Tonk Women
Star Star
When the Whip Comes Down
Beast of Burden
Miss You
Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
(The Temptations cover)
Far Away Eyes
Love in Vain
(Robert Johnson cover)
Tumbling Dice
Sweet Little Sixteen
(Chuck Berry cover)
Brown Sugar
Jumpin' Jack Flash

I believe they did a ten minute JJF as their only encore, with Sir Mick climbing the speakers.

Or perhaps they didn't do an encore? I can't recall exactly, but I'd read that they had a strict policy against doing as many encores as other bands were doing in 1978, so I wasn't too disappointed.

Still, for a giant outdoor show like that I would have expected a second encore:

Get Off My Cloud
Street Fighting Man

And a third encore:
Gimme Shelter

Now that was a band with a couple of songwriters who could blend pop and rock. And all on the foundation of tunes that are “catchy”.

My wife dragged me to see Elvis Costello a few months ago when he was promoting his new album. I’m not the biggest fan but he did go through all his radio hits. The band was tight and he’s a good entertainer. I found myself enjoying the show but it did start getting long—he’s had a long career and unless your a fan there were a lot of unrecognizable tunes.

The problem came with the encore: after the seventh song we finally gave up and left. It became totally self-indulgent. He seemed to forget he was even playing to an audience and the band was lost in their own little world. I read in a review the next day it lasted for nine songs.

"the band was lost in their own little world"

For rational performances there are albums. If they're lost in their little world and you are invited there for a few minutes, that's the best money can buy.

" If they're lost in their little world and you are invited there for a few minutes, that's the best money can buy."
I guess you didn't see Cream.

Steve Sailer has old white guy tastes in music. Water is also wet.

this is Marginal Revolution, Teenage.

Last month I saw Steven Wilson with an audience on ~1500 people. The concert was 3 hours with a nice 15 min pause in the middle to get another beer and breathe a little. Of course, Mr. Wilson respects his audience therefore there was NO opening act. It neither felt short, nor long, just right. Perhaps with another 15 min pause, the audience would have willingly listened for another 45 min- 1 hour.

I can't believe Tyler the economist put this words together:

"If you think your songwriting and all-round musical excellence are enough to entertain a bunch of strangers for an hour with songs they have never heard before, bully for you."

Can a known artist play songs never heard before for an hour? Consider concert tickets price, it would be really strange that someone spends at least $50 not knowing what music is going to be performed. Perhaps a teenager trying to impress a date will do that. The price for older people to go to a concert is even higher: not meeting family or friends, leave job early, parents pray the children don't get sick that day, etc. So, people buy albums, listens to the radio, streaming or whatever and then decide to go to the concert, right?

I can imagine two scenarios where unknown music is performed for the audience: (i) music festivals, (ii) concerts with 1 or 2 opening acts. Festival are nice if you go with friends, then the day is 50% music, 50% friends. Concerts with opening acts are idiotic. Music fans dedicate a lot of time to listen to new music. There are magazines, radio, podcasts, playlists, etc. I don't want to suffer the decisions of the concert organizer. I hope the concept of opening band dies soon, for good.

How do you think musicians gain experience playing in front of audiences? Of course there is a lot of variation in what one means by opening band, but it is an opportunity for musicians - whether the audience sees it as worth listening to is another question - and the extended pause between acts is often a poor joke.

though, not and 'though the extended pause'

I go once or twice a month to local clubs or bars to listen to new bands. 50-80 people audiences and the cover is $10-15. Friendly ambience, and everyone is there to be surprised. Next level is regional festivals with 500-1000 people, you pay $30-40 for the ticket. Musicians can gain experience from these events without boring an audience which is not receptive to what they offer.

In other words...when I want beef, I want to be served beef, not chicken.

Best concert I've attended was Bowie in 1976 during the Isolar tour. Played a loop tape of Kraftwerk while people were entering. Then showed us the short film Un Chien Andalou. After an hour plus of Kraftwerk and that movie, I would have been happy to hear my kid sister play the piano for 2 hours. Bowie and the band put on a great show.

Steven Wilson would be a good opening act for King Crimson. His remixes of their albums may be his most long-remembered work.

He's well beyond being an opening act. Your second sentence is... is... heresy!

I looked to see if there was a Kindle version available, but couldn't find one in the US. However when i went to the UK Amazon site, the book is offered on Kindle, but I'm unable to buy the Kindle version from an Amazon site that doesn't map to my home country.

Does anyone know of a way around this restriction?

I thought concert audiences wanted to rock and roll all night, and party every day? Have I been misled?

There's a lot more blues out there than this author's top ten. The numbers he lists aren't even the best stuff of the artists he names, with the possible exception of Otis Rush, whose entire Cobra Sessions is unbelievable. But hey, Little Walter and the Jukes anyone? Robert Johnson? Howlin' Wolf? Tie this guy to a barstool and make him listen to Junior Wells' "Messin' with the Kid."

I do not think the generalizations made here hold for classical music concerts. But then, we are talking about quite different audiences.


My musical preferences are generally the opposite of anything TC wants to raise in status. In my opinion, music critics of Tyler's ilk are the reason more musicians eschew artistic risk-taking, and audiences are the worse for it. The more middling hipster music there is out there, the more the average audience loses the sonic vocabulary to appreciate musical artistry.

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