Monday, October 22, 2012

Two Weird Rituals of Pop Music Concert Culture

#1 The assumed encore

There are a couple of understood or unspoken rituals of pop music concerts which don't make any sense to me. The first ritual is the end of a pop music concert. I'm talking about how performers are expected to give an "encore," meaning after saying they are done with the concert, they come on again and play 1–3 more songs, irrespective of how exited the audience actually is to hear more.

Now, in classical music concert culture, an encore is (mostly) still optional, which I believe is the original purpose of the encore. If the audience is really excited and simply need more, a performer may play a little something else. In the popular music concert culture, however, the encore pretty much a given. In other words, the audience knows popular musicians are lying when they say "this is the last song."

One pithy pop performer near the end of his concert said the following: “We’re getting close to that time where I leave the stage, you give me a standing ovation, and I come back and play a few more songs.” That really made the whole concert for me—why not say it like you mean it!

This brings me to the solution: Performers, stop lying to us. If you are actually getting to the end of your concert, tell us. Let yourself actually earn a real encore.

#2 The standing concert

The other popular concert ritual that doesn't make sense to me is the standing concert. Sure, I understand that some concert venues don't want to have seats. That's fine. You can fit more people in, it's a more relaxed atmosphere where people can dance if they want, etc. This "no seats" model leads to people people queuing up an hour (or more) before the printed "doors open" time. While this is annoying, that's understandable, too. Waiting in lines can be fun for those involved and lets people get psyched up for the performance.

What I don't like is what happens after the doors open. After the more excited fans rush to claim spots right in front of the stage, the audience usually has to wait another 1 or 1.5 more hours before the warm-up act starts. This makes no sense to me. After 2-3 hours of mostly standing, we finally get to hear the act we didn't come to see. Why can't the venues just move the "doors open" time back an hour or so? If they are really just trying to sell more stuff, have the merch table and refreshments open for the people waiting in line, or have someone walking around selling stuff to them. I also think that there should be less time between the warm-up and main acts, but I think if I already weren't waiting around before the warm-up act, the inter-act set-up time wouldn't bother me so much; they could just call it intermission and tell us approximately how long it will be (which they don't do, for some reason).

What do you think? Are you annoyed at the inherent waiting involved in the standing concert? Or are there good reasons for the procedures that I don't know about? Do you like the assumed encore?

I'll leave the concept of audience clapping (and the now-ubiquitous standing ovation) for a post at a later date.

Vocab: encore


  1. Once I waited in line for a long time so I could get onof the very few seats in a small, standing-only venue. There were 2 opening acts, and I knew it was going to be long.

    1. Were you okay with that, or was it excruciating?

  2. Standing concert applies to classical music in Vienna: indoors, no A/C, wearing a suit, shoulder to shoulder with mostly Japanese tourists, no undue waiting though.