Concert Etiquette Is for Everyone

All students need to learn how to be respectful concertgoers–no matter what music is performed. Here’s a new angle from the world of rock that mirrors what happens when we listen to classical music in more formal settings:

As the South by Southwest (SXSW) rock event got off the ground this past weekend in Austin, Texas, the organizers hired a protocol expert to show the audience how to behave.

“Live rock performances may seem like the last place to invoke modern rules of etiquette,” said Sharon Schweitzer, a corporate etiquette and protocol consultant. “But we’ve all seen bad behavior at a concert. … Who hasn’t had an evening ruined by loud talkers at an intimate show? Or been embarrassed by an inappropriate public display of affection by the couple sitting next to you when the band plays their song? Or been jostled by a latecomer?”

You might think of a rock concert as a place where it’s fine to let your hair down, but good manners are needed there as much as anywhere else.

Here are Schweitzer’s six etiquette tips based on interviews with performers, musicians, and audience members. Share these with your ensemble to note parallels with other types of concerts:

  1. Stay off the stage:  Please do not throw or put anything on the stage. This includes your body, your loved one, drinks, purse, camera, etc. If you try to climb on the stage, security may remove you, and the show may be delayed by such antics.
  2. Band Property:  Please do not remove music sheets, musical instruments, or any property from the stage. The performers need these items. At times, during practice, a performer may set an item down and fail to retrieve it from the stage. As much as the performers adore fans, they did not leave it as a gift for the audience.
  3. Respect the Opening Act:  The opening band is touring with, or was approved by the main performer. Refrain from shouting down or booing the opening band. It takes courage to get onstage and play for an audience that doesn’t know your music. Be appreciative.
  4. Organize Your Personal Priorities:  Arrive early to find parking and take care of your personal needs. Use the facilities so that you do not disrupt the audience around you numerous times during the concert. Avoid documenting the entire concert on your iPhone, held aloft, in someone’s line of vision. If the band plays another encore while you are on your way out, please do not come to a standstill in the aisle. Move on, or go back to your seat.
  5. Concert Position:  If a large-capacity concert is general admission and you arrive early, do not leave in the middle expecting to get your front-and-center spot back. If you want to be up front during the entire concert, you must arrive early and stay put. If you arrive late, do not expect to be able to elbow, nudge, and push to the front by saying “excuse me.” The people at the front are there because they waited for hours to acquire that coveted spot. Be especially careful if you’re carrying a drink so the liquid doesn’t spill on someone else.
  6. Copyright:  Do not record the concert on your mobile device. Not only does this break the law, it also interferes with other people viewing the concert. Aside from being impolite, it could result in security personnel confiscating your recording equipment.

“When everything goes well, the music coming from the stage can lift your spirits and make you forget your surroundings,” Schweitzer says. “The audience has a role to play, and the audience has significant responsibility for the success of the event.”

According to Patrick K. Freer, the academic editor of Music Educators Journal, “Only tradition suggests ‘classical’ etiquette should be taught exclusively. The truth is that people enjoy varied types of musical performances, each with slightly different codes of conduct. Noticing and respecting these codes is essential if people are to enjoy the musical experience, no matter the genre.”

These tips are adapted from the work of attorney Sharon Schweitzer, a corporate etiquette and international protocol consultant and president of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide of Austin, Texas. Used with permission of the author. MENC member Patrick K. Freer is an associate professor of choral music education at Georgia State University, Atlanta.


–Ella Wilcox, March 16, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (