Editorial: Cell Phones Banned From Concerts?
By Martine Ehrenclou
At a recent Beth Hart concert in Los Angeles, I watched a woman poke a fan in front of her who was holding up her cell phone to capture one of Hart’s songs. She hissed, “Put your phone away.”
It’s often older concert goers who make a fuss over cell phones. And I understand the qualms—no one really wants to look at a cell phone screen that might be blocking their view of the artist on stage. But is it really such a big deal?
Personally, I don’t mind cell phones at concerts as long as flash isn’t used and ringers are silenced. They’ve become so commonplace in our culture and to me, they aren’t much more than a minor annoyance. At least the use of phones keeps fans’ attention on the performance.
What I do find intrusive is people talking to one another during a show, loudly at times, to hear each other over the music. It interferes with the listening experience and it’s disrespectful to the band. Because their focus is on each other and not on the artist they came to see.
Sometimes I want to say “Shhhh” to loud talkers at concerts. Have I done it? Yes, once. Two guys next to me at a Gov’t Mule concert were so busy yacking with each other that I couldn’t focus on the performance, much less hear it.
The big debate over cell phones at concerts is a non-starter for me. Because if the band is on fire, you tend to see more phones clustered in the air to capture the magic on stage. Fans are focused on shooting the performance instead of talking with friends. The band has their attention.
I view a concert crowd with cell phones high in the air as a compliment to the musicians on stage. The attention is on them.
Besides, I enjoy some of the concert videos uploaded to YouTube. There are many shows across the country, even the world, I can’t attend and watch a video of a special night can be exciting. In fact, if the artist is really good, I’ll search their tour schedule to see if they’re playing in my city because I liked what I saw on the video. That is more common than you might think.
For some music artists, mobile phones and videoing is a thorny topic. More and more are pushing back against phones at their concerts. I understand their point of view that phones can create a barrier between them and the audience. Bruno Mars told The Los Angeles Times “With cameras, you’re like, ‘I don’t know if I want to try out this dance move tonight’.” The fear is that a misstep might end up on social media. I get that. Who wants documentation of a sour note on the internet?
Some artists and bands are prohibiting phones, requiring fans to lock their phones in Yondr pouches. Jack White, Bob Dylan, John Mayer, Madonna, Beyonce, and Adele have implemented cell phone bans at their concerts and have expressed frustration about them interfering with their interactions with the audience.
Are fans actually missing out on the live concert experience by snapping photos or videoing a song? Or have phones become a part of the live music experience as with the rest of our culture and it’s time to adjust?
“Are fans missing out on the live concert experience by videoing with cell phones?”
There’s a misconception by music artists that concert fans are more enamored by their cell phones than the artists themselves on stage. That’s probably not true for most people. Capturing the performance and immortalizing it seems to be the thrill. It’s a souvenir of sorts from an experience that can be relived.
There’s something to be said for recording a few songs of a concert that actually benefits the artist. Passionate about the music, you share it and turn others on to it. Isn’t that good marketing for musicians?
Take the Grateful Dead. They allowed concert goers to record their shows. Fan-recorded cassettes were collected, traded and shared with other fans. When album sales slumped, new fans attended Grateful Dead concerts after hearing the shared concert tapes.
The late Jerry Garcia had encouraged recording recording of their live shows, even creating a “tapers section” for fans to set up their equipment at their shows. In the mid 80s, recording and trading became a Grateful Dead sub-culture and proved to be very successful marketing for the band. Dead Heads were encouraged to swap tapes. Drummer Mickey Hart said in this article , “So then we made sections, just for the tapers; and that was a brilliant move as far as us getting our music out to millions of people who would never hear it. People wouldn’t buy our records because they weren’t up to par. So it was quite good fortune actually.”
“Jerry Garcia encouraged recording of their live shows.”
For a different take on this subject, Bob Dylan has banned all smartphones from his upcoming gigs in the UK later this year as he aims to prevent unauthorized footage of his gigs released online. According to Yahoo, concert attendees will be required to lock their devices in a provided Yondr pouch and will stay locked unless fans enter a phone access zone.
Apparently, Dylan and other major artists are concerned about loss of income if fans film their shows and upload to social media. They claim loss of revenue from their DVDs if footage is available online. See here.
When you have not purchased a major artist’s DVD if there are cell phone videos of the performance online? Mobile phone video is not even close to professional quality video. Consider the professional videographer and camera equipment, the variety of angles, the zoom.
Is it possible that certain artists want to control fan videos because professional videos for DVDs and the like can make them sound and appear better?
Others reject the idea of recording concert performances and uploading them to social media because they might satisfy enough fans so that they don’t attend the live shows. How can anyone believe that a cell phone video of a band’s performance could replace attending a live show? If that were true, livestreaming at its height during the pandemic would have all but obliterated concert attendance.
Live Nation reports the highest quarterly concert attendance ever, with concert attendance up 20% as compared to the same quarter in 2019 (pre-pandemic.)
Do I like staring at cell phone screens at concerts? No, but I have pretty much adjusted to them. From front door Ring videos to security cameras that film entire cities, I just can’t get all worked up about cell phone videos at concerts. And at $15-30 for a Yondr pouch, multiplied by 20,000 seats for a large venue, it seems like a very expensive option.
I welcome your thoughts on this. Please comment below.