Written by Camden Cassels
Are phones killing the concert experience? Since the advent of the camera phone, filming at concert venues has become a mainstay of live performances. Instead of witnessing the real time production on stage, many are absorbing the climax of shows through the lens of their phones. How do the fans feel about this phenomenon? What do the artists think? And how can we find a middle ground between recording the moment and living in it? Here’s what you need to know:
Everyone who has been to a concert has seen the same phenomenon. The performer belts out a popular song and a sea of phones emerge from everyone’s pockets. Pictures, videos, Snapchats, Instagram Stories, live streams, and camera flashes flood the venue.
The live viewing experience shifts dramatically with thousands of fans recording the show. This problem is relatively new, having become a fixture in the era of high-quality cell phone cameras. With advancing camera capacity and concert attendance at an all-time high, the audience’s obsession with filming each moment seems stronger than ever.
Surprisingly, a study done by Eventbrite in the UK shows that a strong majority of people, many of whom flash their phones at concerts, want phone use restrictions during live performances. The study, done by market research consultancy ComRes on behalf of Eventbrite, shows that 70% of people find it irritating when others take pictures and videos at concerts, and 69% agree that some action should be taken to reduce phone use.
However, this issue is complicated. The research shows that while attendees want others to put their phones away, they would still like to be able to use their own phones. The same study found that 49% of the group had taken photo or video at a concert in the past year, and 33% of people say that taking pictures or filming is an important part of the live experience.
Dr. Lee Hadlington, a cyberpsychology professor at De Montfort University in Leicester writes, “You’ve got a paradox. People are saying, ‘It’s OK if I use my phone at an event, because I want to get this special photo, but when someone else does it, that’s really annoying.”
There are multiple factors that determine the volume of phone use at a concert, but the most important seems to be age. Younger attendees use phones at a much higher rate than their more senior concertgoers. 62% of attendees aged 18-24 said they had snapped pictures at a concert this year.
This high rate of phone use among young concertgoers contrasts with an equally low number of young people supporting the phone ban for others. The ticketing company Skiddle surveyed 1,200 people aged 16-30, finding that just 27% of people wanted a full device ban at concerts.
Conversely, of the 73% of those opposed to a phone ban, more than 50% answered that they enjoyed reliving the experience after the event is over, and 24% said they like to share the content on social media platforms.
This issue is not restricted to the fan perspective. Prominent artists have spoken out about the restriction of phone use. Instead of connecting with their fans and interacting with them, performers often look out into a sea of phones.
Superstars like Kendrick Lamar, Adele, Alicia Keys, and Prince have all made statements asking their fans to put their phones away during the shows. Fans aren’t blind to the artist sentiment. Eventbrite found that 81% of concert-goers understand why an artist wouldn’t fans on their phones during shows.
Possible remedies to this issue have been tested at various events showing small success, but none have worked seamlessly. Some venues have tried putting phones in lockers away from the viewing areas, but fans prefer to have at least some access to their phone. Also, it’s inefficient for the event organizers to maintain and track everyone’s phone and locker.
Apple has patented a system that would emit infrared rays into the crowd, which would disable the camera function on viewers’ phones. This idea would work in theory, but the technique has not yet been used in any legitimate concert setting.
The most viable phone restriction technology has been Yondr. Venues receive hundreds of small, slim plastic cases that conceal and lock the phone while the attendee watches the concert. If someone wants to view their phone, they must go to a designated zone and wait for a venue worker to unlock the case.
While this strategy has shown signs of effectiveness, this strategy would be a logistical nightmare for stadium sized crowds. At this stage, Yondr has focused on venues with a capacity of a few hundred people or less.
Phone use at concerts is a trend that most people would agree has become a problem. While many want to take their own pictures and videos, these same people also want to limit the ability for others to do the same. Most people also understand that their phone use may be frustrating for an artist, and agree steps should be taken to reduce usage.
Katie McPhee, head of marketing at Eventbrite writes, “Our report confirms that there is general agreement between audiences, artists, and promoters that using your phone during a live performance can be detrimental to the live experience, both for yourself and for those around you, and that it should be managed.”
Right now, the market remains open for a wide scale solution to this issue. None of the aforementioned remedies have yet entered the mainstream. People are generally opposed to being separated entirely from their phones, and no venue regulation standard exists. As technology moves forward and face-to-face fan engagement continues to dip, the music world needs a reliable way to flip off the phones.