I attend a lot of concerts in a lot of different types of venues for work and for pleasure. With the spring and summer concert season upon us I thought it would be a good time to introduce a new series here on the blog - Music Monday. The first subject I want tackle is the cell phone and whether or not it it ruins the concert going experience for the concert goers as well as the musicians. I attended a show at a very small venue on Friday. The artist was A.J. Croce and before he performed the representative for the venue came out to make the obligatory announcements including "Silence your cell phones", "No video taping", and another one that was puzzling, "And we have been asked to tell you to not post anything on Facebook." What?! Why specifically Facebook? Why not Twitter? Instagram? Vine? I was perplexed! Most of the audience looked to be over the age of 65. Is Mr. Croce under a virtual restraining order from Mark Zuckerburg? Is "Facebook" now an old person cipher for "social media" or "Internet"? I mean, he has a freaking Facebook page!
Look, I get it. I'm sure it's a pain in the ass to work hard on a show and to look out at the audience only to see the backs of cell phones instead of faces reacting to your music that you've put your blood, sweat, and tears into. That announcement didn't get me to focus on the music, though. All I could think about for the first few songs was, "What the f*** is his problem?" and "How do you think I found out about your little show, Mr. Croce? A paper notice on a light pole?"
I have absolutely nothing against A.J. Croce. He's a terrific songwriter and his piano playing blew me away. I thought he put on a great show. I'm sure he's a wonderful soul. I just think he and many other musicians may need to take a page out of Bjork's book if they don't want to have a sea of cell phones to look at. She turned a negative into a positive. Before Bjork performed at Bonnaroo last year she had a manifesto projected on the jumbotron. "At the Artist’s request please refrain from taking photographs or recording images. This is distracting to Björk and she would encourage you to please enjoy being part of the performance and not preoccupied with recording it. Images from this show will be available on www.bjork.com. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated." What you came away with was not the typical don't-steal-my-music-you-lousy-ingrate. She set the tone for how she wanted the audience to behave and she did it by making the audience a partner in her spectacle and providing them with images on her site.
It's no secret the music industry is about 10 years behind the internet wave. Social media and cell phones are here to stay so you might as well jump on board and use them to your advantage. Most musicians choose to ignore them and just announce that cameras with removable lens can't be used and no video. Many embrace them. I've seen Trace Atkins tweet while he was on stage and members of the Black Eyed Peas stop and pose for a fan to take a picture mid-song. A few have banned the use of any cameras, including cell phones. I don't think all those blurry, filtered cell phone pictures will put me out of a job any more than the videos taken with them will negate the download of a mastered track.
As much as cell phones and cameras are a pain in the ass for musicians and performers, I think they are a bigger pain for the audience members. When I'm working a performance, my job as a professional is to get in, get the shot, and get out while disturbing the artist and the audience as little as possible and only during the first three songs or so. Most audience members don't have a professional code of conduct to go by.
I think banning cell phones completely is unrealistic but we all know why we have rules; to help curb poor judgement. I was really enjoying the cell phone free A.J. Croce show until the person I was sitting by pulled out their cell phone to sneak a picture and broke the spell. There will always be That Guy/Girl. Here are some guidelines (back in the day they called it etiquette) that, if followed, will keep the concert going experience a good one.
First, I want to address the musicians: Don't Antagonize Your Fans! We've laid down a significant portion of our disposable income and set aside our valuable time to see you perform. Don't have security shine their flashlight in the face of that 50 year-old who took their cell phone out for 10 seconds (Unless they are using a flash which, in that case, put them in a choke-hold and drag them out by their toenails). Don't speak to us like we are 5 year-olds or hardened criminals. Maybe everyone should re-read "Dale Carnegie: How to Win Friends and Influence People". We need rules but we don't need to be "ruled". Pick a time when it's okay for your fans to take pictures like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs did. They announced the crowd could take pictures at the end of the show.
Now for the fans:
1. DON'T USE FLASH EVER It won't help your picture anyway and it's annoying to everyone around you and to the people on stage. In some cases it can be dangerous especially for dancers. I was at a concert at the Ryman and a woman in front of me pulled out a huge rig (SLR, telephoto lens, a flash the mimicked the sun). Security had just jumped all over my son for putting his feet on their precious pews but let this chick ruin three quarters of the show for our entire section! To make matters worse, I could see the back of her camera and her pictures were horrible! If you are going to break every rule in the book and annoy the hell out of everyone, for God's sake, get a decent picture!
2. Turn the brightness down on your screen If you spent $100 to see a show and want to sit and text your friend or tweet during the whole thing, that's your business but don't blind me with the damn screen. In a small venue it's the equivalent of driving with your bright lights on. See #1 above.
3. Take your photos during the first song or two Trust me, nothing really gets any different after that. If someone joins them on stage or there is a costume change or they fall flat on their ass, fine; get another shot.When they come out for the encore, get another shot. The rest of the time, just enjoy the show.
4. Don't video an entire song No one, including you, is going to watch the whole thing. If it's your favorite song then you know what the best part is. How long is a Vine? That's how much of the song you should shoot. Don't hold up your phone blocking the people behind you for 4 minutes.
5. Don't try to upload during the concert Upload speeds are likely to be slow anyway. Waiting until after the show will give you a chance to judiciously edit your images. You do that, right?
6. If there are rules, follow them I know some rules are stupid and it sucks that you can't take a crappy cell phone picture to show all your friends how cool you are that you are getting to see Fun, and they aren't. Remember, this is not your living room. There are people around you and when security has to get all on your ass, you will cause the show to be disrupted for everyone in your immediate area. They will hate you for the rest of the night and nobody needs that much negative energy.
I guess to answer my own question: social media and the use of cell phones wouldn't ruin the concert experience for me if everyone had simple manners.
What about you? Do cell phones bother you at concerts? Do you think they should be banned entirely?
Next week: Festival going when you are over 40.