The lights are off. The crowd is excitable and rowdy. The band you paid and waited for months to see are taking the stage. Suddenly, a horde of smartphones are thrust into the air and you’re forced to watch the rest of the gig in blinding five-megapixel misery. It’s a phenomenon that’s become all too familiar with live music, and it’s a divisive issue.
Photo: Flickr / Guus Krol
Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs brought this to the fore recently. At a performance at New York’s Webster Hall, the band put up signs telling fans “please don’t watch the show through a screen on a smart device/camera”, and to “put that shit away as a courtesy”.
It’s not difficult to see why they’re taking such a hard line. There is little benefit to filming, or indeed photographing, a live show. The microphones on most phones or tablets cannot cope with the volume of the music being hurled out the speaker system at the venue. This, coupled with the fact that people are likely to move around, mosh, and shout means the end product is almost always the same thing – a blurry mess of lights, accompanied by a horrendous mix of overwhelming bass and the tuneless wailing of surrounding drunkards. They are hardly YouTube worthy.
That’s not to say there are no smartphone advocates. Many people are more focused on capturing their favourite song or suchlike on film.
However, the fact that they steal away the romanticism and communal good feeling of a great live show – along with their tendency to ruin the view for everyone else – makes the benefits of a smartphone hard to see. The possible alternative is a specially recorded version that could be bought afterwards, but that’s currently an idea which is just not catching on.
Smartphones should not be banned completely at gigs, except perhaps the unwieldy iPad. Concert-goers should be content to keep the phone away, enjoy the show and leave recording to the professionals.