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Are Smartphones Ruining Concerts?

  • Cecilia Thomas

Mark Vopel records Jane's Addiction performance on the LG Thrill 4G, a glasses free 3D smartphone, at the 3D User-Generated Concert, July 25, 2011 in New York.

Mark Vopel records Jane's Addiction performance on the LG Thrill 4G, a glasses free 3D smartphone, at the 3D User-Generated Concert, July 25, 2011 in New York.

Music fans are eager, these days, to share with all their friends the bands they go to see. And that means taking pictures and videos at the shows and posting them on YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites. But not everyone is happy about it.
Smart phones are ruining the concert-going experience says Andy Greene, an Associate Editor at Rolling Stone Magazine. It was a few years ago, at a concert by singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, that he realized what a problem smart phones were becoming.
“I’m in the first row of the balcony. And I look down at the orchestra and it was like looking at the stars; almost every seat was lit up by a screen and people staring at the screen," Greene recalls. "And I just wanted to scream ‘Do you realize you’re watching one of the greatest songwriters ever perform some of the greatest songs ever!?"

"And it’s just a rare, unique gift, a treat we’re all here experiencing this, and you’re not even watching it. You’re all on your cell phones! And I just got really mad," he admits. "And since then it’s become a bigger and bigger problem as smart phones become more pervasive across the culture.”

At pop concerts, fans push to the front to get blurry pictures and videos of their favorite acts. Greene is hardly the only one complaining. Village Voice blogger Maura Johnston listed “Six Reasons Why Your Phone Is Probably Ruining Your Concert Experience (And Everyone Else’s).” Among her reasons? She says people filming aren’t really listening to the music and aren’t really engaged in the social experience of being at a concert.
Many bands have been unhappy about the use of smart phones to take videos and photos, but they don’t want to alienate fans by trying to crack down on it.
Even in the refined realm of classical music, the cell phones come out. Classical pianist, Krystian Zimerman, recently stopped a performance and left the stage when he saw an audience member filming him on a smartphone.
Of course, plenty of musicians embrace audience use of smartphones as a way to market their shows -- especially aspiring artists, according to Mark Katz, author of “Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music.”
“Someone records what was a truly amazing performance and posts it on YouTube and it starts to get attention, that could help the performer who might not have any other way of reaching out to such a broad audience,” Katz notes.
Even well-established bands are eager to use the smartphone revolution as a way to earn more money at their shows, tapping into their fans’ social media activity.
“You have a link to a site where you actually want to sell products, and it integrates directly with Twitter so you can put that up there and you can actually buy straight from the Tweet or from the Facebook post,” says Evie Nagy, who writes about technology for Billboard Magazine.
But Rolling Stone’s Andy Greene insists it just isn’t worth it, especially for the audience.
“You take horrible pictures. You produce horrible films on your phone that you never even watch. You distract yourself. You distract those around you. They’re nothing but a liability,” he says.

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