Everyone who went to Jack White's concert at the Mayan in 2014 was greeted by the poster above. Using some of the hand signs from concertgoers in each decade, it highlights an emerging issue for artists and fans at modern concerts: the rise of the smartphone camera.
The concert experience is one of the most unique in our culture: a small group of people, and in some cases one person, connects on a personal level to an audience of hundreds if not thousdands through music. There are other examples of similar experiences, like theatre or public speaking, however the abstract nature of music makes the concert far more personal. The artist feels the energy from the audience while each attendee may react to the performance differently from the next. I vividly remember Sam Beam of Iron & Wine silencing the entire Hollywood Bowl by himself, Danny Elfman performing "Dead Man's Party" for the first time in 20 years, and my first Robert Plant concert. These memories unique to the concert setting.
In modern times, we like to share our everyday lives through social media. With the power of a camera in our pockets, we can capture anything at any time. I can't tell you how many random pictures and videos of my dog I could share. On top of that, we have moved beyond the simple photo to a host of different ways to capture video as well.
So what does this mean for the concert experience? We used to focus our attention solely on the band, but now concerts are filled with little screens floating in the air as people film away. Instead of focusing on becoming one with the music we want to capture the show, with bad picture and poor audio I might add, to share with our friends. Is this really what going to a show is about? Shouldn't we be focusing on connecting with the artist and not our phones?
Personally, I keep a simple rule: take pictures during the first song and then put the phone in my pocket. I can share my experience through a simple photo. When it comes to video, I avoid it altogether. The sound won't come out correctly and it's nowhere near the same experience. Most of the videos on my phone will never see the light of day again anyway.
Some musicians have taken arms against filming concerts. Jack White not only has the poster above, a member of his crew comes onstage to requst people find pictures to share on Jack's website. Father John Misty uses a neon "No Photography" sign hanging behind him on his latest tour, however you never know if he's just joking or actually serious.
So what do you think? Do you film concerts with your smartphone?