Complain all you want about your friend’s constant string of concert videos on their Snapchat story, but you more than likely have been that person at some point. Even if you aren’t posting constantly, you might have some clips of a band performing your favorite song or selfies with your friends before the show. While you may see it as a harmless way to preserve memories, performers are looking to change that with phone-free concerts.
Musicians such as Beyoncé and The Lumineers have been banning or requesting limited use of phones at their shows for some time now, with the hope that audience members will be more present and engaged.
But is looking at your phone that big of a deal? Sure, having someone in front of you holding up a bright screen can be as bad as having a tall person blocking your view, but it isn’t always such a problem.
Audience comfort is not even the goal for most musicians, with performers such as Jack White instead striving for a “human experience.” Not only does the sentiment vilify technology, but it also ignores the fact that the experience of a concert should belong to the concertgoer.
But how do phone-free concerts work exactly? Once they arrive at a venue, people are handed Yondr pouches, which locks their cell phones inside; they then hold onto the pouches for the rest of the show.
For emergencies, they can exit the show and have the pouches unlocked so they can access their phones, but the rules stress that emergency calls be made outside of the concert area. While the rules seem fair, many still want the freedom to use their devices whenever they want.
Contrary to their original intention, seeking audience participation this way might have the opposite effect, since fans might feel upset about missing any part of the show they paid so much to see.
Unless you frequent basement shows, concerts can be pricey, especially when it comes to bigger names in the industry. Paying hundreds of dollars for a show means you want to get as much out of it as you can.
For some, that entails enjoying a phone-free concert and giving the performer undivided attention; for others, it means capturing and sharing the moment on social media. Whether you thrive with technology in your life or cringe every time you see someone looking at a screen, sharing pictures and videos on social media changes and defines an experience.
Indeed, the digital age has transformed what it means to have a human experience, but many still have trouble accepting that notion. It is understandable for performers to be concerned about special events such as comedian warm-ups for awards shows or surprise band reunions getting leaked online, but a standard concert being shared should not pose such a threat.
Technology brings people together and allows them to share experiences with those who cannot physically be there. It even has benefits for musicians, since social media can deliver their shows to a wider audience. However, if a performer bans the use of devices, it can threaten their image and negatively influence audience reception.
For this industry, publicity through word-of-mouth is a major source of marketing, and not just for the performers. The venues where the shows take place can gain publicity from audiences sharing their location on social media, something that would be impossible if concertgoers’ phones were locked away. Venues could lose the chance to host a performance, though, if they do not comply with the phone-free rule.
Performers may also risk seeming out of touch by demanding phone-free concerts. On some level, it makes sense that they would want their audiences to pay attention to them. Nevertheless, dictating audience experience is not the entertainer’s responsibility.
Musicians such as Jack White that advocate for human experience and audience engagement are hypocritical. How far can engagement go if the performer is on stage and away from concertgoers? For this reason, there is no personal interaction with audience members on the performer’s part. Engagement then becomes the responsibility of the audience member, not the performer.
Still, others argue that phone-free concerts help fans by removing any possible distractions. While the bright light of a mobile screen can be disruptive, consider the even greater distraction of people constantly exiting the show and coming back just to check their phones.
In extreme and hopefully rare cases, emergencies in venues can cause chaos if large groups of people stop to have their phones unlocked. In addition, if people only exit the venue, they can’t unlock their pouches to contact someone or meet back up with family or friends.
Jack White and other performers attempt to compromise with their audiences by providing professional videos and photos of their shows, but there is just something impersonal about that approach. This might arise from the fact that you are no longer able to document your own experiences, whether that be sitting front row or taking selfies with some friends. As a result, phone-free shows might leave fans with only forgettable memories.
While professional videos and photos from a concert can be kept and shared, scrapping the idea of phone-free concerts altogether may show a greater respect for performers and audiences.