Over the weekend the tweeting at gigs debate was rekindled by a short article on the Guardian Music Blog. It was sparked by Jack White’s recent decision to post signs at his gigs asking the audience to ‘please leave your phones in your pockets/purses and enjoy the show live and in person’. Danny Wright finished the piece stating that:
The sentiment is really a small part of the wrestling of control away from centralised bodies that the ‘general public’ has experienced as they’ve gained access to forms of social media. In this case the tension is a small localised one, rather than a global issue – do they audiences let the artists captivate them, or do they try and capture some of the experience for their own (and others) supposed gain? Within an audience we’re all performers forming part of the live musical experience, but the question is do we let it wash over us, or do we try to capture the flow…
Most of the comments that followed Danny Wright’s article expressed anger at those audience members who were missing out on the ‘real experience’ by hiding behind screens.
A few more animated responses indicated frustration at being distracted from the events by the screens of other people, or anger at being reprimanded from disturbing someone else’s recordings.
Very few commentators stepped in to fight the opposite side of the argument. Either most people really are infuriated by the profusion of mobile screens at gigs, or, those who whip out our iPhones to record a song aren’t the sort to wade into an argument via an article directly attacking them. The general tone of the comments seems to suggest that personal technological mediation of the event through portable devices was a distraction that should be quashed.
But it’s not twitter, or Facebook or video-recording that’s really being attacked here, it’s the appropriateness with which these tools get used during live music events. As these devices become more and more useful, with apps like Vyclone allowing users to shoot footage of gigs and edit together multi-camera synchronised footage crow-sourced from other Vcloners, the general swing seems to be towards using devices more often – and for longer.
The tension is also one of space, those people tweeting and recording feel like they are opening up bounded spaces. They’re sharing the experience of music with those unable to attend, they’re giving back something to a wider musical community, rather than just soaking up the atmosphere, hoarding it up for themselves. They do it for their friends who couldn’t make it, and they do it for people like this:
The problem is though that gigs are purposefully bounded spaces, which we choose, and normally pay, to enter a restricted space. The person stood behind the guy recording the gig on his iPhone paid to experience live music, not to experience it via someone else’s iPhone – and it’s this which frustrates and angers.
The answers to how, where and how much to use these tools has to come from either the music venue and/or the artist. Without Jack White telling people to ditch their iPhones, or the venue erecting signs, those of us who ‘do social media’ are going to do it when they want – that’s the point, it’s a personal sharable activity. They’re probably not even going to notice how distracting it is to others because they’re still ‘in a moment’ and ‘having a ‘real experience’ when they’re looking at these screens – it’s just a different experience to those surrounding them.
Without guidance or a reason not to use personal portable tech at gigs the tension between screens and experience is going to keep on simmering. Audiences may get annoyed by artists telling them to put their phones away – or they may be equally irked by other artists encouraging their fanbases to shoot and upload footage with a specific hashtag. Without first understanding the audience itself the problem isn’t going to get solved.
Artists, and venues help define the rules of what audiences can and can’t do within the space of a venue, and it’s up to them to realise what should be encouraged or discouraged depending on who’s attending an event, And it’s up to us, the audience, to pay attention what these rules may be.
Coming up with these rules is not going to be an easy task, but, by talking about and debating the ideas of capturing and being captivated we can begin to take steps towards some sort of resolution.