Michael Anton

Tweeting @Gigs: Captivating or Capturing?

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:

Our preoccupation with tweeting, posting, texting and filming destroys the intimacy of what the best live performances should be, which is a captivating and all-encompassing experience.

Danny Wright @theguardian

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.

Bloody mobiles should be turned in on the door at gigs. It baffles me why people spend money on a ticket then spend most of the night on their phone.

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.

it’s actually incredibly infuriating to those members of the audience standing behind them, who would rather watch what’s happening onstage

A couple of times I’ve even had dirty looks or comments because my enjoyment of the music was affecting someones attempted recording. It’s a joke,

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:

I cherish the opportunity, afforded to me by the generosity of others, to see clips of gigs by artists that I love on YouTube, when I wasn’t able to attend the gig myself for various reasons – sometimes financial, but more often because I like a wide variety of music and can’t see all the gigs by all the artists I like.

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.

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Michael Anton is a geography PhD graduate in London who has just finished a thesis on the cultural construction of space within places of live music. He's also a runner, writer and digital media obsessive.
  • http://elliemiles.wordpress.com ellie miles

    I really like the new website and this post made me think a lot. At the moment many museums are really keen to encourage social media and the use of mobile devices during the visit so it’s really refreshing to think about a different perspective.

    It’s the eerie stillness of people recording that sometimes bothers me. If there are too many people standing very still with their phones in the air I feel as though they’re getting in the way of the dancing. If I made the rules I’d be a bit authoritarian and if anyone wanted to film anything they’d have to do some dancing first, or go and stand with the press and photographers!

    • http://www.michaelanton.co.uk Michael Anton

      As geographers (at heart, or having been forced to become one!) I guess it’s all about spaces. The liveness and experience of space at a venue means stopping to record seems out of place. Whereas doing the same thing in the more contemplative space of a museum is, perhaps, more in keeping with the place.

  • Adam

    An interesting read. I must confess I’ve recorded my favourite songs at live gigs over the years. Suppose it’s recording a moment to enjoy in the future vs enjoying the moment there and then. Often the quality is never that good and I rarely ever looked at the recording again…I’ve pretty much stopped recording stuff at gigs now. (still take a few photos here and there though)
    Perhaps there should be a move to more post-gig online access (with fees/registeration etc) to quality recordings…

    • http://www.michaelanton.co.uk Michael Anton

      Thanks for the reply Adam. Personally I’ve made the same sort of progression. Though perhaps my change has come about now I’ve finished actually researching live music experiences and moved to writing about them. In terms of post-gig online access we’re already seeing some things like this pop-up. MoshCam is probably the most notable example out there.

  • Hannah Crump

    My level of irritation not only depends on the artist and venue, but alao the song. If I’m jumping around to Hot Chip I probably won’t notice the person standing next to me with their camera out, but if I want to really listen to and soak up a Jens Lekman ballad then I don’t want a screen separating me and the moment. Good food for thought.

  • simonorton

    Theatres are also ‘purposely bounded’ spaces too, but you don’t get people tweeting the actors lines …

    I don’t think the ‘answer’ does come (solely) from the artist / venue. It also needs to come from those of us who object to having a camera held up in our faces or the constant and distracting glow of phones and deciding to say something about it. Most people won’t though, and silence becomes a form of endorsement – if the anti-social media people don’t experience complaint then they’re not going to know how annoying it can be to others.

    As much as there’s something to be said for wanting to share the moment with others outside the boundaries (how did we manage before ? We TALKED to people, another example of how technology which purports to bring people closer together actually drives them further apart) I think it’s actually more of a case of people wanting to prove something about themselves rather than wanting to serve others. As a poster in the linked article suggests :

    “I think people try and use social media to create a kind of persona and how they think their extended peer group perceives them has become more important than enjoying the actual gig or whatever itself.”

    Ultimately, I paid to see the person whose name is on the ticket, not a camera display as it records shonky YouTube clips or someone’s phone as they Twatter on all night.

    Good. Now we’ve got that sorted can we turn our attentions to the lovely folk who talk all the way through a gig …

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