At almost every show these days, there are fans lifting phones in the air, sometimes to record an entire set. But even if the band totally hates it, they usually let it ride, simply because they don’t want to piss off the very people who are supporting their livelihood.
But that doesn’t mean they like it, and complicating matters is that a lot of fans hate the obstructed views and distractions that cellphone recording causes. So you have a bunch of people unhappy, both on-stage and off.
So what’s the solution? Apple is actually inventing a technology that would prevent recording within specific areas. But triggering that capability raises all sorts of issues, especially if the band is shutting down phone capabilities without permission. And there are all sorts of big brother issues that come into play if you’re not allowed to record certain events or situations, like public gatherings, protests, or law enforcement personnel.
Anyway, Apple is only at the patenting stage, and may never release anything. So what can a band do right now to control this? On the eve of a series of secret shows, the Lumineers decided on a novel idea: locking pouches that prevent people from accessing their phones during the show.
Developed by a company called Yondr, the pouches self-lock within a specific perimeter, and are inaccessible during the gig (it’s just a secured pouch). If the fan needs access, he can simply walk outside the perimeter, and receive the text, take the call, call an Uber, or whatever.
That worked for the Lumineers, especially since it saved them from being bad cop. And it sounds like people in the crowd actually liked the break from their phones. “If you can set it up so that people can’t get to their phones as easily or are deterred, people actually really welcome that,” Lumineers singer Wesley Shultz told NPR. “It’s just such a strong force of habit in our lives right now.”
During the NPR interview, Shultz raised a pretty good point. People would never whip out their phones and start recording a Broadway show. So why is it considered okay to record a music show? “I think of it like, if we had that same attitude and you went to see Hamilton, people would be totally up in arms about that,” Schultz said. “But for some reason it’s completely acceptable to do at shows.”
Actually, the main motivation for the Lumineers was that they were trying out new material. That opened the strong possibility that crappy YouTube clips of songs they hadn’t even released would start surfacing. The pouches helped to control that problem, and comedian Louis C.K. has also used the pouches while testing out new material.
Other solutions? Some artists just yell at the crowd, but that’s a really difficult fight to win. Playing bad cop is tough, and when the crowd is anything bigger than 100 people, the artists lose all total control over the audience.
There’s also a lot to be said for simply not caring, especially if your music is already out there and your set is tight. The reason is that people rarely record stuff at shows and keep it to themselves. Instead, they’re pushing their recordings onto Snapchat, Facebook, or Instagram, all the while creating more interest in the artist and potentially driving up attendance for the next gig. Not to mention that these are fans that paid to see you, and this is the experience they want.
Top image by letobladioblada, taken (with a cellphone) at the Reading Festival in 2013. Middle images from Yondr.