Hanging on the Telephone

Why do today's concert-goers seem unable to put their phones down?
Are we becoming a generation of phone-filming addicts? (Image: Shutterstock)
Are we becoming a generation of phone-filming addicts? (Image: Shutterstock)

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While most people will admit to taking a couple of sneaky selfies at a big event, is the age of smartphones and social media sharing taking something away from the real value of attending a live performance?

It’s something that we’ve all probably done at one point or another. You’re in the crowd at your favourite band’s concert, ‘your’ song starts up and you whip out your smartphone to capture the moment for prosperity.

While we’re not saying there’s anything wrong with wanting to take away a keepsake of a special moment, it hasn’t escaped our attention at Sound & Stage that, now more than ever, we attend a show, gig, or other production, only to find ourselves watching the entire thing through the selection of small screens being held up by people in front.

Far from simply being a bugbear of those who would prefer to watch with their own eyes rather than through another person’s smartphone, the issue of people recording a performance on their mobile has been thrust further into the spotlight recently due to a variety of high-profile objections.

Among the plethora of artists making their thoughts on the matter quite clear is singer Kate Bush. The last time she took to the stage, the mobile phone was still only in the prototype stage. However, ahead of her triumphant return last month after a 35-year hiatus from performing live, Bush released a statement appealing to her fans to put down their phones and simply enjoy the show.

She wrote on her website: “I have a request for all of you who are coming to the shows. We have purposefully chosen an intimate theatre setting rather than a large venue or stadium. It would mean a great deal to me if you would please refrain from taking photos or filming during the shows.”

Bush continued: “I very much want to have contact with you as an audience, not with iPhones, iPads or cameras. I know it’s a lot to ask but it would allow us to all share in the experience together.”

Considering that her statement was made before a 22-date string of highly-anticipated shows at London’s Hammersmith Apollo — and a subsequent DVD release — it may have simply been a matter of Bush wanting to keep things a surprise for those fans that had waited over three decades to see what theatrics she had in store.

Or it could be that the Wuthering Heights star is simply part of a generation that doesn’t see the need to have a phone permanently attached to the end of our arm. The Who frontman, Roger Daltrey, also recently made his views known, dismissing it as “weird” that people nowadays seem to be concentrating on the screen in their hand rather than the artist on stage.

At the launch event for the band’s 50th anniversary tour in July this year, Daltrey said: “I feel sorry for them, I really feel sorry for them. Looking at life through a screen and not being in the moment totally — if you’re doing that, you’re 50 per cent there, right? It’s weird. I find it weird.”

The Who guitarist Pete Townshend added: “If you’ve been to Glastonbury this weekend I hope you enjoyed the music rather than feeling you have to build a Facebook story about it.”

And it’s pretty difficult for a lot of people not to at least slightly agree with Townshend’s comment. Although you may be the type who genuinely just wants to personally relive a special moment again at a later date, the likelihood is that most guerrilla recordings taken at gigs won’t stay private.

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Not long after the show is over, usually even during the event itself, many audience members will start the social media sharing process. Whether it’s with their own friends on Facebook or with the entire world via YouTube, within an hour of any big moment you’re almost guaranteed it will be online somewhere, if not already in multiple versions and from various angles.

But what are the legal implications when it comes to this type of sharing? Those of you who may have previously dabbled in making your own YouTube content have probably experienced the dreaded “video removed due to copyright infringement” message just minutes after uploading your effort.

Even if it’s a completely innocent video greeting to wish a long-distance friend a happy birthday via their favourite song, it seems that using licensed music as an accompaniment to your mini-flick is simply not acceptable.

So how are we able to find hundreds, if not thousands, of grainy concert clips online? In the ongoing battle against music piracy, what is the difference between sharing an official music recording online and sharing your own footage from a live performance?

Anita Siassios, Senior Associate in the Technology, Media and Telecommunications group at Al Tamimi & Company, explains: “The difference comes down to ownership in the recording and whether sharing of such recording is with the proper authorisation of the owner.

On the one hand, you have an official video/recording which will most likely be owned by the artist (or if not the artist, then an official rights-holder for that video/recording; that is, someone who the artist has authorised to take such video/recording).

Sharing this video/recording in any way (whether online or otherwise) other than as authorised by the owner of that recording will infringe the ownership rights of the artist and/or official rights-holder.”

Siassios continues: “On the other hand, you have a recording taken by a concert attendee. Without going into too much technical detail, there are various levels of copyright ownership. In this instance, the recording on the mobile phone itself will be owned by the concert attendee.

But the contents of the recording — i.e. the music and the performance of the music by the artist — will be owned by the artist. Unless the artist has given his or her permission for concert attendees to record the concert, and permission to share the recording of the concert, the concert attendee will have infringed the artist’s rights in the music and the performance of the concert by sharing this recording. In all cases, however, the unauthorised use of copyright works gives the copyright owner legal grounds to pursue the unauthorised user for copyright infringement.”

While the legal implications are still a grey area for many members of the general concert-going public, it seems that — innocent or not — fans are actually impeding on copyright law by sharing footage, even though they may technically own the rights.

However, in reality, we are yet to hear of any cases where a short clip on a fan’s Facebook page has resulted in any serious legal action. The likelihood is — as we mentioned before — that the site will remove any content that could be deemed copyright infringement almost as soon as it is uploaded.

While the artist/rights-holder to a show may be fighting an ongoing battle against unauthorised sharing, you might think that those people behind the scenes would be more than happy for their work to go viral. Think of what a coup it would be for “You won’t believe what this lighting designer did next ...” to result in millions of hits to your website.

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But, no matter how state-of-the-art a smartphone may be, the quality is never going to give a fair representation of how mind-blowing a moment was in real life. And, for those who work in the live production industry, seeing all your hard work reduced to a pixelated, shaky and distorted clip is surely not the ideal way you would want the world to witness your creation?

However, Andy Jackson, managing director of Delta Sound, believes that this is not as detrimental a factor as it could be presumed.

He explains: “I don’t think it has any effect on the overall impression of the show’s audio quality. I would imagine that 80 per cent of the footage never actually leaves the phone and, at best, is played back on a laptop. It’s a current medium and once posted on social media is generally forgotten about. The real negative is that it does take away much of the live concert experience and interaction with the artist for the user.”

Jackson continues: “I don’t think that many things transfer well to a smartphone in terms of quality. You may be able to pick up some of the show ambient (usually a hysterical fan too close to the smartphone mic) but we live in a society where everything has to happen now, and is forgotten about immediately after. If you want to really savour a concert and the production, buy the DVD.”

But, as with all things that people can be quick to criticise, there are those that fully support the other side of the argument. One such person is Sam Watts, head of product at Vyclone, an app that works by connecting people who film at the same time and location so that, when users upload their content to the app, it’s mixed together to create a perfectly synced video featuring everyone’s different perspective.

Watts explains: “It’s so easy to film at a show — I think that’s the key here. Once you start filming we see various reasons why. There’s the ‘I can’t believe I’m here’ person who wants to film as a keepsake. Chances are they will film their favourite song and probably take photos while at the show. There’s the ‘compulsive sharer’ that wants to let everyone know where they are. These people will upload while still at the show and spend more time tagging, commenting and pushing out to their social networks than watching the show!”

“Then there’s the ‘engager’,” Watts continues. “These are people who want to capture the memories and will film little snippets through the show. They might upload at a later date if the video is of good enough quality. And finally, you have the ‘iPad holder’ who we compare to standing behind Pharrell [in his trademark large hat] at a show. Nobody wants to be in that position, unless you are short sighted.”

While people who profess to ‘live in the moment’ and just enjoy music for what it is might consider it unimaginable to reduce their favourite artists to a below-par video clip in order to get a few ‘likes’, the technology that surrounds our lives these days is not going away.

And, perhaps with the right kind of crowd interaction and sharing, artists can even be helped along the way. After all, social media is one of the most powerful marketing tools these days, and, it would seem that some acts are more than willing to embrace that and move with the times.

Watts tells us: “Last year we filmed at a Mumford & Sons show in LA. It was quite intimate but lots of people still filmed. The band made a request before one song which was, ‘we’re going to do something we don’t normally do, but we’re going to make one request, that you don’t film it’. It was a spot on request and everybody put their cameras away. For me this is the way to approach filming at shows. Kate Bush made a heartfelt request, but for the whole show. I think it’s too much.”

“I honestly feel that if there is a part of the show they don’t want filmed then interact with the audience,” Watts continues. “Talk to them — make the audience feel like they are part of something special. Everyone knows that concerts are the main income for bands now so give the fans a great experience. And, if that means letting them film, let them film.”

So, while some acts may have successfully discouraged fans from filming, a blanket ban has not yet proved a hit. However, this is not to say that a total block on devices and audience filming would be out of the question.
Siassios explains: “Artists inherently own the copyright in the music as well as the performance at the concerts/gigs in which they stage. Strictly speaking, they are therefore in control of whether such music and performance may or may not be recorded.”

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“In this day and age however, an artist’s enforcement of his/her rights are to some degree limited,” Siassios continues. “The reason for this is largely practical — there is no legal provision to this effect. The fact is that some artists (and/or the venues) may not have the resources or the inclination to have each concert attendee check in his/her mobile phone, tablet or other recording device before the concert. Instead, artists may wish to set clear parameters in how concert attendees use the recording.”

As smartphones continue to get smarter, perhaps it just comes down to those people holding them to use their own intelligence? While most may want to get a few minutes on film, imagine someone standing in front of you while you were at work, holding their phone above their head while you spoke and furiously tweeting each time you paused for breath.

It may be an exaggerated example and, admittedly, celebrities and performing artists are there to be watched and adored. But, perhaps just every now and then, we could all do with putting the phones back in our pocket. After all, there’s a whole world out there and it’s a lot bigger than any screen.

Caught on camera
Well-known for crowd interaction at her concerts, even Beyoncé Knowles proved she isn’t immune to a touch of irritation caused by phone overload.

During her Mrs Carter tour in 2013, the R&B superstar was doing her usual ‘walk-through-the-crowd and point the microphone at fans to sing’ routine, when one audience member took an — albeit relatively good-natured — earful.

Noticing him concentrating on filming rather than joining in with the fun, Beyoncé couldn’t help but dish out a ticking off, saying: “See, you can’t even sing because you’re too busy taping. I’m right in your face baby. You gotta seize this moment baby! Put that damn camera down!”

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