Concert Etiquette

Concert Etiquette – Has Cell Phone Use Gone Too Far?

It’s the moment every concert builds towards. The artist has finally reached their iconic hit song in the setlist. As the familiar opening riffs reverberate, the crowd instantly reacts with enthusiastic cheers for what’s about to come. The lead singer steps up to the microphone, clears their throat, and emphatically looks up to meet the attentive gaze of… a sea of cell phones.

Anyone who’s been to a concert in the past few years is undoubtedly familiar with this strange image, only more so from the opposite perspective: the array of rectangular screens that obscure sight-lines, and force many to watch the concert as digitally reproduced by an iPhone display. What started as a sign of appreciation—the modern equivalent of raising a lighter—is now a rising issue in live music, and artists are beginning to challenge the trend.

Recently, Savages and Yeah Yeah Yeahs posted signs at their concerts in an attempt to discourage the excessive use of cell phones, albeit the latter was a little more stringent. Even Zooey Deschanel’s band, She & Him, urge fans to “enjoy the show they have put together in 3D,” which raises the question, do artists have the right to make such requests, or does this simply fall into concert etiquette?

Ah, etiquette; the unspoken rules of concert attendance, like don’t push to the front because you’re “looking for friends,” don’t talk throughout every song, or don’t be that tall guy obstructing views like Yao Ming at a Taylor Swift concert. They’re rules that are all too often broken, and unfortunately, cell phone use seems to fall under the same category. It seems the only solution is for concertgoers to take it upon themselves to make the adjustment.

The truth is, the aforementioned artists do have a point. While nobody can be blamed for taking a few choice shots of their favorite band performing, there is definitely a quota for such activity. It’s certainly strange to hinder our enjoyment of a live event for the sole purpose of viewing it later. Any typical fan shouldn’t need to have their phone out for more than a few songs, but it appears the motivation for keeping that smartphone flying high isn’t always to capture a moment, it’s also to post the results to social networks.

Scoring internet bragging points from digital friends is a serious motivation for a lot of the cell phone use at concerts. Though it’s a little odd to detach oneself from an experience to mention that you’re enjoying said experience, anyone with a Facebook or Twitter can understand the draw, at least.

It takes effort to “unplug,” but it can be very liberating. Live music is so heavily dependent on crowd interaction, that it’s best experienced when everyone is completely involved, and thus, detached from the screens we so often view life through.

Phones at Concerts - Concert Etiquette

Photo Credit: Loren Wohl

With that, an anecdotal memory on how I learned the hard way:

The stars were aligned underneath a harvest moon, as Neil Young graced a stage in the middle of a field in late summer. Dusk had slowly peeled away the sweltering heat to create an evening that was “just right.” It was my first time seeing the flannel draped icon in all his glory, and as a few last measures of fuzz gushed out from the amplifiers, Neil strapped on an acoustic guitar.

Murky vapor slowly descended over the crowd as suddenly, Young finger-picked the first few strings of “The Needle and the Damage Done.” I knew I was witnessing something special. I fumbled to get the ephemeral tune on video, but spent the majority of its two-minute running time adjusting the camera to its “night” setting and trying to zoom in. The result—a barely visible speck on-screen backed with muddy audio.

I’d missed most of a favorite song to try to capture a moment beyond digital reproduction. In reality, nothing will ever compare to being there.

Article by Nicolas White
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