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live concert music

Singing to a distracted audience.

Penned by
Abby Francis


Over the past couple of years we've seen a few high-profile instances of a growing backlash against people whipping out their smartphones to snap pictures of gigs. Any dedicated showgoer will be no stranger to the sight of glowing iPhone screens jutting into view, and you may have some pretty strong opinions yourself‚ whether you're a keen snapper or a more in-the-moment kind of person.

The smartphone issue is such a big deal because, well, everyone has one now! For some, they're an essential part of the gig experience‚ snapping some shots for Instagram, a selfie with your mates in the crowd, a Snapchat video to tease friends who couldn't get tickets. For others, they're annoying, produce rubbish photos and videos, and get in the way‚ how can you enjoy the gig if you're watching it through a tiny screen?

Bands themselves are divided‚ Kate Bush, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Neutral Milk Hotel are among high-profile acts who have banned smartphones from their gigs, while others like Fall Out Boy and Weezer encourage loyal fans to upload their gig photos to Crowd Album.

As lovers of music and sellers of phones, we felt compelled to get involved in the debate, and surveyed the UK's gig-goers to find out their views. We also chatted to a few of our favourite up-and-coming acts‚ the bands and artists for whom social media exposure is the most useful‚ to hear their side.

Filming live event

The Public's Views

For those who are fed up with iPhone screens blocking their view of the stage‚ take heart, because it could be worse. Of the people we surveyed, only 44% said they used their phone at live music events, although this does rise to well over three quarters (79%) for the 18-24 age group‚ the bulk of the gig-going public.

Fortunately, at least, people are mostly watching the bands‚ 73% only used their phones to take pictures at concerts and gigs, rather than quickly checking Facebook during the new songs. And although young people use their phone more, they're more concerned with documenting the gig than with checking social media‚ it's older men who are the most likely to be tweeting through the set.

Unfortunately, it's all a bit shallow‚ less than one in ten people (9%) said they took pictures or videos of the band they were watching in order to promote them and share them with their friends. Instead, people are far more concerned with proving they were there to their social media followers and friends (30%). Looks like the personal brand of a culture-loving gig-attending music fan is more important for some than, you know, actually being a music fan!

Still, camera phones in the crowd are probably here to stay. Even though a number of acts have tried to block their use, they're certainly in the minority, and they're not all that effective either‚ there's always a few fans who can't resist and manage to dodge security.

The public remains in their favour too‚ just. Slightly under half (46%) said that phones should be banned at live music events, so the majority are still pro-phone, although two-thirds (69%) did say that they would keep their phone in their pocket if the artist requested‚ whether it was being enforced or not.

But it's all well and good for big names to ban smartphones from their gigs when they've got tour DVDs to sell, professional photographers at the side of the stage, and a massive social media following already. How do the smaller bands, for whom YouTube videos and positive tweets make up the majority of their marketing options, feel about their audiences pointing a phone in their direction?

Live music phone use chart

The Bands' Views

The Crookes

The Crookes are a 4 piece indie band from Sheffield with 2 albums and an EP to their name, they released their first single in 2009.

What is your opinion on people using their phones at gigs?

I don't understand people watching a whole gig through their iPhone screen - I grew up going to gigs without that so will always find it strange. It seems to detach people from the moment itself, which isn't ideal for a live show. Having said that, it's up to them - if they've paid for a ticket they can do what they like. As long as they're not talking all the way through - that's much worse!

The Crookes
What effect has the use of mobile phones and social media had on the band?

Being in a band is a very interactive experience now - loads more so than even five years ago. Social media allows you to build a strong bond with your fan base, which is great. It's also very useful for forging links with other, like-minded people - be they bands, film makers etc. The prevalence of smart phones means that feedback is instant - live shows are reviewed in 140 characters minutes after you've left stage, and you can't avoid that. Through your smart phone, you have a line of communication that is always open between yourself and the people who like your band. That's good in lots of ways, but it can be a bit all-consuming.

Have you noticed a change in smartphone usage at events since you first started?

Yes, definitely. Phones are everywhere at gigs. When you look out from the stage, depending on which song you're playing there'll be a sea of bright screens facing you. People want to record everything so they can show their mates later, or put it on Facebook or whatever, rather than just going crazy. I don't quite understand that but that's because I grew up taking disposable cameras to gigs, which were so crap there'd be no point taking photos anyway!

Do you think smartphones should be banned from gigs?

No. Some bands ask you not to use phones during their shows but I think that's daft. Like I said, there are worse things at gigs than camera phones. I'd have a zero tolerance ban on people having full-on conversations while a band is playing instead.

Do you think footage taken by fans at gigs has helped build your fan base from the content being shared online?

Good point - probably, yes. The sound is invariably terrible on those fan videos but you can usually get an impression of how a band looks and acts on stage, which is half the show. It's a double-edged sword though, because as a band you have no control over what performances make it online - there's certainly a few I'd have removed if I could!

Will Connor

Will Connor is an unsigned solo artist, currently based in London. He is planning to release his first EP in 2016.

What is your opinion on people using their phones at gigs?

I'm more than happy for people to use phones at gigs - I find that the pictures and videos uploaded to social media after gigs can be a massive boost in terms of spread of people who have heard my name and also heard my music, even if it's just a snippet that someone recorded that evening. As long as they are listening and enjoying what I'm doing, I see no problem with it. It's a massive compliment if someone's enjoying your live set so much they want to record it to listen again or share with friends.

Will Connor
What effect has the use of mobile phones and social media had on you?

I think that social media has helped me massively, particularly in the last year or so. I put a large emphasis on increasing my social media presence and went from around 500 followers on Twitter just over a year ago‚ now I have 6,000. I also record the video to my YouTube covers on my phone, which have allowed my music to be listened to all over the world, so I think it's helped massively - when I didn't record videos and just uploaded audio they received much lower views and were much less personal. Lots of fans also love having pictures with you ‚ without mobile phones it would be less accessible as not everyone has a camera of their own.

Have you noticed a change in smartphone usage at events since you first started?

Yes definitely! It's really clear to see on social media, because you can see the people interacting with it. You actually see comments from people who might not have seen you otherwise.

Do you think footage taken by fans at gigs has helped build your fan base from the content being shared online?

Yes definitely, in my first few gigs there was much less. In my last gig, there wasn't many people who weren't recording or taking pictures on smart phones - some even had selfie sticks out to get there phone higher than others to get the best video!

Do you think smartphones should be banned from gigs?

No I think that in the world we live in, where most people seem to have a smartphone it seems a little unrealistic to ban them completely. It also can be really helpful in terms of the free marketing and promotion you get from their online posts of your live material.

Lucy Spraggan

A singer-songwriter best known for her appearance on the X Factor in 2012, Lucy Spraggan has released 3 albums and tours with a small band.

What is your opinion on people using their phones at gigs?

There are two sides to this blade - people being able to interact, record, take pictures of and often even FaceTime other friends during a show is great, it can sometimes be a bit of a distraction though. Looking down to see someone on the front row quickly sending a text or catching a front facing FaceTime of someone in their living room can be off putting. I don't find any of the flashes or physical attributes distressing.

Lucy Spraggan
What effect has the use of mobile phones and social media had on you and your band?

I think they have been very important during my career, from a very young age I started to use social media to improve my stats and my following. I used my phone to record and take pictures of events, and used social media to promote these and to spread the message or product I was putting out.

Have you noticed a change in smartphone usage at events since you first started?

I have. When I first started playing (around 2003) I'm not sure that smartphones really were that obtainable, or if they existed. I started to notice more and more as time and technology progressed that they would become very useful.

Do you think smartphones should be banned from gigs?

I think that should be down to the artist that is playing; some musicians and singers are distracted or think that the audience are not getting the full experience. I believe if they paid for a ticket they can do what they like.

Do you think footage taken by fans at gigs has helped build your fan base from the content being shared online?

It certainly has. There are songs on the internet that I have only ever played live and have not recorded a studio version of. These songs are uploaded and shared by fans and give the opportunity for people to explore my new music before I've released it, and for people that haven't seen me perform live to experience it at home.