Monday Rant: Cameras and Phones at Concerts

Added on by Alex Koehne.

Going to see live music is one of my favorite things. There is nothing like hearing the melodic sensation blasting out of an amazing sound system. The music washes over you. The energy of the crowd surges. You connect with the performers in a unique way. Only you and those who are there that night will experience exactly what you are getting to experience. Every show is different and that makes it special.

I completely understand wanting to share the moment with friends and family. Maybe you want that friend who got you into the band in the first place to know you are there and give them a little taste of the experience. Maybe a song has significant meaning to a friend and you are excited so you record a little video, shoot a picture or send off a quick text. It’s a wonderful gesture. It feels good doing it and it feels good receiving it. 

But here’s the thing. That video you are shooting, with your camera blocking the view of the person behind you is crap. It’s over exposed, the sound quality is comparable to a screaming badger and it’s so shaky it seems highly plausible that you are having a seizure. My friend is trying to tell me they need help! Someone call a fucking medic! Chances are that your photos aren’t much better. 

And you know what? While it might be nice to receive the picture via mms or see that you are tagged in a video uploaded onto facebook, but at the end of the day, no one will miss it. No one will confront you and say, “Why didn’t you tag me in a video on facebook of a concert you went to without me?”

You go to concerts these days and the audience is filled with digital screens held high in the air. Hundreds or even thousands of people getting the exact same crappy video or picture. I get wanting to get a shot or two to remember the event. To capture a reminder of the essence of the moment is a very important thing. I have no problem shooting a shot or two throughout the show. Perhaps there is an especially cool piece of set or light show that you want to record. That makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense are the people who spend half the show watching a little LCD screen instead of the live fucking show that is right in front of them! I have stood next to and behind people like this many times. The whole show they are recording, texting and snapping pictures. What’s the point? I don’t want to sound like some zen hippy, but for crying out loud would you live in the fucking moment! It’s live goddamned music! Use the time to really appreciate the lyrics. Focus on the performances, the nuances, the reactions of the crowd and the power of the subtly and differences that make live music live. Once it’s recorded, it looses so much of that magic, even if it’s recorded well by professionals. What you are recording is not that.

For those of us trying to have an experience, it’s really distracting. The more you do it, the more it becomes intrusive. At Coachella this year I saw a guy recording shows on his fucking iPad! Way to use the “magical device” to remove the magic of the show. I mean seriously, the camera in that thing sucks. The screen is huge. Who the fuck do you think you are? Dumbass. Fucking asshole.

And then what? You get the video home and you show you’re friends. “They did this really awesome thing!” you say. “Let me show you.” So you go to your internet machine and pull it up. These days it’s most likely the screen on your phone. The sound recording that is pure and utter crap is even worse being played out of the crap speakers. I have watched many videos this way. I take the phone. I squint. I cup my hand to the speaker trying to amplify the sound a bit. I get a vague impression of what you are talking about but nothing more than what you’ve already told me. The video requires complete commentary just to be understood. I think to my self, “That seems like it was totally awesome. Wish I was there.” But I wasn’t.

Half the time the video finishes and the person showing it says, “It was amazing. Maybe you just had to be there.” YES! There you go! But I was not! The end. Explaining the moment that you experiences can be so much more effective. Be a good story teller - it will be far more effective. If you really experienced it, you can get that across an enthusiastic story. While you are watching, think about how you would describe it. This will actually make you notice more details and get more out of the whole thing.

So a solution of sorts. First of all, if I was a band, I would have every show professionally recorded and put up on the website. Have a different clip for each song and attach some ads to the end. You’ll make your money back. That way, people can imbed the video on their blog or send it to a friend just that same... and it won’t suck! Take a picture or two during the show and then send it afterwards with a message. That is more than sufficient. It’s just respectful. And since you actually can, live in the fucking moment!