Local Musicians See Pros and Cons of Fans on Their Phones at Concerts | Philly Views
May 15, 2017

Local Musicians See Pros and Cons of Fans on Their Phones at Concerts

Written by Kevin Kinkead

Music and booze is a good combination.

That’s why I went down to the Fillmore a few weeks ago for the “Decibel Metal and Beer Fest,” a two-day show featuring you guessed it heavy metal and beer.

The venue interior was lined with brewery and merch tables, forming some sort of miniature version of a European summer festival without the dehydration and body odor.

Day one featured headliners Agoraphobic Nosebleed, plus Municipal Waste and Immolation. The entire gig was really enjoyable, except for the few dozen people buried in their smart phones during a death metal set.

You see it everywhere these days. There’s always somebody in the third row filming an entire song, or just the whole show.

I’ve seen people glued to Instagram and even watched one guy carry an iPad into a mosh pit during a High on Fire gig.

It feels like the phone comes first and the music second.

Maybe it’s corny, or maybe not. I’d think you go to a gig to enjoy the music. You can snap a few photos to share online, but some people keep the phone out the entire time. Others, to their credit, lend their attention to the artists on stage.

Surprisingly, some local musicians I spoke with didn’t seemed to be too bothered by the practice.

“I don’t mind if people are filming on their phone, even if it is the entire show,” said Eric DiSantis, guitarist and vocalist for Local Smokes. “Because, to me, this shows interest at least and gives us something to build off of — a social media post of a clip or a picture on Instagram, and I feel like we can benefit from the exposure.”

Josh Martin plays bass in The Wonder Years.

“I can’t say that it bothers me or I really even think about it,” Martin said. “I’m mostly trying to play well and enjoy my time on stage. I don’t know if ‘wrapped up’ is the right term, but sharing photos is a staple of how people communicate with one another now. I think people at shows are excited to be there, so if they use socials, they’re going to share their experience.”

Boston was unreal last night. Philly tonight to finish the tour. ????- @kellymason

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That was the recurring theme here.

Musicians, at least at the local level, tried to focus on the positives of new technology and figure out ways to gain exposure through social media.

You could base that on the behavior of a more tech-savvy millennial crowd, though there does seem to be a tipping point.

“We’ve had shows where people seemed distracted by their phones, seemingly present but ultimately hard to reach,” DiSantis added. “That is when it gets frustrating as a musician. The song ends and you’re left with insincere claps or just silence. But this is now all a part of the scene and makes us work harder to grab the audience’s attention. We plan to step up our live performances going forward — projectors, lights, fog machines from a visual aspect, and alternate intros, segues, prodding banter to keep people on their toes.”

I played in a small band in Georgia about eight or nine years ago, and we probably viewed phones in the same way. Our gigs either featured four audience members or 100, so it wasn’t like we were lighting the world on fire or trying to “make it big.” We were just happy to have video of our performances and photos for posterity.

It’s probably different for Metallica, who can professionally film their own gigs and sell DVDs for money. We can all understand why the position of a big band might be different than a bunch of yokels from Augusta, Georgia.

But the Metallica thing is a good segue, because they were one of the first bands to really come out hard against music downloading.

You remember Lars Ulrich’s beef with Napster, right? We sort of ignored it and continued to download songs, but eventually woke up one day and realized, ‘Gee, I’m basically stealing his music. I’m a pirate. I’m an asshole.’ 

It took awhile, but the music industry finally evolved and figured out a way to monetize downloading and recreate its business model. That was a necessary adaptation to new trends in technology and consumerism.

“The music industry struggled to keep up with technology for a long time,” Martin explained. “But the mass popularization of social media provides artists an opportunity to promote themselves like never before. Little things like having a custom Snapchat filter for a tour or retweeting photos from the crowd are easy ways to engage with fans and create awareness for upcoming dates. Artists, managers, and labels know that people are using their phones at shows and want to use that to connect and interact with their audience.”

DiSantis agrees.

“It’s a rough scene to make it in, that’s for sure. But I think the obstacles created by technology also give musicians a platform to reach more people.”

For what it’s worth, most venues have specific rules regarding phones and recording.

Flash is generally a no-no, along with professional equipment. Some bands will address the topic during their show, or limit photos to the first couple of songs, similar to the way you would treat a credentialed shooter.

Here’s the policy at Union Transfer:

“The photo policy varies for each artist and is usually not determined until day of show. Generally speaking, the more professional your camera equipment, the more permission you’ll need, and often times artists will require a direct, pre-approved photo pass in order to shoot. You’re welcome to inquire about a particular show’s policy at the door on the evening or call 215-232-2100 on the day of show. And even if cameras are permitted, NO FLASHES ARE ALLOWED. Oh yeah, if you are good at taking pictures, please send us copies! We like that lots!”

I took one at Union Transfer last year, and added some “enhancements” to it:

I can’t really speak for other styles of music, but that’s a typical sight at contemporary metal shows.

You basically have some people stuck to their phones, some paying attention, and some that try to do a little bit of both. Long gone are the days of stage diving and moshing and putting the guy next to you in a friendly headlock. It’s a much different scene for many different reasons, and I’d think you’d probably find the same evolution in behavior when watching a punk/rock/alternative type of gig.

The P.J. Harvey show back in April was probably different, no?

Anyway, I’d definitely like to get the perspective of a bigger band, so if you know Metallica, have them call me and I’ll write a follow-up story. I wasn’t able to make it down to the Linc last Friday, but I’m glad they didn’t play St. Anger.

Until then, go ahead and take a few photos, but remember that you’re primarily there for the metal and beer.

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