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The Death of the Concert (and How to Save It)

March 1, 2023 | Dalton Feldhut
You are not going to watch that video on your phone no matter how hard you try to convince yourself that you will. You love this artist to pieces and can’t help but to record videos documenting your momentous night. You are not unlike other concert-goers around you, phone-in-hand with your attention towards keeping the action in frame rather than looking up to see the view itself. Everyone at some point or another has fallen victim to their phones in their day-to-day life, indulging in dopamine-inducing content to avoid their otherwise mundane surroundings. This in tandem with the increasing popularity of wide scale musical tours has led to a decrease in the enjoyability and overall quality of modern live performances.

In recent times, controversies have arisen over concerts like the one currently surrounding Steve Lacy, who became visibly upset with attendees at his show after calling for the audience to sing along with one his most popular songs, “Bad Habit,” only to be met with a sea of flashlights and awkward silence. This is part of a trend in which concert-goers attend shows of popular artists only to spend their time recording videos to post to their socials.  

Many argue that recording a concert is the only true way to preserve the moment perfectly, without having to solely depend on memory to recall every event of the night. While it is true that some details of the concert will slowly be forgotten over time simply due to the nature of the brain, it is also true that hundreds, if not thousands, of other people will have recorded the entire concert, just as you did. If you wanted to revisit a concert and relive it in vivid detail, there will be hundreds of listings on YouTube waiting for you, with some of them having better camerawork and resolution than your own video.  Filming and picture-taking during concerts should mostly be left in the hands of photographers and videographers, who attend shows not particularly as fans, but as documentarians to some of the most integral moments of music’s existence.

The only benefit offered by one’s personal recordings is having the exact point-of-view from the concert, however, this is assuming that the camera work was constantly in focus and capturing every detail of the performance. The artist feeds off of the energy of their audiences, which contributes to the overall mood of the concert, a mood only able to be experienced by those who attended the event in person. This essential part of concerts is completely absent in almost all fan recordings, as they are focused on shakily recording what is happening on stage spliced with deafening sounds and pitch black darkness from putting their phones back down in the crowd for the occasional affectionate scream.

In the current age, the purpose of recording an event is to prove to the world that you were there.  This is no different for concerts and tours, with the ever-increasing scarcity of available tickets contributing to a sense of FOMO for all those unable to attend. The mystique around attending a popular artist’s show leads to a desire for many in attendance to broadcast their presence, simply to prove that they were truly there. That way, no matter if the memory itself is somehow lost to time, that documented evidence will always exist to look back on. What many fail to realize is that in this process they are ultimately worsening the experience they so dearly wish to document, a sentiment echoed in the music industry.  

Many well-established and well-respected artists have voiced their disdain for the rise of cell phone usage in their concerts, believing them to be far too much of a distraction from the performance art, both for the person recording and for the performer themselves. Beyoncé famously called out a fan while performing on stage after she attempted to allow the fan to sing along to her song, who was instead focused on recording the interaction rather than the interaction itself. These distractions lead to some artists even banning phones entirely from their performances. Bjork has maintained an extremely strict no-phone policy, and Prince was even known to have security dramatically drag out fans found with phones in the audience. By choosing to split their focus between recording and viewing, concert-goers are unknowingly worsening the experience they paid for.

Rather than argue that phones should be completely disallowed from any concert venues, I would like to offer an alternative: an unofficial 5 and 1 rule. Throughout the concert, carefully take 5 photos and 1 video that you feel best represent your experience of that night, but make sure not to spend too much time worrying about whether the time is right to take the photo. Simply take pictures when you feel like you want to remember a specific moment. This way, each photo carries much more of a significant weight. Spend your video budget on recording your favorite song, as it is a harmless and fun way to relisten to both the songs themselves and how they were being performed at that specific show without constantly bombarding a performer with cameras and flashing lights.

So when you instinctively pull out that phone at the next concert you attend, take a moment to decide whether the payoff of having yet another photo or video will truly be worth the risk of being met with a performance that does not meet your expectations.  But most importantly, go to your next concert to have fun.

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