Guns N’ Roses, Jarvis Cocker, Alicia Keys and the late Prince all made a stand against fans who filmed their gigs with phones. Two years ago American folk rock band the Lumineers even put the house lights up to shame those who were “ruining the ambience” of their concerts, urging their audience to “be more present with us”. For music-lovers it might seem a simple way to record a real-life encounter with an idol, but now the question of who controls the images of a live concert is becoming a big issue for performers.
After Jack White, the former White Stripes frontman, decided last month to stop the use of smartphones at gigs, hip-hop superstar Kendrick Lamar, who launched his European tour in Dublin last week, is the latest high-profile performer to attempt to take charge of his image in the face of modern technology.
The Grammy-award winning rapper, who has collaborated on the soundtrack of the new Black Panther Marvel film, is not even letting professional photographers into the auditorium for this leg of his tour.
While the rapper’s management did allow a few official photographers into the North American dates of his show, showcasing songs from his latest album Damn, Lamar’s fresh concern to limit the market is an attempt to protect his valuable “brand” and ensure the appetite for tickets remains keen. A large part of the income of the music industry, even for bestselling artists, relies on the profits made by concert tours.
And this pushback against technology is not just a feature of pop culture. Last week the admired operatic countertenor Rupert Enticknap, acclaimed for his role as Rosencrantz in Glyndebourne’s hit opera Hamlet, stopped a performance because of mobile phone activity. “Tonight, first time I’ve stopped a concert and asked very politely for the person filming with their smartphone to kindly STOP. Thank you,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
For the British composer Hélène Muddiman, who campaigns against musical copyright infringement, part of the problem is the public’s failure to understand how it can hurt the artist. Technology would soon emerge to protect performers from the uploading of their creative work online, she told the Observer.
“Soon it will become second nature to purchase a licence before uploading material that is copyright protected,” said Muddiman. “But governments around the world have to be persuaded this is possible and not be whitewashed by those who can not imagine a world where copyright owners are paid properly.
“History shows education is the key to enforcing such laws. Charles Dickens fought for many years to prevent theft of his work by those who possessed a printing press. Forty years after his death the laws became known and people, on the whole, obey the rule of law.”
Jack White’s no phones rule, made before his first British tour for four years, was intended to enhance the live concert atmosphere by creating a “one hundred per cent human experience,” rather than to limit it, he has argued.
In a statement issued in advance of his new album, Boarding House Reach, his tour managers banned photos, video or audio recording devices. “We think you’ll enjoy looking up from your gadgets for a little while and experience music and our shared love of it IN PERSON,” they explained.
Four years ago White criticised fans who spent time on their phone. “People can’t clap any more, because they’ve got a fucking texting thing in their fucking hand, and probably a drink, too!” he told Rolling Stone.
Efforts to limit the amount of phone footage and photography online have been boosted by new technology in the shape of the Yondr pouch, handed out to concert-goers as they arrive. Phones are placed inside the pouches and locked there until the end of the gig. Hi-tech phone signal blocking devices for venues are also being tested.
Yet, when once a performer could look out over a sea of cigarette lighters in the crowd, the screen glow of thousands of phones is still a common sight, and can have an adverse impact on stage-lighting effects. Veteran performers such as Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters are not pleased. “I would never turn on a cell phone at any musical event,” Waters has said. “It would seem to me to show a lack of respect to and care for fellow concert goers, or for that matter the artist.”