Musicians weigh in on whether smartphone cameras ruin concerts

A fan records a performance by artist The Weeknd at the 2015 Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Wantagh, N.Y. Even before performers take the stage, some fans are fumbling with their devices hoping to capture every moment on their cameras, regardless of whether they're even close enough for a good shot.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Invision, Scott Roth

TORONTO - When the lights dim at concert venues as the show begins, often it's smartphones that first emerge from the darkness.

Even before the performers take the stage, some fans are fumbling with their devices hoping to capture every moment on their cameras — regardless of whether they're even close enough for a good shot.

Phil Collins has seen it happen countless times with concertgoers who yank themselves out of the emotional experience to play amateur cinematographer.

"They're half consumed with whether it's in focus or they're getting the best light — just so they can go home and enjoy it," he says.

"When the lights used to swing out into the audience on the Genesis tour everybody had (sun)glasses on. Now the lights swing out and you see 15,000 cameras."

It's a debate that got musicians particularly rankled in 2016, as they fought against the tide of the YouTube generation.

Alicia Keys grabbed international attention early in the year for her decision to sign with Yondr, which enforces "phone-free spaces." The company locks devices in a patented case that can be carried by the owner but only unlocked outside the venue.

Snubbing cameras ignited a debate over whether Keys, once a spokeswoman for BlackBerry, was taking too strong a stance against her own fans and ubiquitous technology.

But it's not like the standoff between musicians and cameras is entirely new. For years it was considered a faux pas to sneak personal cameras into shows.

Music icons like Beyonce and Prince warned fans that digital cameras would be confiscated by security at their shows. Prince even made it part of its famous "Purple Rules" posted outside of arenas.

"Violators will be asked to access another experience," he warned.

As high-quality smartphones hit the market, the fight against cameras became almost futile. Everyone suddenly had a lens at their disposal and with it came the urge to snap a good picture.

Metric frontwoman Emily Haines is hopeful that more fans might think twice before pulling out their devices.

"I feel like Metric shows used to be like rock 'n' roll church," she says. "The doors (would) close and this was our home for the next couple hours."

Haines says it's become tougher to recapture that energy in larger venues as more people try to document their experience.

"You're trying to convey to thousands of people something that will unify everyone ... and instead realize someone is taking a super unflattering close-up picture of you. It's like, 'OK, I'm not here for the world's worst photo shoot. I'm here to play music.'"

Haines is also cautious of how some concertgoers are looking for the viral clips that'll catch fire on social media. Countless artists have been forced to defend their off-the-cuff remarks to fans or rewatch embarrassing stage tumbles that wound up online.

"It feels like the risk of being totally spontaneous is not worth the consequence, if somebody has posted it on YouTube before you've even left the building," she says.

"You bring on the ire of whoever you've offended."

Australian singer Troye Sivan, who rose to fame on YouTube before launching his mainstream pop career, is used to seeing his Internet-savvy fans throwing up their phones at his shows.

"It's almost a different form of reward," he says.

"When I start playing a song and see all the phones coming up, I'm like, 'Oh people want to share this, that's a good thing.'"

But that doesn't necessarily mean Sivan likes shooting amateur concert footage himself.

"I might film for like 10 seconds to get something for my Instagram story, but I've never been the person that films the whole song," he adds.

"My mom does that, and I'm like, 'Mom, are you going to go home and watch it back later? What's the goal here?'"

Vine star Ruth B shares his sentiments, even though she launched her career by offering a glimpse into her most intimate musical moments sitting at her piano. The singer rose to fame after encouraging fans to interact with the creation of her debut song "Lost Boy."

She thinks filming concerts is a totally different situation.

"I've always been a really big advocate for living in the moment," Ruth B says.

"I'd rather see something through my own eyes than a phone screen."

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