Menu Menu

Should banning phones at live shows become the norm?

Artists and comedians are using new technology to prevent fans from video-recording at concerts. Aside from keeping the performance exclusive to ticket-buyers, the goal is to encourage attendees to enjoy the moment without distraction – but is it a good idea?

Going to a live show is a privilege, not just because it can cost upwards of £100, but because actually securing a ticket is difficult when the demand and resale market for them is incredibly large.

So it’s only natural that when spectators get a chance to see their favourite artist, band, or comedian in person, their first instinct is to yeet their smartphone high into the air to snap a photo or video.

Motivations for doing so are varied, from preserving memories of the experience within the permanence of the digital realm to sharing content with fanbases on social media.

In recent years though, artists have slowly started to push back on these behaviours.

Following in the footsteps of musicians such as Alicia Keys, Silk Sonic, and comedians like Chris Rock and Amy Schumer, Beyoncé opted to ban the use of cell phones at a recent private concert in Dubai.

Besides keeping the performance exclusive to ticket-buyers, what arguments are there in favour of banning cell phones at gigs? And is there anything to lose if phones are forced out?

The ‘art appreciation’ argument

Obviously, performers have spent a ton of time writing, producing, and setting the stage for their shows.

Most take their craft extremely seriously and want audiences to pay attention to every detail of the experience as it happens. This – as much as we would like to argue is possible while recording a video – is not. Especially if you’re trying to ensure a Milly-rocking Drake is still within the frame of your smartphone.

For this reason, Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak got in touch with Yondr before their Silk Sonic concert. Yondr is a company that provides audiences with smartphone pouches which lock at the start of the evening and reopen electronically once it’s over.

‘We’re taking your phones awaaaay!’ Bruno Mars belted to the crowd at the start of the concert.

Yondr’s mechanism is miles better than having to completely hand over your phone to security upon entry at a venue. After getting feedback about Yondr from the crowd, many enjoyed having no choice but to pay full attention and enjoy the moment.

However, others weren’t loving the idea. They pointed out that having access to their phone during the concert offers a sense of security in the event of an emergency.

And while I personally would be more inclined to join the group of respondents who prefer to get totally absorbed in a great performance, it’s hard to argue with objections based on security reasons – at least for now.

Phones create barriers for social interaction

Let’s say you don’t buy the whole ‘appreciate my art!’ argument and need more convincing. That’s what my writers’ imagination is here for.

Imagine giving a speech or presentation to a room full of people at school or work. Now imagine that, upon looking into the crowd, every single person had their phone out and was recording you.

Not only would that be jarring, but any opportunity of having some good ol’ eye-contact with the audience is completely quashed. You’re right in front of them, yet they’re looking through their screen at you to make sure you’re still being recorded in-frame. How rude!

Of course, celebrities aren’t strangers to having cameras pointed at their faces. But live shows are an extremely rare opportunity for stars and fans to come together and share their love for music, comedy, or whatever else.

Given that our favourite performers are often huddled away in studios, living rooms, or exclusive events when not on stage – shouldn’t we be looking right at them?

Not to mention, audiences have paid to be in the same room as them.

Finally, it’s just annoying

Despite having recorded snippets of concerts myself – and proceeding to watch them once the next day, then never again – I am personally leaning in favour of banning the use of phones at gigs.

In an age defined by the compulsion to document our every waking moment, and with many of us staring at our screens for almost half of the day, the least we could do is take time to properly enjoy the entertainment we were once so looking forward to.

It’s also worth admitting that the experience would be amplified without the arms of thousands of people wielding glowing squares in our eye-line.

Still, we can’t ignore the security risks posed by locking everybody’s phones away. Perhaps we’ll need to agree on a happy medium. You know, like how Coldplay requests for audiences to put their phones away for just one song – A Sky Full of Stars.

That said, it wouldn’t be surprising to see auto-locking phone pouches like Yondr’s popping up more frequently at gigs. With the technology it uses still in its early days, we could very well see some better-adapted security features implemented in the near future.