It’s Time to Ban Phones at Concerts

a single phone recording a live music gig in a crowd
Photo by John Mark Arnold

Here it is. The article that proves I’m becoming a grump, or grumpier, old man. I am convinced, more than ever, it’s time we ban people from using phones at gigs. I’ve watched one too many gigs through a sea of phones and I’m sick of it.

Before you say it. I know, I took at picture at the very gig I’m complaining about – but that was to prove my point.

phones akimbo for the James May gig
A small window to watch the gig

Videoing a Gig is Silly

Let’s start with the very crux of the issue here. You’re never going to watch that video again. Ever. We can dance around the facts here, but it’s extremely unlikely you’ll ever watch that video again.

I was at a James Bay gig recently and witnessed the most ridiculous of things. A concert-goer beside me was filming the gig, but all she could see was James Bay on stage, through another person’s phone doing the exact same thing. There was some weird human camerapede of filming going on.

The quality of video at gigs has increased dramatically. So I can understand the attraction of grabbing one quick vertical video to post online saying you were there. But at this gig, I was surrounded by people filming at least 2 minutes of each well-known song. There are barely any social media platforms that promote posting videos of that length nowadays.

You’re Ruining it for Everyone Else

Going to a gig should be all about the music. It’s a romantic idea, I know. But nowadays, I feel like people don’t go to gigs for the music at all. I was stood beside two absolute melts who would not shut up talking to each other. From time to time, someone threw them a dirty look and they whipped out the phones, shot a video and then when back chatting. I literally couldn’t hear some of the set because of them.

That’s the audio experience being impacted. To compound the problem, now when you look at stage, you’re looking through a field of phones. Until now, we all just had to compete with that unit of a lad who’s 6-foot tall. Because of people videoing the entire gig, everyone has the ability to ruin a perfectly good vantage point.

There’s another stunning faux pas demonstrated at this gig. At least five times, I could have sworn Jesus Christ himself was entering the venue from behind me. People chucking on their videos with full flash for a good few minutes. The heavenly light cast across us all as we realise someone is shooting a lovely video of my double crown.

Yes. That tiny little LED flash is going to be a right help here lads.

What are you Actually Paying Attention to?

Shooting a video isn’t always point-and-shoot either. Once you realise you have to turn off your Jesus-flash, you have to zoom, keep the phone steady while also trying to keep your armpits out of people’s faces. One person, I kid you not, was doing a TikTok live and responding to comments.

Another person near me video-called a friend at home on the couch so she could see the gig. You know how video calls work, right? When you call someone they’re massive on your screen. Now, in my line of sight, is James Bay and some girl cosied up in her PJs. This is one of the most jarring things I’ve seen at a gig, and not for the first time. I voice-called people from shows in the past, but this is getting silly.

Worse still, you’re jolting others around you from the moment too.

I have to point out here too, this isn’t a “young person” problem. I’ve seen all people, of all ages, from all walks of life, shooting video at gigs. Some of the very best gems have been older attendees with bloody iPads shooting video. Everyone is ruining gigs, not just the kids.

It’s no secret that smartphones cause a disconnection between people. What’s less obvious is the absolute distraction they present. If you’re checking messages or shooting video, you’re not really in the moment. I’d argue that you’d have been as well to keep that money in your pocket, listen to your favourite artist at home on Spotify and wait for other videos of the gig to emerge online.

Of course, if everyone did that, you’d have to attend the gig and listen properly. Not that bad, right? So, how do we tackle this issue.

How to Ban Phones at a Comedy Gig or Concert

The solution here is actually quite simple. I remember the first time I had to leave my phone outside a venue. It was for an advanced screening of a film no one really cared all that much about. I can’t even remember the name of it. It felt weird, but I understood what was happening. Our phones were in a lunch box type thing, we got a ticket and off we went. Security was keeping an eye. All good.

Was it a little weird not having my phone? No. I’m happy enough knowing I wouldn’t have been using my phone anyway. Just like music gigs and comedy shows back in the 90s. You wouldn’t have had your phone with you anyway. So why are you so bothered about it today?

There is a great solution that’s been tested at scale and it works. A solution by a company called Yondr.

The Yondr pouch

On entry to the gig you’re attending, staff take your phone and pop it into a Yondr pouch, like the one you see here. You take the pouch with you and you’re free to enjoy the gig.

The pouch is locked using similar technology to the security tags you find in clothes shops. A magnet frees your phone from its dark prison.

Need to use your phone during the gig? Not a problem. You simply head off to an approved area where phone usage is allowed, and you can temporarily take your phone out of the pouch. You’d have to leave to use the bathroom, so just think of this being an additional toilet or bar break.

The Yondr system has already featured at gigs here in Ireland. It’s not a complicated piece of kit, but it does mean gigs are genuinely phone free. Security is under instruction to boot anyone out seen with a phone not in a pouch, so not smuggling a second either.

If that last line makes you feel uneasy, I’d have to ask what’s more important. Going to a gig and living the moment, or going to a gig just to shoot video and post it online?

Agree or disagree? I’m on Mastodon where you’ll find a poll and some chats about this already. Jump over there and let’s chat.

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Founding Editor of Goosed, Marty is a massive fan of tech making life easier. You'll often find him testing something new, brewing beer or finding some new foodie spots in Dublin, Ireland. - Find me on Threads