Jack White, who has two upcoming shows at The Bomb Factory, is one of the few musicians implementing stricter phone policies in their live shows through the services of Yondr.
Yondr, a company based in San Francisco, uses mobile cases to lock the phones of audience members as they enter venues. Each person carries a case throughout the show but cannot access the phone unless he or she is in a phone use area, usually a venue's lobby.
Ticket-buyers want to capture and remember the shows they paid to see with photos and video recordings. But when the practice becomes incessant and limits the views of others, it turns into a problem.
Cinemas, theaters and even stand-up comedy shows discourage the use of phones during shows for valid reasons — whether it’s distracting to others or shows a lack of respect, or an artist doesn’t want material uploaded on YouTube or social media in poor quality. But most concert-goers don't follow such etiquette.
During music shows, the environment is dependent on which act is performing. In cinema and the theater, an audience can easily get distracted by light or sound not coming from the audience because the house is silent regardless of what movie is shown. In stand-up, the setting is usually intimate, so silence is also necessary.
A concert can be intimate or chaotic depending on the music that’s played. An acoustic act is going to get a different reaction than a rock band. A band could also mix ballads with fast-paced songs throughout its set. This is why phone use at concerts creates divisive reactions; it’s hard to classify a concert as a performing art that demands full attention or as a permissive clublike event.
Musical acts such as the Lumineers, Alicia Keys and Childish Gambino have used Yondr for this reason. White has hired Yondr for all of his forthcoming U.S. dates, making his tour the first to use the service for its entire run.
While well-established artists may have the means to finance a service like Yondr for at least 5,000 fans per show, emerging artists may not. Some venues help bands enforce no-phone policies.
Kessler Theater artistic director Jeffrey Liles has found a way to approach the issue.
“The way we’ve remedied the situation is to shoot the show ourselves,” Liles says. “When we catch someone shooting the show with their own device, we just encourage them to just put their phone away and watch our videos on YouTube instead.”
Three Links co-owner Scott Beggs has thought about using signs to keep audience members aware of their behavior.
“I have considered posting a sign just letting people know to be conscientious,” he says. “I want to believe most people don’t realize they are being obnoxious.”
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The integration of phones into concerts has been a natural transition. Before cellphones were widely used, disposable cameras were popular at live shows. Convenience merely substituted one object for another.
“Phones are just a way of life now,” Beggs says. “I have other things to do than worry about phones as long as the artist or other concert-goers don’t have an issue with them.”
Granada Theater owner Michael Schoder agrees that if fans want to use their phones, venues should adapt along with them.
“The concert space should be open and accepting of how fans want to act as long as no one is hurting themselves, anyone around them or the building,” he says. “If you don’t like others on the phone, stay home. Welcome to 2018. It’s not 1995 anymore. Worry about yourself and not everyone around you. Have a good time regardless of others.”