Jack White is right to ban mobile phones from gigs and more artists should follow suit
I stand with Jack White.
Jack White has stated this week that mobile phones or photographic devices will not be permitted inside any of his upcoming U.S. shows. And for that, I applaud him.
Live music used to be an experience but since the uprising of the smart phone generation and their desire to film absolutely everything, that experience has since been diluted.
To me, music has always been much more than just something to listen to. Like Wesley Snipes points out to Woody Harrelson in the movie White Men Can’t Jump, “There’s a difference between hearing and listening…You can’t hear Jimi.” In essence he’s talking about the feeling music conjures up in those who are more than just fair weathered fans.
I’ve never been a fair weathered fan. And that’s precisely why I feel the way I do about this. Plus my age plays a big part. Not because I’m an "old head" Joe Budden-type who feels like today’s music is nothing in comparison to what my generation had growing up, but more so because I’ve actually experienced both sides of the coin.
I’ve been to gigs - that I still have the ticket stubs for I might add - where cameras were strictly prohibited. It actually said at the bottom of many tickets throughout my early days of gigging: “No photography allowed.” Could you imagine that being enforced now? There would be social media uproar. There would be lengthy debates about it on This Morning, Loose Women and other nationally recognised television platforms. Hell, I’d probably even get asked to appear as a guest on a news show to discuss my stance.
I remember the struggles of sneaking a disposable camera into a venue back in the day, it wasn’t fun. My first gig was Eminem and Dr. Dre in 2000 at Brixton Academy and I was 17-years-old. I had to disable the flash when taking pictures so that security didn’t come over and confiscate it. Trust me, I wasn’t about to let that happen, that camera cost me £10 and that was a lot of money for that type of thing back then - not to mention I’d have to pay to get the film developed too. And do you know what? I rarely even look at those photos.
Aside from the fact they didn’t come out all that well, nothing will ever compare to the feeling I felt being at that show on the cusp of a changing of the guard as far as the popular music landscape was concerned. A rebellious musical revolution was about to take over and I was there to witness the beginning. When I talk about feeling music, me and my friends experienced it that night in full force. It transcended sound. We talked about it on the journey all the way back to Devon. When we meet up today, we still talk about it.
Fast forward to now and the acceptance of smart phones at gigs. We live in a generation where self-gratification reigns supreme. So of course people want to film their gig experiences to brag about it to the rest of the world and post it to Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and every other social media platform. But this happens at what cost?
Going back to the experience and the feeling music gives you when you’re truly connected to it, these people hell bent on having their phone in the air throughout a show, are they really absorbing what’s going on? I’m not sure they are.
Music, especially in a live setting, can inspire an incomprehensible state of euphoria that no drug can recreate. Heightening every human sense, why would you not want to feel that? Wouldn’t you rather be in the moment than watch the it through a screen just so you can replay it later? And even then you can’t emotionally connect with what you’re watching because your senses weren’t engaged in the first place.
I’ve witnessed people miss key moments at gigs because their face was buried in their phone trying to post what they’ve just filmed. It’s a shame.
Music is the world’s most common language. No matter your native tongue you will always understand music. It’s just a fact. All you need to do is look at how popular English speaking UK and U.S. artists are in other countries. I’ve been out on the road in Europe, touring with artists, and it has always struck me at how music can cut through anything. It’s a blessing, one of the world’s many gifts and too many people squander it. Music has unfortunately become disposable, but that's another conversation.
Could you imagine going to see a movie and once you’ve sat down everyone in the theatre pulls out their phone and starts filming the screen? There would be hell to pay, right? To be honest, I even get pissed off at people who sit on their phone in the dark during the trailers.
Let’s address something else Jack White said:
“People can’t clap anymore because they’ve got a fucking texting thing in their fucking hand, and probably a drink too!”
I totally see his point about his 2014 comment. There seems to be a growing culture where it’s almost too cool to be a fan. It’s too cool to celebrate an artist and their achievements. Is it that it’s too cool to clap? Perhaps it’s deemed embarrassing? Or, like Jack points out, it's simply because peoples hands are already occupied.
Music is art. Celebrate it! You’ve just paid however much to get in the building, and all you want to do is take selfies and video the whole show? Gigs aren’t cheap these days. The rise in piracy made way for streaming, which in turn meant it became the norm for a high percentage of artists to be paid peanuts for their work.
Not only is this how the artists you claim to love so much rely on making a living, it’s also one of the few ways to show them your appreciation. Record sales used to be an indicator of their worth. Now that they’ve declined it’s your applause and cheers that let the artist know they still have an appreciative audience. Nobody is too cool to be inspired. If Beyonce and JAY-Z can get in the crowd at Made in America festival to watch Chance the Rapper and celebrate his artistry then so can you.
I can’t remember the last time I went to a gig where fans were actually screaming and hankering for the artist. Think back to any performance videos you’ve seen of The Beatles, Marvin Gaye, The Rolling Stones, or even more recent than that, think *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, or Michael Jackson. It was pandemonium! And I don’t think it’s coincidental that the aforementioned artists were performing at a time before cameras and smart phones were permitted inside venues.
But Im not going to sit here and totally lay into the new age way of attending a gig. I understand why people have the urge to flick up their phone in order to capture the events taking place. It’s about self promotion. People learn about us through social media these days. We want to express ourselves. We want that person looking at our profile on Tinder, Bumble, Happn or whatever dating app you choose to use, to see who we are, what we’re about and the types of gigs we go to, because we want to date someone who shares the same interests.
The ironic thing about that last statement however, is that those same people have the opportunity to get to know someone at a gig that they both obviously have a shared interest in. But instead they’d rather post about it online and talk to them through a screen.
But I digress.
Now I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t cop to my own desire of wanting to capture footage from shows. I mean, it’s right there on my social platforms, I’d be stupid to deny it. But there’s a few differences in why I’m doing it and how I conduct myself.
Firstly, I’m a member of the press and I have been for 15 years. I’m promoting artists through my own channel to an audience who come to me for, among other things, exclusive content that perhaps they were unable to obtain themselves. As the Head of Music & Lifestyle for JOE I also have a duty to provide the same content for that audience also.
As far as the way I obtain said content, I’m not about to restrict anyones view. I’m very aware of my surroundings at a gig - I wish the same could be said about most other people. So I check behind me that I’m not about to block anyones line of sight or disrupt their experience. A lot of the time I won’t even hold my phone up, I’ll film from my chest - you’d be surprised at how good zoom lenses are today. I’ll wait for breaks in play before I post anything and then my phone goes back in my pocket. If I’m not filming or taking pictures there’s no need to have it out.
While you’re being self serving just think about others. They don’t want to have to contend with you sticking your phone up in the air every two minutes - they paid to get into the gig just like you.
So what’s the solution?
A statement put out about the upcoming Jack White shows reads:
“Upon arrival at the venue, all phones and other photo or video-capturing gizmos will be secured in a Yondr pouch that will be unlocked at the end of the show. You keep your pouch-secured phone on you during the show and, if needed, you can unlock your phone at any time in a designated Yondr Phone Zone located in the lobby or concourse.”
So that’s one solution. Another is that venues start investing in the Apple patented infrared blocker. It’s a device that’s setup on stage and emits infrared signals to iPhones and disables their camera and video capabilities when pointed at the performer. If you just wanted to take selfies in the crowd with your friends then this is still possible as the camera and video settings will reactivate when not pointed at the stage.
The thing about this solution is that it's currently designed to only work on iPhones. So until there’s one for all phones it’s exclusive to one brand and defeats the purpose of installing it in the first place.
I think the fairest option is to adopt the three song rule that visiting press photographers have to adhere to when in the photography pit. You’ll notice that at most shows and festivals the press are only present to take pictures at the beginning and then they’re escorted out. That’s because they’re only granted access for the first three songs and then they must leave.
Why not do this for fans? Allow them to take pics for the first three songs and then have them put their cameras/phones away? I know it might be difficult to police but if they’re given an option to film and take pics at the beginning, which shows compromise, then surely they’ll respect the artist’s wishes for the rest of the show? If not, then make it clear that they'll be escorted out if caught filming - much like DJ Envy was at a Kevin Hart show a couple of years ago.
Whatever the case, I urge fans to feel the music instead of capturing it on film. Trust me, it’ll be much more fulfilling, especially in the long run. Music is the gift that keeps on giving so make sure you don’t take it for granted.
All that's left to say is bravo Jack White, bravo.