The Debate: Smartphones at gigs?


The first gig I went to without my parents was The Enemy at Manchester Academy. I stood, with my two friends, further back then I do now but I recall thinking the sound was amazing, and was in wonder I could hear all the words to my then favourite songs. I filmed Had Enough and Away From Here on my trusty Motorola Razr.

I listened to the recordings in the car on the way back, thinking I had revolutionised gigs and was bound to now have the memories forever. The sound was terrible, the quality abysmal, the memory tainted. The files got deleted the next day.

Far from revolutionising gig experiences, I was falling into an all too common trap these days. The lying to ourselves, the convincing of our brains that we will remember better with picture and video evidence. It’s all too real to me, as the only other time I tried to record a song at a gig, I faffed around with my phone too much I forgot to actually enjoy the song. A song I doubt I’ll ever see again.

And if the memories aren’t great for those recording the songs, what about those who have to stare at the band through a smartphone for the entire gig? We go to gigs to actually experience something, not watch it through a screen. We can do that at home, with Glastonbury highlights. A gig is completely different.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the odd picture – that’s a good memory, but filming a song / the whole set is just rude and rather defeats the point.

I don’t think that’s a controversial opinion either, as the biggest cheers I can recall at gigs are when bands (memorably The Lumineers and PSB) actively tell fans to put their phones away.


That was a blog post I’ve had ready to go for a long time. During my journalism course we were asked to write two 300-word blog posts and that was my original idea for one of them. Smartphones are bad for live music, and we should definitely restrict their use.

But then the Paris attacks happened (literally the week I was getting around to writing them) and we sat in a lecture discussing the media’s response to them. As part of that, we watched footage of the shooting.

Filmed, on a smartphone, at a gig.

I instantly realised I had to change my blog posts (I ended up with two I’ve always been a little disappointed in) because I had seen how recordings of gigs aren’t always useless. I mean, sure, that’s an extreme example and it’s very unlikely to ever happen to you but crime, in general, is not unusual.

And then, to further begin changing my mind, Muse joined Snapchat. They build stories of their gigs, taken from (I presume) Tom Kirk and (crucially) the audience. They allow people in other countries to sort of live stream certain gigs through the eyes of people who are there.

Muse gigs are expensive and they tour all over the world. This is the best way to tour the whole world at once, and it wouldn’t exist without the people actually physically being at the gig and filming it. Sure, the quality isn’t the best but then again, it could be a hell of a lot worse. That has certainly improved since my Razr days.

Consideration, I believe, is the key word here. A simple question: “do you mind me filming this?” to those around you would go a long way, or alternatively keeping the phone out of the eye line of most of those around you. Little things like that could make a big difference to the gigging experience.

Technology is progress, progress is difficult to halt – this might be something we have to get used to.


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