This past weekend a staffer at NPR music blog All Things Considered went to see M. Ward and Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. Upon entering the legendary venue, writer Bob Boilen spied a sign on the door with the message "Tonight, no photography or videos. Including cell phones."
This isn't anything new to fans of M. Ward, and artist who has always been a vocal enemy of fans taking photos and video at his gigs. But every time something like this is publicized, it starts a great debate over whether or not this should become a common practice, with each side pleading its case.
Some bands think it's a great thing and gets the word, er, image out of the band, while other musicians and fans are of the mind that it takes the spectators out of the moment they are trying to create for their audience. Plus to them, it's annoying as hell.
"I personally feel like it's the spectators right to take pictures or video if they want," says Bryce Perkins of local band Jody Seabody & The Whirls. "They paid, after all. I'm not into telling our fans what they can and cannot do. You know, within reason. It never hurts a band to have that kind of footage shared, big or small, because it's all exposure regardless."
Houston's own world-touring Celtic rock act The Blaggards have gone on record saying that for them it's a self-sustaining networking tool. Any show anywhere could be the one that nets a band dozens and dozens of new fans just because someone shared a video on Facebook.
I can say for myself in my capacity as a writer here at Rocks Off that I like taking pictures at shows, big and small, to post for you guys on Facebook or on our Twitter feed. Anything above and beyond that, I don't like it.
I would like to think I am providing a glimpse into what you may be missing, and not being obnoxious about it. I am in agreement with Perkins that it's good for younger and more unknown bands. With the way the industry is going, any (free) publicity is good publicity.
People like M. Ward must feel beyond that, but I respect his opinion. It does have to be irksome to be playing a song you poured out from your heart and look up to see a sea of cell phones, but at the same time these are paying customers who are trying to pass on a bit of you and your music to others.
It's a double-edged sword caked in salt, and dipped in hot sauce.
Of course there is a guy like Glenn Danzig who refuses to be photographed or otherwise recorded onstage and has gone out of his way to be a moaning bitch about people taking pictures of him that are unflattering.
For some acts, it's a good thing to have some sort of documentation of what happened, since in the heat of a concert things happen they might want to catalog for later. It's an essential tool for us writers when we are researching upcoming concerts and set lists too. It helps us not make small mistakes that you guys will call us out on in the comments section.
"Many artists have stated that YouTube is an incredible resource when trying to figure out something new they had tried that night but didn't remember quite what they did," adds Ian T. Komouss on our Facebook page.
Andrew Karnavas of Houston's Runaway Sun has a point about amateur videographers.
"People filming the show usually don't try to talk over the band playing, so it beats the hell out of that," he says. Local musician Stephen Bee is just sick of seeing cell phones at shows with people trying to "capture" their experiences now, instead of living it.
"It ruins my experience when I have to watch a show through the view finders of countless cell phones," adds Bee.
If you are in the nosebleed seats at Toyota Center or on the lawn at the Woodlands, you are wasting battery life, but more power to you. I have always wondered where people post all this grainy video from 200 yards away from the stage. Is there an online repository of awful concert footage that even YouTube hates?
Fan Jerry Wiley takes another view of the cell-phone war, making a very real and important point. People taking pictures and video represent cash in the hands of bands. What's more, the names of bands and venues are zooming all around social media, with each party gaining new fans and followers with each share, link or post.
"As expensive as shows are now, they better be glad people are coming," Wiley chimed in.
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SHOW ME HOW
Installing some sort of unspoken concert etiquette for taking video and pictures is a start, but people in general are stubborn, aggravated, and uncaring when it comes to rules of any kind imposed on something they are spending a sizable bit of their monthly income for.
Get used to it, folks.