26 Jul 2018

Four tips for using your phone at a concert

From RNZ Music, 1:30 pm on 26 July 2018

These days, when people wave their hands at a gig, more often then not there's a phone in them. RNZ Music's Melody Thomas lays down the ground rules for using your phone at a concert.

Kendrick Lamar lazering an annoying person's cellphone with his eyes.

Kendrick Lamar lazering an annoying person's cellphone with his eyes. Photo: RNZ / Wikimedia Commons

Imagine you’re in a packed stadium, watching one of your favourite musicians tearing it up on stage. All around you fans are rapping along, throwing their hands up, screaming in anticipation of the drop… and the person next to you is on their phone.

This happened at Kendrick Lamar last week. It’s not the first time someone’s ruined the mood with a too-big, too-bright screen, but the fact it was Kendrick and the person spent 20 minutes scrolling through Spotify, made it the most baffling.

Maybe it’s time for some ground rules.

For the record, I’m not one of those hysterical types calling for phones to be banned from all concerts, galleries and restaurants. So long as the artist is cool with it, I don’t see any problem with people taking photos or shooting a quick Insta vid to spark FOMO in their mates.

In fact one of my favourite moments at that Kendrick show was when just about every person there turned on their phones’ torches and waved them in unison. The effect was magical. Prettier than ye olde lighters. I even shot a quick video:


???Kendrick ???

A post shared by Melody Rules (@melodyrules) on

But in what situation is it ok to come to a gig and reply to an email about an online shopping order? To hold your phone up in front of someone else’s face to film five minutes of video that looks and sounds like utter shite and will never be watched again? To stream a minute of the performance over Facebook live (fine), but then spend the rest of the gig replying to every comment that rolls in?

And yet these are all things I’ve seen: at Neil and Liam Finn’s beautiful family gig in a tiny Paekakariki Hall; at The Opera House for both Fleet Foxes and Aldous Harding opener Martin Phillipps; in the second row at Nadia Reid; and - as Nick Bollinger tells it - up front at one of Marlon Williams’ recent shows, where a kerfuffle broke out between an older audience member and the younger one he’d ordered to 'put that bloody cellphone away', which was thankfully diffused by Marlon himself.  

At Kendrick, I came pretty close to quoting a pertinent song at the woman on her phone. Sensing my frustration, my date told me to ignore it, but it’s not that easy.

Great music transports you out of your small life and taps you into something larger. A good gig amplifies that further. There’s something about the warmth of jostling bodies all moving together that creates this feeling of being one tiny part of a bigger thing. Nothing cuts through the sweet collective vibe like the obnoxious glare of a cellphone screen.

Earlier this year, Jack White announced all phones would be banned at his upcoming gigs. In a press release that started passive aggressive but lost the passive part towards the end, White said: "We think you’ll enjoy looking up from your gadgets for a little while and experience music and our shared love of it IN PERSON."

I asked a handful of musicians on Twitter what they thought.

Julia Deans is cool as long as you don't flash the performers:

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Photo: RNZ

Ruban Nielson can't keep checking his phone, but it's okay if you do:

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Photo: RNZ

D Rad knows his performances make top-notch video content:

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Photo: RNZ

Daniel McLelland says if you love the band, don't make them look crap:

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Photo: RNZ

Until universal guidelines have been established, RNZ Music presents the Dos and Dont’s of Devices at Gigs.

1. DO: Take photos!

You’ve been hanging out for this gig for so long and now you’re here, and your favourite musician is so close you could touch them! You won't because you know the importance of consent... but you could!

Take a bunch of photos so you have something to pore over when you finally stumble into bed but aren’t quite ready for the magic to end.

But don't:

  • Block other people’s views
  • Leave your screen light on full (turn it down as far as you can)
  • Use a flash
  • Post it til later (or do it quickly if you must)
  • Forget to watch the gig

2. DO: shoot video!

If the artist is okay with it, shoot a little vid and post it on Insta, Facebook, Snapchat - whatever. But keep in mind musicians care about how their music is heard and your phone isn’t going to capture the best sound, so make sure the visual is killer and keep your videos short.

But don't

  • Shoot a five-minute epic you’ll never watch
  • Block other people’s views
  • Make the artist look crap
  • Leave your screen light on full 
  • Use a flash
No caption

Photo: RNZ

3. DO: skite on social media!

This gig is so good. You knew it would be. You told everyone they had to see this shit for real and some of them didn’t listen. Make those bastards pay.

But don't:

  • Spend too long on the post
  • Spend the rest of the gig checking and replying to comments! No-one’s gonna believe it was the best gig of your life if you were online the whole time.

4. DO: Text your friend.

You lost them in the crowd and you wanna tell them you’re at the front to the left, or that spit from the singer's mouth just landed on the top of your head and you're never washing it again. Of COURSE you do.

But don't:

  • Ruin it for the people around you - when I need to text at a gig I’ll often hide my phone under my jacket and shoot it off as quick as possible.
  • Forget to watch the gig!
  • REVIEW: King Kendrick gives Dunedin a DAMN good time
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