Do mobile phones ruin the live concert experience?

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At the opening night of Silk Sonic’s residency at Park MGM in Las Vegas, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak brought to life some of the best things from the 1970s: hot and sultry grooves, polyester costumes on measure and the joys of an evening without a smartphone. .

As mandated by the band, audience members were made to lock their mobile devices in small pouches for the evening, courtesy of a company named Yondr. Once secured in their pouches, they could only be unlocked electronically at a station near the entrance to the room.

“We’re taking your phones!” Mars sang in front of the crowd at the start of the concert.

“It was one of the best parts of the show,” said Margaret Whitener, 51, who attended the Feb. 26 performance. “It’s nice to be in the moment without electronic distractions, especially during the pandemic, when many are forced to be more connected than ever. And if people can share concert footage online, why not? would others want to pay to go there?”

Silk Sonic’s Anderson .Paak, left, and Bruno Mars performing at Park MGM in Las Vegas.

(Jean Esparza)

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the live music industry has operated in spurts over the past couple of years. Artists and fans alike have tried to make do with live streams and video chats from the show, but with Omicron stepping back and masking and vaccine requirements dissipating, many acts are now returning to the road, some seeking respite from a pandemic-exacerbated reliance on technology.

“Being the emcee and being able to read the room – understanding the dynamics of what this room should look like – that feeling goes away when you look at a wall of [phones]”, Mars told The Times. “With the cameras, you’re like, ‘I don’t know if I want to try that dance move tonight,’ or you’re scared that this joke will get on the internet.”

Graham Dugoni thinks this problem predates the pandemic: he founded Yondr in 2014, after attending the Treasure Island Music Festival in San Francisco the year before. “I kept seeing so many people on their phones, texting other people in other places, and then recording someone who didn’t know they were being recorded and violating their privacy,” he said. said Dugoni. “Once the intention leaves the room, it’s hard to come back.”

The business grew throughout the 2010s when Yondr began to be implemented in schools and courtrooms. Alicia Keys, John Mayer and Jack White became Yondr’s most prominent ambassadors, choosing to use the service while touring. Although the pandemic has significantly dampened in-person events, Dugoni is pleased to report that in 2022, business is booming again.

“During the pandemic, people have realized that it’s not great to stare at the screen for eight hours a day,” he said. “The ability to enter a space and be temporarily unplugged is valuable.”

With venues selling out at levels comparable to the pre-pandemic era, viewers are clearly eager to have literal time with their favorite artists – but their interactions remain, to artists’ frustration, mediated through their phones. Many artists, from Jeff Tweedy to Björk, have asked fans in good faith to refrain from using the devices during concerts.

Indie rock star Mitski performed to a sold-out audience at the Shrine Auditorium on Wednesday night – but not before releasing a pre-recorded announcement just before taking the stage asking fans to limit their excessive phone use, “so I can see you when you sing.

Yet the icy glow of smartphone screens still obscured this reporter’s view of Mitski and his band during her opening number, “Love Me More.”

“They have to get it for TikTok,” hissed a young man in the crowd.

A singer with outstretched arms performs on stage.

Mistki performs on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on March 1.

(Randy Holmes/ABC)

The problem came to a head for Mitski fans in late February, when the entertainer, who quit social media in 2019, posted a rare series of tweets discussing the glut of phones on his shows.

“When I’m on stage looking at you but you’re looking at a screen,” she wrote, “I feel like those of us on stage are taken in and consumed as content, instead to share a moment with you.

While some fans sympathized, others said smartphones were a necessity for younger viewers. Some have argued that the phones help alleviate issues such as social anxiety and dissociation in the midst of large crowds. After a day or two of heated argument among his fans, Mitski’s tweets were deleted. (Mitski declined to comment for this story.)

Among Mitski’s fans at the shrine, divisions abounded — and were surprisingly varied from generation to generation.

“[Mitski] is at odds with the digital age because she only wants to perform when she’s on stage,” said writer Chingy Nea, 28, who also attended the show on Wednesday night. “It must be difficult as a performer when everyone would rather be an amateur videographer than an active participant.”

“I think she has such a liberated approach to making music,” said Rocky, 21 (they declined to use their last name). “I used to record everything, but I realized that whatever satisfaction I [can get] watching these videos was not worth the attention I was giving to my phone in real time.

Krystle, 36, disagrees: “A video is a keepsake, and it doesn’t cost as much as a t-shirt,” she says. “Don’t use flash and you won’t disturb anyone.”

Krystle drove her daughter and niece from San Bernardino to catch Mitski at the shrine. She had met Mitski on TikTok. “Social media is important,” Krystle said. “Otherwise, how would young people know who you are? TikTok is what gets people to come to your shows.
TikTok hadn’t yet taken off in the United States when San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge began writing his 2017 book, “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less”. Happy – and completely unprepared for adulthood. Thanks to the platform’s meteoric rise and ensuing dominance during the pandemic, Twenge says she’s already collecting data on a tracker book.

“Gen Z was in dress rehearsal for the pandemic,” says Twenge. “They were already going out less. They drove less. They were already communicating more digitally than in person. They were already depressed. But young people didn’t ask to be born into a world where technology was designed to be addictive — I mean, it did a number on our overall attention span. I see more young people speaking out against social media burnout than ever before.

The relentless demands of social media have many up-and-coming artists, supposed to market themselves online with the same fervor with which they make their art, on the brink of extinction. In January, electro-pop artist Chelsea Cutler, 25, claimed as much in an Instagram post that garnered more than 104,000 likes and support from artists like Maren Morris, Hayley Kiyoko and James Blake.

“I don’t feel like a content creator, I feel like a musician and a performer,” she lamented in her post. “I don’t know how to keep up with how insatiable our content culture has become.”

Silk Sonic residency at Park MGM in Las Vegas with Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars with Silk Sonic live in Las Vegas. “Without a phone, there is no fear,” Mars said. “You just painted – really live in the moment. And I think there’s beauty in seeing something fail and then being able to talk about it with the crowd.

(Jean Esparza)

“TikTok is a massive discovery platform for music, but users post 10 seconds of a song in videos, and it goes viral without anyone knowing who the artist is, the story behind it, or whatever. whatever,” Cutler told The Times. “Everything feels super disconnected. And when we’re in the studio, the lack of attention these days makes an artist think about writing shorter songs, instead of thinking about art.

“[Social media] allowed a ton of talent to break through today that otherwise would never have had an outlet, but I can’t imagine a tougher time than now,” said Cutler manager Jesse Coren. “The access fans have to them, the scrutiny, negative comments and hurtful messages – managing social media is an entirely new responsibility for artists, and one that is pervasive and weighs heavily on their Mental Health. It has to be used in today’s music industry, it just has to be done with balance.

“The whole point of social media is to make you feel like you should be somewhere else and with other, cooler people,” said Cutler, who has since replaced time on the phone with surfing and crafting at the home with his girlfriend. “When you’re online, it’s really hard to be satisfied with your present moment.”

Putting smartphones in sealed bags might seem like a dramatic action to take in what is now the third decade of the internet’s existence, but it’s a concession that some artists say will bring people together.

“Without a phone, there is no fear,” Mars said. “You just painted – really live in the moment. And I think there’s beauty in seeing something fail and then being able to talk about it with the crowd.

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