The venue is crammed. The lights go down, and excitement permeates the space. The MC announces the entertainer you’ve been dying to see, and low drums, teased by the backing band, add to your anticipation. This is it, this is the moment you got fashionably decked out for and paid your hard-earned dollars to experience. The countdown begins before the performer graces the stage. Three…two…one…PHONES OUT!
It is rare for one to attend a stage show, or any event, without seeing that glare from a smartphone as patrons shuffle for the best spot in their quest to capture videos and photos of the main attraction. Case in point: It seemed to be a sea of pepper lights as Alkaline delivered a solid performance at Dream Weekend’s World Vibes in Negril on Sunday. The moment marked another rare local performance by the deejay but showed his improvement in his live delivery. Yet, this was, as evident in online comments, overshadowed by patrons busy capturing the moment instead of living in it.
Capleton’s performance yielded a similar response, and so, too, have other performances at other events, be it Reggae Sumfest, Buju Banton’s Long Walk to Freedom concert staged in March, a comedy showcase, or even a small community concert.
Culture professor Donna Hope attributed this behaviour to the accessibility of the Internet, coupled with the desire to reap those double taps on the ‘gram.
“The way people interact with live entertainment has been significantly transformed, if not interrupted, in a real way as people are curating their realities to go viral or get likes,” she told The Gleaner. “People become immobile when a great performance is going on. they actually freeze to hold their phone in position, even though the place is filled with media houses who are going to archive the thing, anyway. What is on the phone is not a live performance, it’s a representation of what is going on onstage. Women are not even wining anymore, everybody is in the phone, patting the hair and trying to get the best shots of their make-up, hair, and clothes.”
Less lighters, more phones
She added that while patrons have become sucked into the digital rabbit hole, the recording of performers has become the new way of determining their execution, similar to the heyday of the lighter.
“The younger people, 35 and under, use this as a marker instead of clapping or shouting,” she said. “People are not using lighters anymore. The better or more loved the performer is, the more hands go up, so it is now the best indicator of a performer’s success, especially in our live music events.”
Although he struck stardom before there was an ‘I’ in Instagram, veteran singer, Half Pint, does not mind this marker. In fact, he makes it work in his favour.
“It’s a catch-22. You get an extra promotion because who never get fi deh a di show last night can see it from the WhatsApp video or Youtube,” he said. “Some people just want to capture it for themselves so they can have it to watch tomorrow. I don’t see it as a problem. Once upon a time, yuh never able fi copyright your work, but now, it is efficient. All of the social media are affiliated with Amazon and other things, so even if someone post it on Youtube, you get pay for it.”
D’Angel, whose onstage antics are often captured by fans and uploaded before daybreak, is also unbothered by the modern applause.
“When I’m performing, all phones are out and everyone is videoing, but it doesn’t distract me one bit because my audience is always engaged,” she said. “Me control my crowd. A coulda 10 million people, me know how to get them riled up and put down the phone and be engaged. It’s a new day, and it a go hard fi tell people seh dem cya video the show because everyone has their favourite artiste,” seh told The Gleaner.
Earlier this year, American singer Jack White banned the use of phones from his American tour, a move led by entertainers like Alicia Keys and Dave Chappelle. The process is facilitated by Yondr, an organisation that offers phone-free spaces for creatives and various groups, which forces people to be in the present. When patrons get to the venue, they are required to put all their technological devices into a Yondr pouch for the duration of the show. In case of an emergency, users may seek a quiet zone to use their device.
Social-media expert Dennis Brooks said that while some performers may opt to police their space, recording live entertainment is a trend that will continue for digital natives.
“Kevin Hart will have a strict no-phone policy, and you’ll go to certain concerts and the announcer will say that ‘the recording of this performance is strictly prohibited,’” Brooks said. “If you’re going to say, ‘Absolutely no recording of my performance, it stands to reason that you had better have people on the ground to take away people’s phones or say ‘stop recording.’ Are you gonna invest in that personnel? I don’t know how many artistes will do that.”
He also pointed to the reality that public recordings can affect the intended sale of content from events on DVDs or streaming platforms.
“How do I make money off Netflix when there are a million bootleg versions of it on the Internet?” he asked. “This forces performers to control the extent to which they are recorded because it’ll cost them money, depending on the digital ecosystem within which they exist and if they are performing in a way or venue that is controllable.”