By the time you read this, I’ll be on my way to Nashville to catch one of the final live performances from guitarist and jazz fusion legend John McLaughlin. I can’t begin to express how much I’m looking forward to this show.
As a fan, I’ll have no problem settling in to my seat and enjoying the show. As a budding music journalist, I would really like to be able to take a few photos of the event. But I’m already quite certain photography will be a big no-no. And if that’s the case, so be it. I’ll get over it.
What I can’t understand is why so many music fans are unable to do the same.
Since the advent of the smartphone, in concert photography has become more of a hot-button issue. Some bands couldn’t care less if you took pictures of their performance. I have been to my fair share of these gigs, and I have taken my fair share of photos. But other bands are dead set against fans taking photos or video of their performances. Most bands make their policy clear both on the tickets they sell and via signs posted throughout the venue. If I find myself at one of these shows, my answer to this request is simple: I put the phone in my pocket, and just enjoy the show.
Some bands will go as far as to have a violator removed from the venue. Still others will stop their performance, refusing to carry on until the photographer stops what he’s doing. If the photography still doesn’t stop, some artists will just leave the stage, never to return. I’ve never experienced this first-hand, but some of the stories I’ve heard are legendary.
One of these incidents took place in my hometown of St. Louis back in the early ’90s, during a performance by Guns n Roses at the Riverport Amphitheater, as it was known then. Seems lead singer Axl Rose took umbrage to someone near the front row taking photos against his will. After diving in to the crowd to stop the photographer, Axl returned to the stage, thanked the crowd for the lousy security, threw his microphone to the ground, and walked off the stage. The ensuing riot has been a source of conversation ever since.
While I’m not one to attend a G’n’R show, I am a big fan of King Crimson, where band leader Robert Fripp has a similar (and very strict) policy against photography during his shows. While in New York in 2015, Fripp got fed up with people taking photos during a gig. After warning the crowd repeatedly, the guitarist stood up from his stool and left the stage, never to return. Fans were left with an incomplete performance.
It may surprise some to know my “wow” is NOT directed at the musicians, but at the unbelievably selfish fans who caused the problems in the first place.
Here’s the thing, from where I sit: when you buy a ticket to a concert, you have paid for the privilege of seeing that musician or band perform in a live setting. That’s it! What you did NOT buy is the right to take photos or shoot video of the event for your future pleasure. This is particularly true if the artist/band specifically asks that photos not be taken during their performance. How hard is this to understand?
I can hear the howling in some corners from here. How can I say such a thing? I can say that because I believe this one simple fact, when it comes to attending a concert: it’s not about me.
The problem is, there are more than a few selfish individuals out there who feel the only way to experience a concert is through the five-inch screen of their cell phones, as opposed to the life-sized band standing directly in front of them. “The band should be happy we show up for them in the first place,” Mr. Selfish says. “I bought my ticket, and I have the right to do whatever I want.”
No, you really don’t.
There are any number of reasons why artists don’t want fans taking pictures or recording video. If you want a genuine list, I would suggest talking to a musician. They can tell you about the distraction of flash or other photography, and how it throws them off a game that requires more than a little intense concentration. They can tell you about how they want fans to remain “in the moment,” along with the band. That means not being distracted by the desire to get the perfect photo.
Even if photos are allowed, why would you want to spend an entire gig taking pictures, anyway? I wish I could remember who said it, but I remember reading someone say, “I’ll never understand why anyone would spend time taking crappy pictures or recording crappy video with terrible sound so they can post it to a web page viewed by seven people.” There’s a lot of truth in that.
I spent three days in Chicago this past October covering Progtoberfest. I saw 37 bands, and took nearly 1,600 pictures. But I was WORKING. And even before I left home, I made sure to ask the festival organizer if I was allowed to take photos. If he had said no, guess where my camera would have been? In my hotel room!
I refuse to be the guy who ruins it for everyone else. It horrifies me to think I would put my selfish desires ahead of everyone else in the venue, including the band, just so I could get a photo I’ll probably forget about in a month. Yet more than a few people wouldn’t hesitate to do such a thing. I’ve personally nudged more than one person at a show, asking him to put his camera away on behalf of the band’s wishes. I’ve gotten everything from incredulous looks to stares of complete scorn. People are gonna do what they’re gonna do. I understand that. But that doesn’t stop me from trying to help.
I’ve said all that to say this: if you want to take pictures at a show, check first to see if it’s ok with the band. Read the small print on your ticket, check the signs on the venue door, or listen for announcements over the PA system. Once you know the rules, obey them! That’s not too much to ask.
After all, it’s not about you.