News Column

Does Social Media Video Kill the Concert Vibe?

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ATLANTA -- Stacy Daxe entered Sting's recent concert at Chastain Park Amphitheatre as a fan and left irritated.

Not at the singer/bassist, who brought fans on a tight, two-hour romp through his historical career, but at the audience that ruined her experience.

So aggravated was Daxe that she went home and quit Facebook.

Why?

"My enjoyment was marred by idiots filming the concert and posting links to their Facebook status," Daxe said. "It was annoying, rude and quite ridiculous given the fact that the quality of those videos was so poor, even Batman wouldn't have been able to see them."

It's a common sight at concerts in the modern technology era. Smartphones, iPads, even a few antiquated cell phones are no longer merely an accessory to make a phone call or send a text.

At concerts, they're seemingly a necessity -- a vessel to capture a few minutes of musical history for some or, for others, a reason to brag to friends on social media, "Hey! Look where I am!"

But what most concertgoers may not realize is that the two-minute video they posted of Steven Tyler rocking "Dream On" might be breaking the law.

The Copyright Act states that there is no statutory exemption for personal use in this context, so don't assume that the law doesn't apply to you.

"In general, the person who owns the copyright in the musical composition embodied in the video has the exclusive right to publically perform it, reproduce it and distribute it," said Margaret R. Marshall, shareholder and entertainment attorney at Greenberg Traurig law firm.

Different types of civil liabilities exist under the Copyright Act, including actual and statutory damages and attorneys' fees.

And, said Marshall, "Under the Copyright Act, it could be on a per infringement basis."

Makes you think twice about those Facebook posts, doesn't it?

But Marshall pointed out that while those who record concerts and slap them on a public social media site are likely infringing, at a minimum, on the musical composition copyright, "Is the artist going to go after everyone? No, it's pragmatically impossible."

She also noted that while yes, artists' public performances and/or distribution of their musical compositions would be copyright infringement, often times legal issues may only arise when the work is distributed commercially -- unless other circumstances are involved.

Additionally, unauthorized recordings of live musical performances may violate state laws, including anti-bootlegging statutes and copyright and publicity rights laws.

"I wouldn't show my bootleg recordings to anybody," Marshall said. "Any commercial distribution or non-private performance becomes a problem."

Some venues -- such as Aaron's Amphitheatre at Lakewood in Atlanta -- have always maintained policies that photo equipment with detachable lenses are prohibited. This season, they've added tablets to the list of forbidden items because of the high-quality video the devices are capable of taking and because their placemat-size screens are more than a bit obtrusive when positioned midair for optimal recording.

Lakewood -- and about 30 other Live Nation amphitheaters nationwide -- also implemented a new outlet of customer service. Stickers on the backs of chairs in the venue provide a number for fans to text if someone around them is interfering with their concert experience.

Akeasha Branch, general manager at Lakewood, said complaints have ranged from people smoking inside the venue to a broken chair to inquiries about the location of the bathroom.

Views obstructed by smartphone recorders have been reported, but, she said, they have been minimal.

"You can obviously see it in the audience, but for years, you haven't really been able to do anything about it," Branch said. "Unless people are standing in the aisle taping the entire show, there isn't a whole lot we can do about it."

But, she added, "These phones are such a distraction no matter where you are, whether you're at a show or sitting at a stoplight. But the fact that live productions are changing and shows are being packaged differently -- look how huge the Kiss/Motley Crue show was (last month) -- it's hard not to put that on a phone video as a keepsake."

Keepsake or interruption?

While concert attendees who don't participate in recording concerts typically view the practice as both selfish and inconsiderate, those who find no harm in recording a song or two often cite the keepsake angle as their reason.

"It's no different than taking photos," said concertgoer Angela Oliver. "If you were at any public event -- a relative's graduation, a political rally, a sporting event -- would you not want to capture that experience with a snapshot? Some people can't afford to regularly attend concerts, so if someone gave them a ticket or they won it and might not get a chance again (to go to a show), why not shoot a few seconds of video to preserve that memory?"

But what about the artists? How do they feel when they look out from the stage and see people not singing along to a hit song or interacting, and instead, are greeted with the backs of thousands of smartphone camera lenses staring at them?

"I find it very, very strange," said Ed Robertson, lead singer of Barenaked Ladies. "I think people are far more engaged with their gadgets than the place they're in and the experience they could be having. I love the Foo Fighters and went to see them. Dave (Grohl) goes out on this long stage, and it's just a sea of people holding up phones and cameras. Why don't you make eye contact and not worry about tweeting about it? I hope the novelty of this connection and technology will wear out and people will realize that the authentic experience is so much more rewarding."

Fred Schneider of the B-52s is equally baffled by fans' priorities and has found it increasingly difficult over the years to maintain their attention.

"It's obvious that people don't even care if you're singing or lip-syncing up there," he said. "I get so angry with that and think, 'Why am I up here?' We will take down anything we don't like from YouTube. It's a selfish (practice) by fans. It's all about them. We'll have people hold up iPads during the show, and I'll stop the show and say, 'Put that away and just get out."'

Other artists, such as Richard Marx, a veteran singer-songwriter and touring presence for more than 20 years, said he completely understands fans' infatuation with wanting a digital souvenir.

"If I could have done that all of the years I was going to concerts, I would have," he said. "I don't ever feel like the audience recording me is in place of anything -- I always feel they're totally with me."

Hard to keep a secret

In this everything-must-be-reported-within-seconds world, the recording and posting of concert footage sometimes has another inadvertent effect: The element of surprise when going to a live show is all but destroyed.

Years ago, fans didn't even have a clue what songs might be played at a concert unless a friend attended an earlier date and reported back. But sites such as www.setlist.fm now provide nightly set list updates for most major artists, while acts with the inclusive jam band mentality, such as the Dave Matthews Band, will keep a live running set list on their websites during each show.

Of course, fans have the option to ignore these sites, just as they can disregard any YouTube postings that expose the plane bursting into flames near the start of Roger Waters' "The Wall" show.

(Footage recorded at concerts and posted on YouTube is subject to a series of rules and safe harbors. Ultimately, the user uploading the content is responsible for assuring that he has the rights necessary to post the content. However, Marshall noted, "Unless a rights holder properly objects, YouTube has systems in place to recognize pretty well this type of copyrighted material, and they've figured out ways to monetize it. If they can't figure out a way to monetize, they may just block it.")

Still, it's a frustrating game for those on the planning end of major events.

Tony Clarke is an Atlanta-based tour manager who, for 20 years, has worked with various festivals and tours, including as production director for the Savannah Music Festival and the annual Wade Ford Summer Concert Series in Mableton, Ga.

He laments the days when "no audio/video recording" signs were prominent at live music events and remarked that even though an announcement is made at the start of the Savannah Music Festival to remind attendees that recording is prohibited, the request is frequently ignored.

But he finds the erosion of the overall fan experience even more exasperating.

"I recall a tour stop with an A-list artist that featured special effects that wowed the audience because they were never-before-seen effects," Clarke said. "Because of smartphone recordings and YouTube postings, the show lost its surprise element by the fourth date on the calendar."

Then again, there are those who view the availability of such visuals on sites such as YouTube as promotional opportunities for an artist to hype a show or new album.

As Oliver, the concertgoer, remarked, "No one can deny the convenience and good things about YouTube."

Challenge for musicians

But for all of the musicians who don't fret about fans illegally downloading music or posting portions of their concerts on social media sites, there are those who remind the public that the music business is exactly that -- a business.

Jesse T. Hall, a longtime Atlanta singer and trumpeter, said it infuriates him to hear his craft discussed as if it's merely a hobby.

"Just because it appears to be recreational to a lot of folks, a lot of hard work, dedication, blood, sweat and tears go into it. It's never a good thing to record any music without permission," he said.

While preventing concertgoers from recording copyrighted material seems to be greeted with resigned acceptance by most in the industry, there are some artists who are taking technological competition as a challenge.

"It's just part of the show now," said country star Jason Aldean. "If I see someone talking on a cell phone during a show, I'll stop the show and ask who they're talking to and remind them, 'Hey, there's a concert going on.' I take that as ammunition."

WHAT THEY SAY

We asked some other artists their thoughts about today's overwhelming smartphone culture and how it feels from their vantage point.

Jennifer Lopez: "People will be jumping up and down and screaming, and then all of a sudden, they'll just stop. And everybody is just still, holding up their phone and recording. It's kind of funny. It changes the concert experience a little bit because everybody wants to post it on their pages and YouTube and be the first one to put it out there. I feel like it's my job to engage them and make them forget about their phones for a little while."

Ryan Peake, guitarist, Nickelback: "I've been guilty of it and thinking, 'I've got to share this with someone and remember this.' So I take the video and it's never the same (as being there). But I have to be OK with people (recording). Of course I'm not OK if they catch a really embarrassing moment."

Barry Manilow: "I actually don't see it much. I hear it goes on, but from my point of view, my audiences are always very good and receptive."

Joe Perry, guitarist, Aerosmith: "I tend not to pick my nose as much because it's going to end up on YouTube. But other than that, if you start thinking about all of the different ways you're impacting people, that can affect the show. We learned a long time ago that you just have to go out there and do what you do best and don't take anything for granted."

Melissa Ruggieri writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Email: melissa.ruggieri@ajc.com.  



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