As Artists Try to Ban Phones, Concert Directors Design Shows For Them

The controversy over cellphones at concerts has found a new twist as Jack White reported other artists’ interest in his method of locking handsets out of his shows, while a leading event designer said big-budget productions were designed with Instagram in mind.

White recently decided to have audience members agree to lock their phones in a pouch, which remained sealed in the performance arena but could be opened once through the doors, meaning that, if they did need to make contact with the outside world, they could do so by stepping out of the show. It’s a system that’s previously been used by popular stand up comedians such as Dave Chappelle. In a new interview with Rolling Stone, White reported that the concept had been successful during his recent tour.

“I’m happy people are happy with it,” he said. “I thought it’s an experiment to see what will people do in this scenario. I kinda wanted it to be like going to an escape room or going to a movie theater. And everyone has been just gangbusters happy about it, which is so shocking and surprising, and so many other bands have been calling us and saying, ‘How are you guys doing that? We’re thinking about doing that too.’ The most negative thing I’ve heard is people don’t know what time it is anymore.”

But in a separate Rolling Stone feature, concert design director Ray Winker argued that phones had become a pivotal part of the event experience. “In the day and age of Instagram and Snapchat and all other social media, far more people know about the show than the people actually sitting in the stadium,” said the industry veteran, who’s worked with U2, Pink Floyd and many others. “The ‘Instagram moment’ is a very important aspect of how we design things. … [B]efore [a show is] even started, there will be thousands of photos circulating on the internet about how it looks like. So a show no longer starts when the curtain rises. The show starts the moment the first person takes a picture of it.”

He continued: “[Y]ou’re very minded to make the experience mobile-friendly. … A lot of people don’t even watch the show anymore – they film the show and watch it on their phones. That changes the way one thinks about design, quite considerably. You can’t underestimate the power of making sure a show looks good the moment people walk into a stadium – it’s now as important as the show itself.”

Winker predicted that handsets would play an even greater role in the future. “I think that trend is going to increase with augmented reality, as well,” he said. “Fans downloading an app and holding it against the screen to get an AR experience with the band. But how loyal fans are going to be to AR, only time will tell.”

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