Alicia Keys Bans Phones from Concerts, Is She Right?

Fans and artists are increasingly fighting over whether cell phones should be allowed at concerts.
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Fans and artists are increasingly fighting over whether cell phones should be allowed at concerts.

You spend top dollar to see your favorite artist in concert, but instead of watching your hero perform, you end up staring at the screen of someone's smartphone as they keep their arms in the air for what seems like an eternity.

At one time, concerts were about the experience of seeing your favorite performer live, losing yourself in the music and every once in a while snapping a photo (Ok, fine, and maybe doing some drugs, too). Concerts have now become more about unlimited Instagram photos, video, hashtags and seeing if you can be the one to catch that rare remix or stage fall on video with fans never removing their raised arms for fear of missing the next viral moment. 

Enter Alicia Keys, who is now in a growing line of artists who are banning cell phones from their concerts. A Washington Post report cites Keys' recent show in Manhattan where concert goers were asked to lock up their phones in special smartphone pouches designed by tech company Yondr.

It's a unique, and potentially risky move in a time where cell phone videos and Instagrammed photos act as promotional tools for both independent and major label artists. Social sharing and closer fan interactions have become the fabric of the new music business, but artists are now wrestling with how to balance out the pros of fan involvement with the cons. Drake made the decision this week to cancel all meet and greets on his upcoming "Summer Sixteen" tour, and while that decision was seemingly more driven by security concerns than the concert experience, it addresses the same push and pull between fan and artist to control the concert environment.  

For Keys, the decision was driven by not wanting the first wave of listeners to hear low grade cell phone audio of new her new recordings:

“We don’t want the first time you ever hear a song to be some [lousy] MP3 somebody captured on their phone,” said Keys Manager DJ Walton. “We have a 30-foot stage and you’re looking at it through a four-inch iPhone. We want people to come and almost forget about their phones for a moment.”

It's an understandable stance by Keys; you spend months crafting new music and the first time people hear of it is via someone in the last row of the venue? But while it may seem logical to Keys and industry folk, not all fans are aligned with the "no cell phone" policy:

“In this day and age, my phone is how I keep my memory,” said Gerard Little, 24 outside the Keys show. “Chris Brown. Jason Derulo. I have their footage on my phone. If you don’t want your music heard, then don’t perform it.”

Keys isn't the first artist to take this stance. Canadian rock band Arcade Fire were one of the first well known acts to take a strong stance against cell phones at concerts, even going so far as to confiscate cell phones during performances and not give them back until the end of the show. The extreme methods taken by Arcade Fire may not be the answer, but one wonders whether artists such as Alicia Keys are doing fans a favor by locking up their cell phones during shows and forcing the audience to be engaged with the concert.

You did pay good money for your ticket, but did you pay for a concert experience or the right to record the performance? How you answer that question will determine which side you're on in what will surely become an increasingly heated debate. 

By @brokencool, native Torontonia

Photo Credit: Facebook