Video Killed the Live Music Scene?


Those who read my interviews on this blog (as well as other places) know that I always like to ask musicians about their experiences with music in the past and today. It’s a theme that I personally find interesting not only in regards to learning about the history of music and various scene traditions, but also because it gives an idea of what it was like in the past without the current, advanced technology of today. I enjoy hearing musicians and fans older than myself talk about the state of music in the past, and I find myself often drawn to reading about these people’s experiences in passing with the music scenes and fans of today.

Obviously, this means that a pattern of certain observations tends to appear:

1. There were no illegal file-sharing or mp3 downloads, which meant that the method of tape trading was limited and that to get the music you heard, you had to buy it

2. Lack of advanced mobile phones with videos, games and the Internet meant that people were engaging more often in conversation with one another.

3. Fans seem more invested in bringing out their cameras to film everything. In some cases, this means the whole show itself, from start to finish (as ludicrous as that sounds).

Each one of the above isn’t strictly a negative or even detrimental issue… much debate over the morality of digital downloads aside, you can argue that conversation might not be happening due to other factors, as much as it does make it hard to ascertain whether it’s because one person is indeed wrapped up in the latest gadget or is naturally shy and genuinely social awkward.

The third point however, is something that I personally take issue with. While I don’t mind if someone (that is, an amateur with a camera phone as opposed to a professional camera person with a tripod and cables in tow) opts to film just a few minutes of a live show that they would like to keep memories of for whatever reason; I am bothered by the prospect of anyone attempting to film an entire live gig from start to finish in this manner. For one, it seems to me that doing so not only removes you from the personal experience of witnessing live music for what it brings and what you hear in person, but implies that you would rather that all your memories be served to you through a digital-visual medium, rather than have said medium merely be a catalyst for all the memories, thoughts and emotions that took place for you at the time, right at that particular moment.

As far as I’m concerned, clips of gig footage really should be used to jog your mind of what you felt and saw in the flesh from that time, not offer whole hours of recorded material that you watch with a feeling of detachment from that experience (even if you find yourself wishing that you were there to see and hear it all).

As opposed to the camera photo, the camera video can be taken by a number of people as a substitute for the real thing in its entirety. While it might admittedly be helpful for those who couldn’t make it to the event, it also means that said event may not be appreciated for what it is – a spectacle of live music, in the flesh, as opposed to a recording.

The issue of camera phones or digital video cameras at live shows is part of why, when I wanted to revisit my memories of having seen Rammstein( two weeks after their show in late February), as much as I appreciated this clip being available to watch on youtube so I could jog my personal memories; I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed to see various screens alight at the same time.

(Hopefully – hopefully, these were just to record a few minutes of the show, rather than the whole two hours that the band were on for.)

While the use of advanced technology like this isn’t in itself clear cut, it does again lead back to the same old question of whether the technology of today is chipping away at the experience and consumption of music, even in a live setting. As of right now even, it’s not certain what conclusion could be drawn about the fate of live concerts and festivals in relation to this topic, which doesn’t even sound remotely negative. Could there be a way to let the kids (and some middle-aged coots) have their cake and eat it too, whenever they bring their video phones into a show, or will it even get so bad that venues will have to be militant with a no digital cameras or iPhones policy?

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