Transmedia + Music

Block on iPhone Concert Recording and Its Effect on Fanbases


The UK newspaper The Times uncovered a patent application filed by Apple that describes disabling the iPhone camera function at concerts, blocking fans from recording their favorite musicians. If it comes to pass, this will be incredibly detrimental to the growth and dedication of fanbases.

The patent describes a system in which concert venues install special infrared sensors. When an iPhone is held up to record anything, the sensors would signal the phone to shut down its camera function. The rest of the phone’s features will be untouched. The patent was filed 18 months ago, so it is unclear if it is being actively developed, and no official announcements from Apple have been made.

It is believed that Apple is developing the system to appease record labels, in addition to broadcasters who are filming specific shows for exclusive distribution. So while this may seem “good” for labels, this is bad for fans, musicians, and therefore the distributors themselves.

The recording of concerts, either audio or video, has been a long held practice that benefits a musician’s fanbase. The term ‘taper’ was popularized by fans of the Grateful Dead during the late 1960s, when the band condoned audio recordings of their live concerts. There became so many tapers at the shows that they were herded behind the soundboard, which the crew sometimes allowed them to connect directly to. Almost 2,200 of the 2,350 concerts the band ever played were recorded, and most of those are available online.

By allowing fans to record (albeit strictly not for profit), they encouraged the fanbase of the time to flourish, by further entrenching listeners and arming them with the tools to convert new fans. Forty years later, this tangible legacy makes it possible for new fans to be created, even listeners born after the band disbanded in 1995.

More recently, Nine Inch Nails has embraced its audience, creating a comprehensive online fan community. Of its many functions, perhaps the most powerful is its media archive, which currently holds over 50,000 photos and videos contributed by the band and audience members. Fans are encouraged to submit their recorded materials, hosted on sites Flickr or YouTube, and place them in appropriate galleries with searchable tags. For example, if I wanted to watch video specifically from the Melbourne, Australia concert of the 2009 tour, it has a gallery all on its own, hosting videos from three different audience members. When the band openly advocated taping their last concerts ever, the corresponding galleries hold well over 100 videos each.

The current state of fan recordings hinges on the technology of smart phones. While Flip cameras are common, most videos found on YouTube or Vimeo are made with the camera function of a smart phone. While the quality can be good, it is still subpar to what broadcasters would be selling, and therefore should not be considered competition. And due to the wide availability of small recording devices, bootlegs are no longer profitable; they are instead easily shared for free in chunks on YouTube or as downloadable Torrent files.

But why is video recording important for cultivating a fanbase? On an individual level, it gives a fan a sense of ownership of the event and of the music. They are able to give form to their experience and take it home with them, allowing them to emotionally connect with it whenever they choose. Recording also turns them into specialists, as uploading and sharing video with others who couldn’t attend fills them with pride.

For a fanbase, these uploads benefit audience members who may live far from the musician’s usual touring spots, domestically or abroad. Many do not have the luxury or resources to see their favorite musicians live, so video recordings are a great replacement.  The videos can also solidify a fanbase, giving them materials to trade, discuss, and otherwise keep them interested in between music releases.

(Nick Sherman)

As a fanbase benefits, so too does the musician and the record label. For instance, if I hear about an upcoming show of a musician I am not familiar with, I first turn to YouTube to check out live footage. I then buy a ticket to the concert and, if I enjoy it, will purchase music at the venue, order it directly from the label, or buy it at a store. By my watching that video, the musician and the label profited off of me.

Of course, iPhones are not the only game in town. Android is the world’s leading smart phone platform, and, due to the nature of its open source operating system, would be difficult to create a uniform camera blocking system for the dozens of phone models it runs on. It also would not affect handheld video cameras. But such a move would set a bad precedence for how record labels treat the value and work of fanbases, and would hinder the expansion of a musician’s fanbase that is dependent on the technology of today. A healthy and growing fanbase is far more valuable than appeasing broadcasters.

(Header photo credit: bareform)

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