The biggest problem, as I learned firsthand, involves the methods venue security will use to handle your fans if they’re caught breaking a policy. I’ve known and worked with security guards at all kinds of venues, and they’re generally concerned about one thing: following the venue’s written rules and the artist’s rider to the letter. They’re following direction from their manager, local law enforcement, and an artist’s management.
Fans are not part of that equation, and will be treated as such. This is how it’s been for at least the last 60 years, and it’s always surprising to encounter someone who thinks those rules won’t apply to them, especially when enforced by a gentleman seven or eight times their size.
If a venue or an artist has specifically banned cameraphones, don’t be surprised to hear stories about security personnel smacking devices out of concertgoers hands, confiscating phones, or ejecting fans from venues altogether. Contrary to online chatter, there’s no First Amendment right to free speech on private property, during a performance covered by ticketholder terms and conditions. At your shows, your fans are entirely at the mercy of your venue’s house rules, and any amendments you agree upon with venue management.
However, the venue won’t end up getting the blame for an overzealous bouncer’s behavior—the artist will. A misunderstanding that escalates to physical action can wreck your relationship with a fan, ruin the experience for their neighbors, and grow into a sour social media situation.
As an artist, it’s more important than ever to communicate your stance on phone use in clear, specific ways. No matter how cute you make a sign, assume nobody will read it. Post a note to your blog that states your position, and why. If you want people to spread as many photos of your gig as possible online, offer up a hashtag and a space on your official web presence where you’ll aggregate photos. If you find phones a distraction, say so. Your perfect audience should know, going into the venue, exactly what behavior you expect from them. Casual fans, dates, and other folks that happen to come out to a gig should find out the same information, before you take the stage.
Give your house manager some homework. Ask them to deliver a stage announcement that clearly tells your audience what you’ll tolerate, and what you’ve authorized the house to do when fans cross the line. Once you’re on stage, have fun with it. Consider frontselling a single number as “the only song tonight we’ll take pictures of.” After that, explain that you’re going “off the record.”
Most regular readers of this blog and my books probably can’t wait to have this kind of problem to deal with. If that describes you right now, you’ve got two courses of action. Either get comfortable now performing with camera phones, or become strong at enforcing boundaries that just might earn you more long term respect from live audiences.
P.S.: Parting words of wisdom from a live music fan: