Live Music Exchange Blog

Disrupting Engagement?: Live Music, Mobile Technology and Fandom – Lucy Bennett


This week’s guest post is by Dr. Lucy Bennett, an independent scholar from Cardiff, Wales. She graduated with a PhD in online fandom at JOMEC, Cardiff University, with a thesis focusing on online R.E.M. fans. She  is co-founder and co-chair of the Fan Studies Network and her research examines audiences and their use of the internet, with particular focuses on fandom, music and social media.

Her work has been published in the journals New Media & Society, Transformative Works and CulturesParticipations, Social Semiotics and Continuum.

In recent years, the widespread use of mobile technology, with inbuilt cameras, video capturing tools and internet connections, has permitted a powerful interjection into behaviour at live music concerts. As The New York Times journalist Neil Strauss first observed at a concert in 1998, “everybody was holding up their hands, and here and there I could see guys holding up their cell phones, playing the music for someone else”. Thus, mobile phones were beginning to replace the traditional lighter, held in the air, capturing and preserving moments and also, most fascinatingly, connecting with non-physically present audiences.

Since 1998, mobile technology has developed even further, with internet and text connections allowing a stronger connection with online audiences, alongside smart phones and tablets permitting audience members to film and capture moments of the concerts, with the prospect of then sharing them online. However, this process, and its impact on the live music experience on musicians and the audience in attendance, can be quite complicated. Whereas some artists, such as U2 and R.E.M, have been known to encourage an occasional wielding of mobile phones from their audiences (for example, to text their support to a cause, or to use the screens as a light effect during songs), other artists actively discourage it. On 7th April 2013, at a concert in New York City, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs posted the following sign onto the door of the venue asking audience members to refrain from using their phones to film and watch the show:

Please do not watch the show through a screen on your smart device/camera. Put that shit away as a courtesy to the person behind you and to Nick, Karen and Brian. Much love and many thanks! Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

In response to this, the BBC subsequently posed the question “should music fans stop filming gigs on their smart phones?” (, concluding that “it is likely that the ‘sea of cameras’ is here to stay”.

Just as some musicians have struggled with this ‘sea’ of technology during live performances, the response within music fandom has been equally as complex. For example, an emerging technological practice within some popular music fan communities relating to artists who change their concert set-lists on a frequent basis has recently become visible: some fans at shows are engaging with individuals who are following the concert “live” from the comfort of their computers or smart phones, rather than being physically at the concert hall itself. In 2012, I conducted a study on the fan cultures of prolific touring artists Tori Amos and U2, unravelling how assigned texters and tweeters at each show would alert the non-physically present fans around the world information about the concert set-list as it happened, and deliver updates about any other news surrounding the show and various photos. These online fans would then gather together to follow the show “live” as it unfolded through the evening. I demonstrate in this work that the use of these online tools is involving individuals who are not physically present at the show, seemingly incorporating them into the real-time “live” experience. My argument is that we should see this practice as an effort by fans to contest and reshape the traditional boundaries of the live music experience. In addition, this process works to re-appropriate ideas of immersion in “liveness” (Auslander 2008), which is “a relationship of simultaneity” (Auslander 2002: 210) that occurs between an audience and a “live” event.

In an effort to explore this practice of texting and tweeting further, during October and November 2012, I conducted an anonymous Tori Amos fan survey (forthcoming, 2014), with the desire to understand and unravel the consequences of this process on the live music experience of those who were physically attending shows.  It received 56 responses, from 17 different countries, with the majority of participants aged between 30 and 45. I examined the responses of those engaged in this activity during concerts, and how non-users perceived and articulated it, in order to ascertain the extent and manner with which use of technological tools and subsequent connections with non-physically present individuals are changing, and can change, an audience member’s engagement within the live listening process. I discovered how these technological practices during live shows are regarded by some fans as a vital element with which to solidify a communal feeling and inclusivity amongst the fan community:

I think it makes the fanbase more solid, cooperative and it works as a feedback to the shows. It keeps people’s excitement high during all the tour, a thing that never happened to me with other bands who always stick to the same setlist night after night, or who’s not really good live. I really enjoy to participate to the setlist frenzy, you actually feel the tour is happening, somewhere (Tori Amos fan survey respondent, 2012).

However, there also appeared to be a conflict for some fans between wanting to engage in these acts of service to the particular online fan community and committing to what is perceived as their own undisrupted engagement in the live concert experience:

I have [texted and tweeted] for a couple concerts, because when I’m not in concert attendance it’s fun to live vicariously through others updating in real time. I don’t think I will continue this in the future, I have begun to abandon photo taking and texting/tweeting during concerts that have a real significance to me… I want to be more present during certain concerts, Tori Amos concerts for sure.  (Tori Amos fan survey respondent, 2012).

This respondent articulates the dual tensions experienced between wanting to keep the non-presents fan informed, while simultaneously remaining focused and engaged in the performances. It also raises questions surrounding understandings of being “present”, and how it may be impacted and complicated by the use of mobile devices, even though the user is physically present and in attendance.

Thus, while some fans are working in an effort to reshape, redefine and contest the traditional boundaries and distinctions of “being” at a show, the use of these technological devices during a performance is also raising complicated decisions. While these services are working as an important, inclusive and pleasurable tool for some online fan communities around the world, for some of those that are physically at the shows, the choice between texting, tweeting, filming, or remaining “in the moment” or “present” is often a conflicting one, which may be rendered even more demanding as technology, and the tools with which we can connect to others, and preserve and capture moments, develops further.


I’d like to acknowledge and give thanks to Iñaki Garcia-Blanco for his valuable comments and suggestions during the conducting of the survey and Rachel King for her support and help with its dissemination.

Lucy Bennett

You can email Lucy at:


Auslander, P. (2002) ‘Live From Cyberspace or, I was sitting at my computer this guy appeared he thought I was a hot’. PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, Vol. 24, No. 1, 16-21

Auslander, P. (2008) Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture. Second Edition. Oxon: Routledge.

Bennett, L. (2012) ‘Patterns of Listening Through Social Media: Online fan engagement with the live music experience’, Social Semiotics, 22 (5), 545–557.

Bennett, L. (Forthcoming, 2014) ‘Texting and Tweeting at Live Music Concerts: flow, fandom and connecting with other audiences through mobile phone technology.’ Burland, K. and Pitts, S. (eds) Coughing and Clapping: Investigating Audience Experience, Ashgate Press.

Hann, M. (2013) Yeah Yeah Yeahs launch pre-emptive strike at phone-wielding gig-goers. The Guardian Blog. Available at: [Accessed 16 April 2013]

Lee, D. (2013) Should music fans stop filming gigs on their smartphones?. BBC. Available at: [Accessed 16 April 2013]

Strauss, N. (1998) A Concert Communion With Cell Phones; Press 1 to Share Song, 2 for Encore, 3 for Diversion, 4 to Schmooze. The New York Times, [Online] 9 December 1998. Available at: [Accessed 16 April 2013].


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