Join The Sacred Cow Barbecue (unless you live in NYC)

There’s a terrific article by Brian Wise in the 6/6/2013 edition of that examines the issue of using cameras and recording devices in the concert hall. The issue is hot right now following a temper tantrum from pianist Krystian Zimerman who cut a recital short because he spotted a patron allegedly recording the performance with a Smartphone.

What makes Zimerman’s situation stand out is he apparently went on to lecture the audience on how he has lost out on recording contracts because label execs claimed the performance was already on YouTube.

Let’s take a deep breath here and set a few things straight. I have yet to meet a record label executive who refuses to engage an artist to record because some half-baked Smartphone recording of a live performance of the same piece was on YouTube. Perhaps Zimerman’s troubles are the result of him not understanding the medium he’s talking about or someone is pumping him full of smoke (or a little of both).

We covered this topic back on 3/12/2013 from the perspective of photography inside concert venues but one item that wasn’t covered then but is worth noting in Wise’s post is a comment I offered that points out most restrictive policies are the byproduct of guest artist and conductor demands more than anything else. Ultimately, if there’s going to be change, it will need to begin with artist managers doing a better job informing clients of the issues so they can make informed choices.

Norm Lebrecht posted something on this same topic on 6/5/2013 and in addition to Zimerman; he also touched on the early success of pianist Valentina Lisitsa, who encourages patrons to use their Smartphones for recordings and photos during performances.

But what’s interesting in Wise’s article is the difference in how venues in New York City (NYC) and those in other metropolitan areas are approaching policy. According to Wise, the NYC venues are adopting a very old-school hard line approach while the opposite is true for a number of US cities elsewhere. For a city that likes to claim moral high ground on art and culture, it seems odd that NYC venues would adopt such a retrenched position on this issue.

In the end, adopting in-house media device use policies shouldn’t be rocket science nor should patrons have to worry about a Smartphone police state inside performing arts venues. Just take the time to craft fair and reasonable policies and train staff and your audience on how to go about making it a win-win situation.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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12 thoughts on “Join The Sacred Cow Barbecue (unless you live in NYC)”

  1. I admit that I have not followed the coverage of this issue very closely but what strikes me about the coverage I have seen is that it does not seem to acknowledge that copyright laws play a central role. We have gotten used to the idea that illegal downloads of music and film from file-sharing sites are just that–illegal. But it is also true that anyone who records a performance without the permission of the performer is simply stealing intellectual property. Such a recording also implicates the rights of the entity (usually composer or publisher) that holds copyright in the music that is being performed. While they may only be complying with artist contracts requiring them to do so (although I suspect their conduct may also have something to do with complying with the terms of the blanket licenses they purchase from ASCAP, BMI and/or SESAC), those venues that strictly enforce bans on recording by patrons are also discouraging the violation of copyright laws within their precincts.

    • It will be interesting to see if any artists or related copyright holders attempt to bring legal action against any of the venues Brian covered in his article. I would be surprised if cases would end up cut and dry. If nothing else, it makes options such as Creative Commons more attractive than ever.

  2. This isn’t just a question of respect for the law, the artist, and the venue. What about audience members who just want to sit there and listen to the music without being distracted by some bozo with a smartphone? This ain’t a nightclub, folks. Turn off your frigging phone.

    • People have been dropping programs, unwrapping candy, coughing, smelling of alcohol and too much perfume/cologne, having beepers/pages go off, etc. for decades; using a phone to attempt a recording is no different and I trust that just as many patrons are going to demonstrate good judgement in roughly the same numbers as what we see now.

  3. Respectfully, I have to disagree with that in that the unwrapping of candy, coughing, reeking of alcohol and perfume do not block one’s line of sight to the stage. I had to endure the bright glow of a smart phone right in front of me during the first three movements of Beethoven’s 9th last fall because the person recording the performance with his iPhone felt a need to hold it up above his head to, presumably, get a better view, blocking mine in the process. Fortunately, his battery must have died forcing him to stop recording, thus allowing me to be able to see the soloists in the 4th movement. Being a rare packed house that evening, I was unable to move to another seat. It was rather annoying, to be sure. Fortunately, the music was incredible, but the annoyance was there.

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