Smartphone Program Notes Are Back In The News

Musical America recently published an article about EnCue, a real time program notes app for iOS and Android devices. The idea has been around since 2003 (remember Palm Pilot based Concert Companion?) but like so many topics in this field, it just can’t seem to break free of the same old, tired, discussion points.

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Let’s summarize the conversation:

  • “Glaring screens will be a distraction.”
  • “I get to use my phone in the hall, cool.”
  • “Wi-Fi and cell reception in the hall is spotty.”
  • “Patrons won’t pay attention to the music.”
  • “Glaring screens will be a distraction.”

…so on and so forth.

Most of the technological concerns became moot more than five years ago. For example, screen glare is all but nonexistent when an app uses dark background, high contrast screen designs, just like the type we examined here back in 2012. And wouldn’t you know it, EnCue uses that exact design approach.

For now, most groups considering this direction would be wise to limit where in the hall patrons would be encouraged to use the app.

Ideally, having a section that is removed from the remaining seating areas will marginalize conflict and most patrons won’t even recognize it’s happening unless someone tells clues them in. Ushers need to be on hand and trained on how to deal with the rare user who may engage in genuinely disruptive phone behavior (flash photography, unauthorized recording, audible message notifications, etc.).

In the end, those are all nothing more than problems with straightforward solutions.

I haven’t used EnCue but I am curious. They seem to be in public launch phase but I’m interested in learning more as they settle into their next round of development.

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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