Shut Up And Listen To The Music – The Death of Concert Etiquette (and How to Save it)

You’re at a concert for a band you love. You’ve waited months, maybe years to see them live. You’re stoked.

The lights dim. The band takes the stage. Immediately they cut into one of their fastest, most intense numbers. The crowd is pumped, they’re jumping up and down. They’re singing along. They’re screaming. It’s everything a concert should be and more.

About three or four songs in the band decides to slow it down a bit, crank out that ballad or quiet acoustic number. It may not be a Top 40 single, it may not be a fan favorite, but you love it.

And that’s when you hear it.

Not the song, but the assholes behind you babbling up a storm.

“Oh my god, check out this text” says one them, staring intently at their phone while ignoring the artist they paid good money to see.

“Wow, I can’t believe that! Oh my god that reminds me you won’t believe what happened yesterday,” says the other twit.

Now they’re both staring at each other, talking loudly. They’re right behind you. You can hear them as well as you can the music. You glare at them but they’re so involved in their own little world that they don’t even notice. Eventually it gets to be too much, and you move.

“Dude! What the fuck! Fuck this boring song!” says the loud bro behind you. His friend nods in agreement.

You move again.

“No! No! I’m right here! I’M RIGHT HERE! I’ll raise my hand!”

Move again.

“Dude Dude dude let me past you come on, I gotta get up front, dude, dude, be cool dude.”



This is a problem.


It is a problem that has not gotten any better over the years. In fact, I’d venture to say that it has gotten considerably worse.

I’ve been to acoustic gigs where the performer had to ask the audience to keep it down. I’ve been to metal shows where the crowd seemed more into their phones and talking about Facebook posts than the band on stage, and I’ve been to countless festivals where hundreds of people treat any band who isn’t the band they want to see like they aren’t there, even if everyone else around them is into the music and enjoying themselves.

People no longer know how to behave at concerts, but it hasn’t always been this way. I’ve been going to see live music since I was five (first concert: Survivor, my mom is the coolest) and I clearly remember that people used to sit down (or stand if there were no seats), shut up, and listen to the goddamn music. But now, it’s like the music is just background noise. People pay money to go to a show, and they don’t pay attention to it, they just talk among themselves.

And what is to blame for this downward spiral of manners?

It’s all the Internet’s fault (said the person on the Internet), and here’s why:


Online Ticket Sales = More Fair Weather Fans (Literally)

Back in the 60s, 70s and even into the 90s, if you wanted concert tickets you had to go stand in line at the box office the day they went on sale. And if you wanted good seats, you had to get there early, real early, like “bring a tent” early.

Bad weather? Too bad. If you want those tickets, you better deal with sitting outside in the rain, the snow, the sleet, the blistering heat, you name it. Simply put, if you wanted to see John Denver, you really had to want to see John Denver.

It was torture.

In the 80 and 90s it became possible to order tickets over the phone, but even that was a crapshoot that required a bit of persistence. Dial, busy signal, redial, repeat: that was the mantra for me in the early 90s. Sitting by the phone, redialing like a madman until I scored tickets for Def Leppard, The Smashing Pumpkins, Ozzy, and many other bands.

Either in person or by phone, getting tickets for a show required work. You had to make an effort, and in many cases, it wasn’t easy. Now all you need to do in order to get tickets is go to a website and click a few buttons. Boom. Tickets. No waiting, no lines, no leaving the house.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m so happy we can buy tickets online now. Waiting in line for tickets sucked! Calling in again and again hoping to not get a busy signal sucked! There’s nothing easier than turning on your computer five minutes before tickets go on sale, refreshing the page until the “buy” button is there, and snagging the seats you want. It’s great.

But it also lowers the barrier of entry for fair weather fans just looking for a big name show. It makes it easier for casual fans who just want to hear the hits. And most distressingly, it makes it easier for scalper assholes to snag up blocks of tickets and sell them to rich non-fans who just want to go to the “cool concert” to say they were there. And people like that are making up more and more of the shows these days, because less and less people actually care about music now.


Digital Music Has Almost No Value (Emotional or Otherwise)

Much has been made about how the Internet is killing the music industry, but when people say that, they’re only talking about sales. They’re not talking about the real problem; the fact that the Internet has made people care less about music than ever before, because the effort to get music has been eliminated almost completely.

It used to be that if you wanted to listen to your favorite song or favorite band, you had to get in a car/bus/train and go to a store that sold music, and it typically cost you a decent amount. Before iTunes took over the world, new CDs often cost between $13 to $18. And frequently a hunt was involved. If you liked a band who wasn’t mainstream, or even popular on the “”alternative” circuit, then you had to do some digging to find their music, call around, maybe even go to a record store 45 minutes to an hour away and hope they remembered to hold you a copy. Getting music required time, effort and money.

Now if someone wants a song, they just go online and click a button to buy it. And if they can’t afford it, they don’t save their money so they can get it next or the week after, they just steal it. There are positives to that, sure. Now it’s easier than ever before for unsigned artists to get the attention they deserve. People now have access to their music collection no matter where they go. And yes, record companies deserved a swift kick in the ass for the prices they were charging for CDs in the late 90s, but there’s been a bad side to the democratization of music as well: when music lost its monetary value, its emotional value went away with it.

With so much music at people’s fingertips, often at no cost to them, the emotional investment one puts into any band is often diminished. When you don’t have to search out, or save money for a CD or LP, you care less about it. It means less to you because you put less thought into it in the first place. For many people, an album is no longer a physical object to be sought after, desired and then cherished once it is bought, now it’s just a collection of digital files on a mobile device. They’re easily obtained and just as easily disposed of. With such little emotional attachment to the music, it’s no wonder so many people easily tune out at concerts and instead babble on to their friends about whatever until they hear that one hit or one song they love the most.

Of course, modern society has given them plenty of practice with tuning out.


The Death of the Attention Span (I’m surprised you’ve read this far)

How many articles, blog posts or essays do you read a day? Maybe ten? Twenty? Over a hundred?

But do you actually read them? Or do you just skim them, looking for pull-quotes, funny captions or info-graphics that help you digest the information as quickly as possible, with minimal effort. And what else are you doing while “reading” these articles? Do you have a movie on Netflix running in the background? Are you listening to a podcast? Browsing Facebook/Twitter? Texting with a friend?

The Internet has served as a ballistic missile to our collective attention spans, with smartphones being the volley of ICBMs that finished them off (sorry, been playing a lot of Missile Command lately). In less than 15 years, we have all been conditioned to seek out as many forms of entertainment and diversions as possible. Anything is passable, as long as it keeps us occupied. Bored in class? Browse Facebook. Stuck at a red light? Catch up on Twitter. Got writer’s block for a prolonged blog post about negative human behavior? Play Puzzle Quest.

Modern technology has trained us to not allow ourselves boredom for more than two minutes, tops. So when someone is at a concert and they’re not 100% involved with the music (because they have little emotional attachment to it, remember?) then it shouldn’t be surprising that they end up turning their phones on to text with friends, or, even worse, turn their heads and talk to their friends. They can’t help themselves, their brains have been beaten into submission. Be entertained at all times! Distract yourself from having to focus on anything!

And above all, make sure everyone around you knows what you think!


The Feedback Cutlure (don’t forget to comment on this!)

Not only have Twitter, Facebook and the Internet as a whole worked to chip away at our collective attention spans, they also given us the ability like never before to engage with our distractions. TV, film, print, they’re all passive. You sit down, you watch them, you absorb them, and move on. Content on the Internet is different, it encourages a direct dialogue between the creator and the audience. People don’t just read something on the Internet and move on. No, they “like” or “favorite” it, they respond and interact with others to discuss it. Hell, some even get on YouTube and craft their own video responses, because reading what someone thinks is so 20th century, you have to watch it now.

This is not a bad thing (well, maybe the response videos are)! By and large, it’s a good thing. It’s good that we’re becoming more engaged with what we see around us. It’s good that we create dialogues to discuss what we see. And it’s good that we don’t just question or accept whatever we’re given, and that we interact with it to make it better or more interesting.

What’s bad is that a lot of people don’t know how to turn it off. So when they’re at a concert, they just have to talk about it. They have to tell their friend what they thought of that song, what the singer is wearing, how the dude in front of them is banging his head. It doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, they have an opinion on it, and since they’ve become so accustomed to commenting on every single thing they engage in online, it bleeds over to the real world.

And the real world really needs a “comments are disabled” feature.


Well, maybe not the whole world, just the Western world.

This past winter I went to Japan for the first time and while there, I got the chance to see Muse live. Check out this performance from that show.

Now compare that to this video of Muse taken at Lollapalooza 2011 in Chicago.

If Muse wanted to play John Cage’s 4’33”  in Japan they could, and you would be able to hear a pin drop. But the second the band tried to slow down or try something quiet in the states, it was like an open invitation for the audience to babble about nonsense.

And America doesn’t have an exclusive copyright on being asshats during a concert. Look at this horrendous example of poor behavior that took place during Pulp’s performance at Glastonbury in 2011.

The Japanese even know how to behave at festivals, which are notorious for bad behavior. Check out this footage from Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival ’10, featuring the legendary Boom Boom Satellites (WHO ARE AWESOME BY THE WAY)

Japan’s culture is obviously very different than ours. They value manners, politeness and civility much more than we do (which isn’t always good), and I ‘m sure that has something to do with the difference in behavior between us and them when it comes to concert etiquette.

However, they also have more record stores per square meter than any other country on Earth (that’s just a guess, but it feels right). And among these stores is a massive eight story Tower Records that is always packed (despite CDs costing the equivalent of $30). So I’m not willing to write off their respect for live music as entirely a cultural difference tied to manners and obedience. These people love their music, want to spend money on it, and they want to own a physical copy of it. Regardless, they serve as proof that people can go to concerts and behave themselves.

So how do we get the word out that there can be a better way? How do we make the rest of the world more like Japan when it comes to concert etiquette?

Thankfully, the solution to this problem is pretty simple. We just have to start telling people to shut the fuck up.

Everyone, be more like Jeff Tweedy (the only time I will say that).

Artists need to start telling people to shut the fuck up.

The road crew needs to start telling people to shut the fuck up.

Security needs to start telling people to shut the fuck up.

Everyone who is fed up, sick and tired, and just plain mad at every idiot, jerk and asshole who is more concerned with their own voices than the music they paid money to see, we all need  to start telling them to shut the fuck up.

We can do it! We can change things! In fact, there’s even precedent for it.

Earlier this year, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs starting asking for fans to please put their cameras and phones down after the first few songs. They were fed up with looking into a crowd and seeing people watching them through LCD screens and not through their own eyes. And guess what? By and large it seemed to work. If people are asked, especially by the performers themselves, to do something, they tend to do it. Now other bands are even starting to take note and do the same.

Now artists need to start getting proactive about talking at concerts, they need to put up signs before the show, they need to call out people who they see are talking. They need to get into the people’s faces about it. When they do that, it in turn gives you more power to stand up as well, and demand that these blabbering idiots don’t ruin the concert for you, or themselves.

Let’s save live music people! We can do it!

We have to, otherwise everyone will stop going to shows and we’ll be stuck watching fucking holograms.

8 Responses to Shut Up And Listen To The Music – The Death of Concert Etiquette (and How to Save it)

  • Rob C says:

    Well said…thanks for sharing!

  • Steve says:

    Good one – enjoyed the rationalisation of just why people carry on. I’ve got an additional theory that maybe more and more “older” fans are venturing out than ever, and usually, the timepoor nature of modern day life means that more often than not, they are taking the moment to “catch-up” with old friends. No problems there, but perhaps we (they?) might just enjoy the show in front of us (like w used to back in the day) and then perhaps stay after the gig for a bit longer for that side of the experience, rather than dash home to pay the sitter! Good work on the blog and the Lost Turntable too! Cheers.

  • GaryB says:

    I remember being at the ill-fated Depeche Mode concert in Kansas City. The one where Dave Gahan’s voice gave out about four songs in. Think it was 2006. Martin Gore tried to make up for things by doing a solo set of songs (including a few that probably hadn’t been performed in 20+ years). But, all I could hear were the two drunk guys screaming, “Play “Personal Jesus” you eurotrash!” The vast majority of the crowd had no clue what they were witnessing as Martin usually only does a few songs per concert and we got, like, 10. All I can recall of that show is the drunken rant of two clueless asshats. It was my son’s first show and he at least had first-hand education of how not to act at a show. He’s twenty now and has no problem telling complete strangers to just enjoy the show. Thanks for the insightful article, and for all the good music over the years!

  • mifimusic says:

    I share your views on this 100%. Aside from the people who go to the shows and yell at each other about inane things while ignoring the performance, you have you abnoxious smartphone people. I went to see Peter Murphy recently and it was packed. You really could not move. I was stuck behind this girl who drank about 20 beers and throughout the entire show her arms were raised with her smartphone recording the show (she was staring into her phone the whole time) and a raised beer in the other hand. Totally blocking my view. Why, oh why, does anyone want to stare into their phone the whole time? It’s ridiculous.

  • Brett Alan says:

    I don’t go to as many concerts as I used to (or, like, a fifth as many concerts as I used to), so I haven’t really had this experience. I can remember some particularly clueless idiots–like, the one time on the Bob Dylan/Tom Petty song when Dylan went into his acoustic set, and someone behind me yelled “What is this–MELLOW DYLAN?”

    Ben Lee’s shows have seemed to have this problem for a while, though. His standard response is usually “If you’re cock’s as big as your mouth, come see me after the show.” B^)

  • distantsun says:

    Generally, I’d say you’re spot on, but in any era there will be people who don’t know how to behave, I saw Lou Reed in 1985 or ’86 and the guy to my right spent most of the show screaming out “Sweet Jane” or offering me a bump of his cocaine. I’ve been to shows where Jeff Tweedy gets into it with folks in the crowd, too.

    The thing that perplexes me is what anyone hopes to glean from the photo/video shot on his/her phone. Enjoy the actual show.

  • grandpachris says:

    What really gets me are the crowd from the record label and their friends who stand around talking non-stop over the music, going on about how great the act is without listening to it. The worst was an Efterklang concert a few years back before they took off in the UK. It’s not just concerts – I’ve complained about it at ballets and today at another ballet, someone held an iPad (not just a phone) to photograph it. In Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence”, published 1920 (and excellent), she describes chattering over the opera as the done thing in late 19th Century New York, apart from the arias. Maybe we have been lucky enough to experience a brief golden age in between where people respected the music.

  • Brian says:

    Saw The Teardrop Explodes and during the very quiet “Tiny Children” Julian Cope cussed out a guy in the front who wouldn’t shut up. And this was the early 80’s.

    There’s always the guy yelling out for an obscure b-side to be played to show off his love of the band is not only prior to yours but far superior.

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