FOH engineer John Delf, with his 50,000-plus Twitter followers, discusses the online world’s many pitfalls, which all modern touring professionals should be aware of…
In this high-tech era of the music industry, it seems the best way for a new band to break through is on social media. Most of the biggest acts around today were discovered on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. It all began with the now defunct Myspace – acts like Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen were discovered. Facebook and Twitter were next, then Instagram became one of the largest social media platforms. Now bands regularly promote themselves using Snapchat and Periscope. The need for musicians both up-and-coming and established to be able to master the art of social media is more important than ever.
With the introduction of file sharing and MP3s, the ‘dinosaur’ bands complained about how their revenue was being destroyed by the internet, yet at the same time many new bands saw it as an opportunity, by exploiting the internet, to dominate the world. It completely changed the industry to a point where new income streams had to be found. Everything was turned on its head. In the past, touring was the loss-leading promotion for the album, now the album is the loss-leading promo for the tour.
Social media is a great way for musicians to connect with their fans and make their fanbase feel close to the band. New acts can generate a huge following, numbering into the millions, just by using these free apps. Knowing how to manipulate them can be highly influential in the creation of making a band these days, or should I say ‘brand’. From their rehearsal room or bedroom they can connect with people all over the world in a way previously unthought of. Some bands have YouTube channels that have bigger viewing figures than a lot of TV channels. There is something very personal about being able to tweet directly with the artist that you follow and it makes the fanbase think that the band is talking to them directly rather than through the mouthpiece of some corporate record company. Even family members of bands are getting substantial followings on these sites as fans try to connect in any way possible.
What about the crew?
As crew to these bands, where does that leave us? After speaking with touring personnel, I have come across many different opinions about whether crew should or should not be publicly present on social media. On the one hand why should crew, in an industry built on networking, not be allowed to have Twitter, Instagram etc, just because they work with bands? Showing the world what you do is good for promoting your business and lets others in the industry see what you are up to, right? Do you have a right to self-promote in a hugely competitive market, to help give you an edge over the competition? Showing that you are busy and whom you are working for can enhance your reputation and help you get future work.
Drawing the line
Or is there a line here that shouldn’t be crossed? How much can a crewmember post about the tour, session or after party that they are involved in? At what point does it become unprofessional? When is it unacceptable to post a picture of the band or performance? Thanks to mobile technology every show is videoed and photographed hundreds, if not thousands of times and uploaded to the internet for the world to see by the audience, so why should we not be allowed to show that from the crew perspective? If a band then reposts a crewmember’s post, is that an endorsement of such behaviour? Or is that exploiting your position? Is it just the band’s privilege to share such experiences?
I see fans streaming live sends directly in front of me, FaceTiming their best friend during the show. Bands Snapchat from stage and post Instagram pictures during their performance. So as part of the bigger picture, what stops the crew from doing the same? Doesn’t it all just become another layer in the whole experience for the fan? Or should crew know their place and not be allowed to be part of the show they are helping to create, and instead be invisible shadows in the background quietly getting on with their jobs not worrying about building up their own followings? When does sharing the experience for promotional purposes become bragging?
I remember the days when fans were searched for cameras on the way in to gigs and constantly asked to stop taking pictures during the show by big burly security. But how hypocritical would it be today if a band made on social media asked their fans to not take images or recordings during their shows? I once did a corporate event with an artist for Nokia, and during the show, security were trying to stop attendees using their phones to record the event, to which the singer sharply pointed out over the mic that “these guys invented the fucking things and you’re trying to stop them filming the show?”
With this freedom for the artist and audience to share the moment as and when they like, is there a place for crew to be part of that sharing? Or does that affect the control the artists may have over their own image? Even though the show is openly recorded and broadcast, the artist has a control over that performance and while they are on stage they know that they are being filmed and will perform accordingly, yet backstage, should that remain off limits? Shouldn’t this be a safe zone where they should feel free to let their guard down and hope that they can be themselves without the worry that something they do in the privacy of their dressing room will appear on the internet? Would a social stream of a band sound checking damage their reputation?
Where is the line drawn? Should a crewmember be able to take a picture of the set they are building and post it online? Is it OK to do this before the first show, letting the cat out the bag of what the stage will look like before the public has seen it? Or is it OK after the first show, once the 20,000 that were in on night one have already shared over YouTube etc? Or is it at no point acceptable to post stage or production shots? Even if it’s taken from your perspective as an engineer or a tech, is the show and all that happens around it, the property of the artist? If you work in an office and take a picture of your PC is that any different to a roadie taking a picture of the stage or an engineer taking a picture of their console?
Should you be restricted from sharing more fun things like that festival you are working at or that TV show you are working on?
I guess, for the moment, we have to make our own rules of self-regulation as to what is and what isn’t acceptable. People have been fired for posting the wrong picture or asking for a selfie with the artist backstage. I have known touring personnel and even support bands post a picture of their AAA pass basically showing the world all you need to do to enable you to get in backstage, so any idiot can print it out and show it to some half-alert security guard and then get in. Common sense would suggest that this is a bad idea but it doesn’t stop the excited inexperienced individual from showing off to their friend what cool access they have yet not realising that the whole world can see it.
Do we need to have guidelines issued at the start of a tour to explain what is and what isn’t acceptable for that tour? As I know from experience, each and every tour has a completely different approach to what access they think is acceptable. For smaller bands any bit of exposure is a benefit yet when they get more successful, the need to control what is out there becomes more and more important.
Also what happens when a new band have a crew with a bigger social presence than them? Some bands like to thank their crews on social sites, which raises their profile. Some fans want to connect with crew as they see them as an extension of the experience, and feel that they are just one degree away from their idols.
As there are no real guidelines, it’s probably a good idea to police ourselves as crew and make those moral choices as to what is acceptable and what isn’t. One piece of advice I would give is that if you have even that smallest doubt in your mind that you shouldn’t post something then don’t, as it could cost you your job.
John Delf is a FOH engineer and owner of Edge Recording Studios (www.edgestudio.co.uk), who has worked with artists such as Plan B, Lily Allen and 5 Seconds of Summer, to name a few.