On the tube back from a gig you will often find a number of attendees sitting there on their phones watching a number of shaky 15 seconds clips of the artist they have just finished watching. For the majority of that show they were also experiencing the show through their phone screen. In recent years the use of smart phones at live shows has been a hot subject. With many artists actively urging fans not to record their appearances, it seems both performers and venues are ready to tackle the issue. Yondr is the solution. We spoke to the creator Graham Dugoni on the creation, whether Yondr will help or hurt artists and where the future of Yondr lies.
Could you just give a quick explanation of how Yondr works?
Yondr creates phone-free spaces (similar in concept to smoking vs non-smoking sections). The current product works by physically preventing people from using their phone within the defined phone-free space. At a venue, when a patron shows their ticket they are presented with a Yondr form-fitting case. The case comes in three sizes, which stretch to accommodate any phone currently on the market. Once they pass through the threshold, the case locks. Patrons maintain possession of their phones throughout the show, but inside the phone-free space they are unable to use it. The case does not disable their phone electronically in any way. If someone receives a call or text while in the space, they will still feel their phone vibrate and are free to step outside the space (at which time the case unlocks) to call or text as they please.
Has there been a specific experience or live performance that has been ruined for yourself due to the inclusion of smartphones?
There isn’t one particular show I can point to as the tipping point. When I came up with the idea for Yondr about two and half years ago it was just a reaction to what I was seeing around me. People caught up with documenting/broadcasting experiences instead of really experiencing them. I also saw people taking videos of strangers dancing or acting foolishly and then posting them on the internet. That struck me as a clearly untenable situation for all sorts of social spaces in the public sphere. As wearable tech becomes more ubiquitous I think the problem will become increasingly obvious. It’s fundamental -- are we essentially accountable (via recording or photograph) for everything we say and do outside of our home? If someone can’t drink a bit too much and dance like a fool without fear of becoming tomorrow’s viral video sensation, then how can act in an uninhibited way at that show? And if they can’t be uninhibited, is an important element of the live performance experience lost?
A lot amateur photos and videos from the audience serve as free press for artists and even make it onto many blogs. Taking this away, do you feel this would effect the artists themselves?
A basic concept behind Yondr is the idea of structure. Creating an environment where certain experiences can flourish. It’s true that audience members won’t be able to post videos and circulate them on social media. Instead, it creates a unique experience that you have to be there to see. It makes shows exclusive. It also allows bands and venues to release high-quality content to their fans for wider distribution. There are several more elements that benefit artists on the back-end but I won’t go into them here.
How do you feel the reaction to Yondr has been so far?
The reaction has been incredibly positive, and a large part of that has to do with timing. A few years ago, the issue hadn’t bubbled up into mainstream conversation, even though a lot of artists already saw what was happening. Now, people are realizing in a lot of different ways that something is out of balance between us and our tools, and they are looking for solutions.
Acts such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Savages and Prince have tried to ban phones from their shows. Would you like to work directly with artists to use Yondr as a solution to their needs?
Yes. We are already talking with a number of artists who plan to use Yondr for all of their 2015 shows. Live music is a unique experience in modern culture. It’s one of the rare places where people can create and be swept up into a shared mood. This is what Yondr’s all about, and it’s something artists understand intuitively.
Have you come up against any venues or artists against the idea, if so what were the reasons?
When I was first out pitching Yondr to venues I ran into plenty of pushback. Their main concern was hindering social media exposure. I said the same thing to them then as I do now. Everyone is promoting themselves on social media (some more effectively than others). How do you differentiate? Do something different; something that enhances the performance itself and makes shows unmissable.
Recent tours such as Childish Gambino's "Deep Web Tour" and the "Lil Wayne vs Drake" tour used a phone app as part of the concert experience. Do you believe developments like this hinder the gig experience also?
I’ve never been to a show like that, so I can’t really say. It’s an interesting concept so I would be curious to see.
Do you have plans to use Yondr in other areas of live performances outside of live music?
Yes. We are speaking with comedy clubs, live theater, and all sorts of performance art spaces.
Now Yondr has been put into physical effect, how do you feel the process has gone?
I’m really happy with how the process has gone so far. I’ve had the chance to meet a ton of interesting people and I think the product is stimulating some good discourse about the issue in general.
Where you like to see the future of Yondr go?
My plans for Yondr are pretty broad. I see it as part of a social movement that is emerging to answer some unprecedented questions about the nature and role of some new technological developments. Currently, the gap between social etiquette/norms and smartphones, for instance, is very large. I think the general question a lot of people are circling is: How can we integrate new technology into our daily lives so that it affirms the things and experiences we value? Yondr is a coherent, practical first step for how we can do that in public places. And I think that’s what people are responding to.
Words: Jacob Roy
Find out more about Yondr here.