Image of a Yondr Phone Sock

The Business of Art – User Engagement and the Illusion of Control

Original Article

The phone sock, Yondr, and the artists desire for control come together to destroy one of the fundamental concepts of art.

Dave Chappelle is in the midst of a 13-night run at Thalia Hall in Chicago. The comedian has naturally sold out all shows, and he wants to make sure that only those lucky people with a ticket get to see his best material. To that end, Chappelle has teamed up with San Francisco-based startup Yondr, which makes cloth “socks” for smartphones with a smart lock on them. Cross into the “no phone zone,” and you’ll have to get the sock locked, preventing theater-goers from distracting phone use.


Art is meant to be shared. That’s a given.

Especially the performing arts. I mean, what’s a performance if nobody came? People are there for you to share your art with them.

So the problem here is that artists, such as Dave Chappelle, are using Yondr as a way to control how their art is shared. It’s all about control.

It isn’t an art statement, as it could be.

Using Yondr could be part of a performance, an art statement… it could be one of those childish “experience life before technology changed it!!!” things.

But they are not using Yondr like that.

People are using Yondr as a way to prevent people from further engaging with their art, as a way to control, as a way to prevent behavior they personally find undesirable.

From an art perspective, this is all a childish endeavor that misses the point.

But from a business perspective, life is different.

Controlling your products (your performance) and how they’re distributed (no recordings) hypothetically gives the business the ability to carefully craft a brand and may give the business pricing power. So in simpler terms, you control how people talk about you and demand higher prices.

A hypothetical example…

A performing artist uses Yondr to prevent any recordings of them on stage. No brief parts of their performance will be found on YouTube anymore! Take that patrons of the arts!

So, this gives them the ability to sell the recording at $20. They’re thinking “people will want the performance and there’s no other way to get it but through us”.

Wow, it sounds almost like the 90’s and early 2000’s all over again right!? Control the art and then overcharge for the album in the media section of Target!

This is the old way of operating a business in the art world. One you’ll still find in some places… like the entire rest of the business world.

The point is this is a classic example of a faulty understanding of the business of art.

The business of art does not play by either the rules of the business world OR the rules of the art world.

Yondr is a mistake, control is a mistake, and well… life is too complex for any one answer. Including mine.

More on Control and Engagement 

This control of performances that Yondr provides is a complete illusion and only destroys user engagement.

People recording your performance only helps you.

It helps you like this…

  1. Encouraging engagement, such as ignoring the people creating recordings of the performance, enables your art to spread without any labor on your part.
  2. Trying to discourage recordings by requiring people to lock their phones only bothers the very people who are most likely to support you. Do you honestly believe a father looking at updates, texts, from his babysitter is going to want to continue supporting your artistic career when you lock his phone away? No artists is so special, so wonderful, that they deserve the unwavering attention of all people all the time.
  3. Recordings done by viewers will never ever be as good as recordings created by you yourself. People will absolutely buy YOUR recording despite there being a million and one clips available for free on YouTube. This is due to the fact that a recording done by yourself will be using better equipment, will be distributed using more convenient means that common users can’t use to distribute clips of you, and because there will be an “artistic feel” created in the recording due to the fact that you are in fact an artist and will make a million little anal changes to the finished product.
  4. Control never lasts. You lock up their phones, they’ll just use small action cameras. Attempting to control people only leads to isolation, to childishness, to pathetic time-wasting endeavors.

User engagement, how people engage with your art and for how long, is your life blood as an artist.

Without the end-user, without the people enjoying your art… you are nothing.

Nothing but a whisper in the wind.

You must resist knee jerk reactions to things and let your users be.

Art is fundamentally meant to be shared.

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