When Tom Adams brought his camera to Neil Young’s performance at Carnegie Hall earlier this month, he didn’t capture it on an iPhone or a piece of machinery that’s worth more than three months’ rent. He grabbed a camera before he left the house, double-checked to make sure the batteries were charged, and brought it along with him knowing full well that he might not be able to bring it into the venue. He did, and he didn’t spend the show–Young’s first at the storied concert hall in 41 years–becoming the flash-popping enemy of the people sitting next to him. He put the camera on the floor, trained its lens to shoot in between the bannisters in the railing before him, and hit record. And he wasn’t alone.
[UPDATE: Warner Bros has now taken Tom Adam’s Neil Young concert video removed from Youtube.] Adams’ statement:
“While Warner Brothers certainly has the legal right to remove the video I produced, I am frustrated that no one from the company contacted me directly. Sure, I’m just a small fish in a gigantic pond, but I obviously touched on a nerve here. I simply received a standard email from YouTube noting the copyright infringement. I see the viral nature of this video as an opportunity for Warner Brothers to make a progressive move towards a more modern way of dealing with fan-produced media. I wish they would have seen this as a chance to taking a leading role in the rapidly changing world of online distribution … especially when dealing with one of the world’s most respected and prolific entertainers who, after 40+ years of performing, still has an amazingly solid connection with his fans. I wish they would have considered an alternative way to preserve and present this magical event to his fans instead of just removing it. So if anyone out there in Warner Brothers-land is reading this, I’m all ears and just a click away.”
Adams, who runs a documentary and promotional film production company in Western Massachusetts, made waves last week when he uploaded a nearly two-hour tape of Young’s Carnegie Hall performance to YouTube. The tape is unusual in that it isn’t just a solitary cut from Adams’ camera: it also incorporates footage uploaded by other concert attendees, who shot from their own cameras or cell phones, as well as audio provided by an anonymous taper going by Mr Railing. (The Wall Street Journal reported that this kind of activity and taping isn’t encouraged by Young and his management, and that they find it “rude toward both the audience and the artist.”)
Considering his decades-long hiatus from the venue and the fact that some were willing to fork over $3,000 to see him there, Young’s Carnegie Hall performances were historical events that justified the breach in concert etiquette, as far as Adams and his serendipitous collaborators are concerned. Though it wasn’t intentional, the multi-camera approach to documenting Young at Carnegie Hall was one that worked for Adams, and one that could signal the dawn of a new time in taping. We spoke to Adams about just that.
This Neil Young concert tape is a serious endeavor!
Yeah, well, it’s my profession. I do this stuff for a living, but I’ve always been a huge Neil fan, so I thought I’d put my skills to good use here. [Documentary filmmaking] is what I went to school for. Most of what I do is informational and educational videos for clients, so a lot of it ends up being quasi-promotional type stuff. It depends. When the right thing comes along and there’s funding for it, that’s what I do.
This Neil Young concert tape was a labor of love, then.
Oh yeah. The whole point of this was just to share the experience and get the good word out about Neil.
We’re looking at two hours of tape here, at a very intimate show, and it seems like you’ve compiled a ton of footage posted to YouTube that people captured on their iPhones at Carnegie Hall. That’s nuts.
I think there was only one cell phone that was used; the others were more camera-type devices, I guess. It’s amazing how much controversy comes up because of it. It’s certainly not the first time it’s been done. I kind of find myself defending the fact that I’m not the typical person that sticks the iPhone up in the air with the glow annoying everyone around them and all that stuff.
What compelled you to put together this concert video in the first place? You’ve already mentioned that you’re a fan, but this isn’t a typical approach and one that appears to have taken quite a bit of time, especially when it involves splicing in additional footage.
This show was such a historic event at Carnegie Hall. The place has got so much history to it and everything. I was going to it regardless as to whether I had my camera or not. I made sure I was going to go, and I wound up going by myself. It was important for me to be there. Whether or not I could get in with the camera was almost secondary. I’ve been to shows before where I didn’t shoot, but I felt like this was a historic occasion. He hadn’t been there since 1973, so I thought of it almost as a bookend to his career. He was in his early twenties when he [played Carnegie] the first time and he hadn’t been back since then. Not to say he’s nearing the end of his career, but he’s no spring chicken, you know?
Sure. How much of this video is you shooting? And how much the video is crowdsourced material?
Probably 70% is my camera and the remaining footage is from other people. There were holes in the footage, I wasn’t able to record all of it, so after a couple of days, I went and looked online to see what was uploaded. Some of the songs I was missing were up there, so I went and got permission. It was a haphazard thing. There was no plan to do this before. As I was leaving my apartment to go to the show, I grabbed the camera and made sure the batteries were charged, but I hadn’t been planning to pursue this.
Stylistically, do you think this was an effective approach? You’re a filmmaker, but people shooting Neil on their iPhone, they don’t necessarily have the eye that you have.
I should mention the extreme importance of the audio. Without good audio, the video is nothing. That was the first thing I did, make sure there was a complete show that was able to be downloaded and shareable and all that stuff. When I heard the audio from the source, he calls himself Mr. Railing, I was floored by the quality of it. Once I found that audio, it was really just a matter of matching up the video with the audio and putting in touches along the way. I was just lucky to find that almost all the video that I needed from other sources was from that night. Some of the video is from a different night [of Young’s Carnegie run], because there was no from the night that I needed when I was there. [Neil] wore the same thing for every show. I assumed he did that because his team was recording, too, but I didn’t see any professional cameras.
What’s the benefit of watching the concert through the phone of someone else as opposed to the trained lens of a professional?
I’m certainly not the only one who has good, quality video out there. iPhones can’t really zoom in or get close; it depends on where you’re sitting for the quality and the closeness of the video. If someone else uses an optical zoom camera that’s small enough to fit in a pocket, there can be some great quality video. That has to do with the amount of people out there today that have access to good quality digital equipment that isn’t expensive, and they have the wherewithal to get good shots.
What you’re describing hearkens back to a time when people would sneak cassette recorders into shows and hide them under their t-shirts when they’d go to concerts. Do you recognize any parallels between what you do and the taping?
Oh yeah, totally. It’s an extension of it. It’s the next phase of the recording world. I wasn’t much of a recorder myself; I was more of a collector of other peoples’ recordings, which I guess goes in line with how all this came about. That’s perfectly aligned with this.