Our message to the live music and outdoor events industries on Captioning Awareness Week

Posted on 12.11.2015

Our message to the live music and outdoor events industries on Captioning Awareness Week

Club Attitude 2015 was held at Islington Assembly Hall on 24th March.  The gig, which cumulated in Toy headlining, featured live speech subtitling and song captioning for the first time.  This service was provided by Stagetext, and featured two TV screens displaying live subtitling during band and compere speech, and captioned lyrics during songs.

For Captioning Awareness Week, we thought it would be interesting to revisit a snap-shot survey we conducted of people as they left the venue that night, and specifically turn our attention to the opinions of those gig-goers who did not identify as having a hearing impairment.


We know anecdotally that one of the major barriers to captioning/subtitling being taken up by live music and events industry organisers is a perception that:

a) there is no demand, and what demand there is remains limited to a few people with hearing impairments

b) people without hearing impairments will be put off and annoyed by the presence of captioning

Whilst a larger research project is urgently needed to gauge the true validity of these perceptions, our snap-survey of departing Club Attitude attendees who did not identify as having a hearing impairment reveals a very different picture that we think would be replicated in wider gig and festival audiences…

1. The majority of people knew someone who would benefit from the captioning of live music

People go to gigs together, so captioning has the power to attract new audiences.

It opens up the experience to others - including people close to me.

2. The majority of people felt it had impacted positively upon their experience

This might be the biggest surprise for event organisers.  When audiences experience captioning, they tend to like it and find it useful in unexpected ways.  Attendees gave the following reasons for why they liked it:

It was great to see the lyrics to the music! I go to load of gigs and even though my hearing is perfect it's usually pretty hard to completely understand the words.

Seeing captioning and live subtitling increased the feeling of inclusiveness and added to the general positive atmosphere of the gig.

It did not distract me from the music. It was good to know what the words were that the people were saying.

It was great to see and experience a new aspect of creative access in live music that might encourage a new audience to come.

Understanding the lyrics added to my enjoyment of the show - lyrics are not always discernible in a live performance.

3. Even people without hearing impairments thought that captioning has the potential for creative development and enhancement of the live music experience

This is something we strongly support.  The time is ripe for live music organisers to engage with creative possibilities in this field.

Maybe there is room for future possibilities to make them more integrated with the overall 'artistic' performance - i.e working them into a visual display/film and projecting this.

One day it would be good to have it integrated into the staging of the event - for example built-in screens and visuals.

4. People did think that lyrics are important at gigs

Whilst not all gigs are all about the lyrics, plenty do revolve around clarity and words, so it is crucial that everybody can access them. 

I really do like to know what bands are singing and I love lyrics - this is because they are important to me as a writer and I wrote lyrics for all the bands I was in.

At quieter gigs by songwriter types, the whole point is to be able to understand the lyrics.

Even for ‘loud’ bands, captioning can provide unexpected benefits:

Generally I'd say I don't care but it did really add something to the Toy gig.

5.  If a major artist was playing a run of shows at a venue, with one captioned show advertised, the majority of people said that they would have no preference about what night they got tickets for…and those remaining said that they would actively book the captioned show if they could.

We think that major touring artists and the venues that host them should be forming the vanguard when it comes to captioning in live music.  If a major artist is playing their first tour in 20 years, and speaks to the audience in-between songs, that direct connection is a crucial part of the live experience.  Everybody should be able to share in this.  Without subtitling of speech, there will always be audience members who are left to feel excluded from what could be the highlight of the whole gig.

6. The majority of people assumed that a major venue would provide captioning/subtitling upon request.

This is a reasonable assumption in 2015, and we want to support venues (particularly those featuring multi-night performances) to aspire to what is now increasingly a default provision in theatres.

7. Half of those asked could think of a specific experience at a gig they had been to where captioning/subtitling would have been useful.

It would have been useful when hearing some acts for the first time or some old ones who like to play around with their work, for instance Bob Dylan - so I could have known what song he was actually singing before it ended…

My immediate thought is a Sufjan Stevens gig I saw a few years back which was very theatrical but, without accessing the lyrics, it would have been nonsensical.

8. The majority of people felt that live subtitling would have been useful at a festival they had been to that featured  a comedy / spoken word tent.

There's so much surrounding noise at festivals that the person on stage often gets drowned out. Comedy and poetry tents would REALLY benefit.

Subtitling will always be useful in situations where a comedian/spoken word performer is too quiet or mumbly or the crowd is too noisy and you can't hear what they are saying - this negatively impacts upon the experience!

Final Words

We urge all venue and festival organisers to consider the above, and actively seek to meet the access requirements of deaf, deafened or hard of hearing people with our support.  There is a very real demand out there.  To quote Stagetext:

10 million people in the UK are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing - that’s 1 in 6 of us. Text-based access to the arts, including captioning and live subtitling, is the most far reaching form of access for people with varying degrees of hearing loss. There are many people who could benefit from the service, but simply don’t know it exists…yet.

In order to future-proof your venue or festival and welcome all audiences, you need to be making yourself #CAPaware