Stealth Recording

Do you have any experience with stealth recording? If so I’d love to hear your experiences & mic/gear setup… So why would anyone need to do stealth recording? Well other than recording concerts there are a few scenarios that immediately spring to mind, one that I have done & one that I was asked advice for…
Firstly the easier scenario: a film I did called Stickmen (IMDB + trailer) back in 2000 was set in bars, cafes & pool halls and since the film was shot here in Wellington I did a lot of recording – firstly visiting each of the locations when they were empty (to get clean backgrounds/room tones) and then visiting each place at different times to get various crowd tracks. Recording the room tones was easy as I was the only one there but the crowd sounds took a bit more thinking about – pulling a Rycote out in a crowded bar would probably mean I get a lot of recordings of people asking where the cameras were etc… So I made a very simple stealth recording kit by putting my DAT recorder (this was 2000) in a ‘normal’ looking bag & recorded using two Oktava MK012 omni mics, each with mini-fluffies on them, like what people use for on-camera mics. Being condensor mics any wind, even in interiors, can cause mic rumble/buffets eg someone opening an external door to the bar. The Oktava mics were small enough to just poke out each end of the bag when I was ready to record and I happily recorded lots of very useable crowd tracks. I would do a quick headphone check when I started recording, but sometimes wouldnt even bother & if it was say a bar, I would often set the recorder rolling before I even entered the bar, with the mics in position so I didnt miss anything but also so I didnt have to mess around once I was inside.

The second scenario for stealth recording is more critical, and thats recording in a public place where (a) you don’t want people to know you are recording but also (b) it may not be safe to record. I don’t have a lot of experience with this but I do have this to say: PERSONAL SAFETY is THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR! There was a sad case in the local news recently of a man being shot dead while on holiday in Jamaica when someone grabbed his girlfriends cellphone, a struggle ensued & the thief shot the guy dead. This is very sad, but best you learn from their mistake: if you had the choice of being stabbed by a pschotic meth junkie with an infected knife OR losing your brand new Schoeps microphone which would you choose? (If you choose the former then its maybe something you should discuss on your next visit to the analyst) Same goes for your iPhone, your hard disk recorder, your wallet, camera, and anything!!! To clarify your decision making make sure you are fully insured so getting robbed will actually just mean a free upgrade in gear. And also constantly duplicate your data so losing your recorder doesn’t mean losing the previous days recordings. I also strongly reccomend not recording on your own, so there is someone to help should you get hassled..

Ok so back to the practicalities: its easy enough to carry a recorder without it being obvious, whether its a small handheld recorder in a jacket pocket or a larger hard disk recorder in a small camera bag. Whatever you do use its probably best it isn’t some brand new stylish bag – something bland & maybe dark… People wearing iPod headphones are pretty common nowadays but if it is a truly dodgy area you are going into then maybe even wearing those makes you a target. But wearing headphones is not even critical – you can happily record without them, and you can do a test recording with headphones before you head outside, to insure there are no problems with cables, mic placement etc….
Speaking of cables you can of course route those inside your clothes, but the tricky part is what microphones to use? I know of a couple of options but havent used them myself so I would really appreciate comments from people who have used them or have better solutions.
Firstly, DPA make some very high quality very small microphones – here is a link to their miniature mic catalog
Secondly, Core Sound make a range of high quality miniature binaural mics which are worn as though they are headphones… But thats about the limit of my knowledge, whats your experience?

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