I asked this question to Tim from Music of Sound, and he was very helpful. But I wanted to open it up to discussion here as well.
In cases where permission is required to record at a location, I have a hard time getting people who have never heard of field recording to understand what I’m trying to do.
For instance I was trying to record a chanting session at a buddhist center and the only thing they would say to me was “we have CDs of chanting that you can buy if you want to hear it” 🙂
I’m plenty polite but people seem to be suspicious, or confused. People are used to cameras, but not microphones.
Do you find yourself in these situations? Any tips on overcoming this obstacle?
It’s always tricky.
I like stealth recording (using gear/microphones that can be concealed in a shoulder bag or the like), but while you might be able to get the sounds you want, you’ll have to be very sensitive to what is ethical in the situation. If a buddhist center is selling cd’s of their chanting – how would they feel about you butting in on their business? Always try to asses if the situation you record could in any way reasonably be claimed to have commercial value to any people in it – or if you are violating anyone’s privacy by releasing your recordings.
It can be very difficult though.
There’s never an easy answer to this. I’ve had mixed results simply asking for permission. When I travel overseas I find it helpful to have a local fixer who knows the customs. They will be able to tell you if anything you want to do goes against local customs and will have a much higher chance to obtain permission.
Be aware of context: your example, chanting at a buddhist centre, is presumably deeply meaningful and possibly sacred… So asking to record it would require a thorough explanation as to why, what do you plan to do with it, who owns it etc etc… In which case a simple answer of ‘no’ really would not surprise me. Hence their answer is likely easier ie buy our CD, that we own the rights to. Same would likely apply to *all* music, anywhere
Relations.. you’re looking for a favour, people tend to give favours easier to people they like, or have got to know.
So try to work on that relation. Come without gear first, make yourself acquainted. Show your interest, try to level with the people over there.
But every situation is different. In many organisations people are sensitive to hierarchy. You just have to find the right man or woman to succeed. Sometimes higher up is better, but not always..
And some sneaky tips:
I don’t how old you are (or look), but when I was still in school, the ‘for a schoolproject’ -story worked many times.
If people are used to camera’s, bring someone along with a camera, and tell them that you’re here for a.. travel, commercial, something doc.. It might help.
I remember I was travelling on a bus with my gear, when the ticket guy said: you’re with the local TV station! (I wasn’t). Come in, the ride is free!