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Tips On Recording a Live Concert realizes that there obvious ethical arguments with regard to the clandestine recording of concert performances. Due to this fact we hereby do not endorse nor do we encourage people to record concerts without the consent of the performing artist. However we feel that the recording of concerts is an interesting topic and one that fans would be interested in reading about.

How to Make Your Own Live Recordings

Few people are willing to sacrifice the freedom of being able to move around, dance, and pogo at a Beastie Boys concert in order to stand still and record. However, there are those who do want to record and yet they often do not know exactly how to go about getting started. The following should provide the would-be concert recorder with information on recording devices as well as recording techniques. In the last ten years the move has been away from analog recording, and towards digital recording. The average recording set-up now is valued at around $200-$800. While the actual digital recorder accounts for a great deal of this investment, many people are surprised to find out that they still need to purchase a pair of microphones designed to record in extremely loud situations.

Although the technology of the digital recording MiniDisc never really caught on with a broader market, several companies are still actively producing new MiniDisc recorders and players. New as well as refurbished recording models frequently sell for less than $50 on, which makes the auction site a must see if you are thinking about purchasing a portable recorder. MiniDisc blanks traditionally cost around $4.00 apiece and will hold approximately the same amount of music as a cd will. There are exceptions though; some MD recorders enable the user to get more recording time out of the MD blank if they set the machine to record in a different mode. This is similar to getting 6 hours out of a video cassette as compared to the standard 2 hours, the user sacrifices elements of quality in exchange for more time.

The only other digital audio alternative to MD recording is the use of a DAT (Digital Audio Tape) recorder. Portable DAT recorders are much more expensive and although they provide more taping time and slightly better quality recordings, for many the benefits are not worth the added expense. DAT blanks are usually between $8-10 each and often prove to be more difficult to purchase. When it comes to size, DAT recorders are larger and thus slightly more difficult to sneak past venue security goons with. There are those people though that swear by DAT machines and would never compromise quality nor trade their DATs in for MDs.

When shopping for recorders, either online or at retail outlets, it is important to find out whether or not the machine will allow you to manually set the recording level. The number one reason for poor quality concert recordings is that people with recorders are lazy and use the automatic setting instead of taking the time to manually set the device. A good time to adjust the manual setting is while an opening act is on stage. Set the recorder in stand-by mode and watch as the meter bars light up. If the bars are nearing anywhere close to the top end, the recording will likely have distortion crackles or pops ever time the sound level peaks. To prevent this from happening, adjust the manual level so that the fluctuating meter bars stay in the middle to lower half of the gauge. It should be noted at this point that some digital recorders have fantastic automatic recording adjustments that produce nearly flawless recordings with little effort. The work though is that one has to do his/her research to find out which models are known for that.

Portable DAT

Size is another important issue, many of the newer MD recorders are so small that they can be slid inside of person’s back pocket and walked past security check points with no detection. These newer MiniDisc recorders also are more energy efficient requiring only one AA battery, usually rechargeable, instead of two or three like older models. Those earlier models can be bought very cheap in second hand electronics stores or pawn shops, yet one may have to line their sneakers with extra batteries in order to provide enough power to record a multi-act concert such as the Beastie Boys had in 1998. Having batteries inside of a person’s shoes can be uncomfortable, but having to explain to the man with huge biceps why you need so many batteries is more so.

Once you decide on a recorder, the next big decision is which microphone to purchase. Within the concert recording community there are two brands which dominate in popularity. The first is the Core-Sound, and the second is Sonic Studios. Both of these microphone dealers specialize in microphones used in concert recording. When recording a Beastie Boys concert, a person needs to have a bass roll off filter as part of his/her microphone set-up. This addition will cost a few dollars more, but will eliminate the ultra deep bass that the battery box style microphones soak up when a song like “Pass the Mic” is done live.

The advice most recorders hear when it comes to selecting a microphone set-up is, “buy the best that you can afford.” Having the recording level set properly is only 25% of making a great sounding recording, the balance is all in what type of microphones you used and where they were placed. Most people like to clip the small microphones onto the bill of their baseball cap and run the cords down the back of their t-shirt. Others clip the microphones to sunglasses and pretend as though the wires are merely part of their North Face jacket. Either way, it comes down to proper placement. The sound at an outdoor venue will always be better than indoors, because the microphones tend to pick up hall “boom” or reverb. To avoid this phenomenon, point the microphones towards the stage and away from stadium walls or concrete floors.

Assuming that one has already purchased the MD recorder and the microphones to accompany it, the person still has to pick out a package of MD blanks prior to the concert. Unlike with video tape blanks, there is not much difference between the various MD blank manufacturers. Many people select Sony’s MD blanks over the competition, because they supposedly have a “shock absorbing mechanism” within. The sad truth is that if the MD is bumped during the recording process, more than likely the end product will contain a sound similar to a cd skip. If one plans to record near the stage, be conscious of the fact that people pushing and bumping into you will affect the quality of the recording. The best position to be in while recording at a concert is behind the soundboard, either on the floor or in the balcony.

Security Goon

So now that all the recording equipment has been purchased, one still has to get it inside of the venue. Most bands are fairly indifferent when it comes to concert recording, whereas others support the practice. The problem with security usually does not stem from the performing artist, but instead from the venue’s management. Even if a band, such as Pearl Jam, has stated that open recording is permitted; the venue may still have an anti-taping policy set in stone. It is nearly impossible to reason with venue management or argue one’s way past security, so that leaves deception as the only alternative.

A person planning to record should always arrive an hour before the first band takes the stage. This provides time to position the devices in pockets and body cavities, so as to avoid detection. Ideally a friend should aid your efforts and work as an accomplice. Females seem to have an advantage when it comes to getting past security checkpoints. They never seem suspicious and are able to distract the security goons with a purse full of cosmetics while the tiny MD recorder is tucked neatly into their jacket’s inner pocket. Females also have the ability to get larger recording devices inside by simply hiding them inside of tampon boxes and then putting the box inside of a backpack. For some reason event staff will avoid tampon boxes like the plague and this is especially true if they have already encountered a loose maxi-pad in their search of the purse.

As stated above, backpacks are a recorder’s best friend. They serve dual purpose and can also act as a decoy. Assume that the muscle bound event staff attend some sort of training course where they are shown different things that they “must” search, more than likely backpacks are part of the demonstration. This can work to our advantage when we use the backpack to distract security from our bulging crotch. The backpack should always contain a sweatshirt, with a disposable camera wrapped up inside. Flash photography is a huge no-no, and the camera will be immediately confiscated leaving the security worker feeling very fulfilled. To avoid having to buy a disposable camera, simply stop by a photo shop and ask an employee to pull one out of their garbage for you.

Coolers can also serve the same deceptive purpose at outdoor venues. Most festivals allow coolers, but discourage patrons from bringing in their own alcohol. Simply give the security some element of contraband to discover and it will distract them from your real infraction. Coolers with false bottoms have been popular over the years with video recorders, yet one needs to be particularly careful not mix electronics with melting ice.

Backpack, a recorders best friend 
Flashlight/Disposable Camera

Following the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, many venues added metal detectors to their entrances. This was initially thought to be the kiss of death to concert recording, since all recorders contain metal components. Instead though, concert goers rose to meet the challenge and defied all odds by recording both of the Beastie Boys October 2001 performances at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. When all else fails, people who are intent on getting a performance recorded may turn to bribery. Spending $20 on hush money is a small investment when it means that the day after the show, while others are talking about the set you are listening to it.

Having successfully passed by the venue’s gate security, the next priority for a concert recorder is finding a restroom. Restrooms provide the privacy required to remove the previously hidden recording devices and reposition them. When one finally reaches their appropriate seat within the venue it is time to survey the landscape and develop a mental plan for positioning the microphones. It is always a good idea to attend live performances in groups of three. This way the person with the recorder can sit in the middle and not have to worry about a neighbor alerting security. For instances where it is a solo taping job, the sweatshirt located inside the decoy backpack should now be removed and used to shield the MD or DAT recording from prying eyes.

The number one problem that most people encounter while recording can be prevented for only $2.00. The problem is that they can not see what they are doing once the house lights are turned off within a venue. Outdoors there may be natural lighting, but night shows still can be dark if there isn’t a full moon out. An inexpensive pen shaped flash light is the best investment a potential recorder can make. The flashlight can easily pass by security inspection, and provide light in critical time like when one needs to change MD blanks midway through a performance.

There are two other pitfalls that are likely to occur when one MD is exchanged for another. The first mistake many people make happens when the recorder is actively saving the recording onto the MiniDisc. While saving the machine’s display may say something in regard to saving Table of Contents or TOC. If the recorder had been bumped or opened during this critical period, the data would be lost. Once the TOC has been written, one should immediately slide the plastic tab across so that the MiniDisc can no longer be recorded upon by mistake.

Tibetan Freedom Concert 1998
Beastie Boys Concert

Often people are concerned about what the consequences will be if they are caught in the middle of recording a concert. The outcome will of course vary from venue to venue, but generally two things usually happen. Number one is that the security goon will likely request that you hand over your MiniDiscs or DATs immediately to him or her and encourage you to cease further recording. Realizing the limited intelligence of your adversary, you may choose to hand over your blank MDs while retaining the one that you had actually used in the recording process. The second thing is that security may ask you to “come with them.” At this point you have a couple of options: comply or take off running. If you choose to comply with their request it will likely lead to a short lecture by venue management followed by your ejection from the concert area. Most venue employees know better than to confiscate your recording device and microphones for fear of legal action. Truly the worst they can do is scare you, by threatening to call the police. Their upper hand in the matter is complete illusion. No band wants word to get out that a die hard fan was accosted during a concert performance, so the matter will likely be dropped as soon as the venue management finishes with their “live concert recording is wrong” lecture.

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