So I'm trying to follow the lead that many of you have shown (both here and on your own sites) and am trying to create small field recording projects for myself. One in particular that I've always wanted to do is the local Metro system. However, being in DC, there are two things that have me taking pause:

A) The "threat level" factor of carrying around a medium sized bag with a bunch of wires hanging off it and a pointing a zeppelin at passing trains. Getting stopped, searched, detained, etc.

I keep business cards packed in my field bag (not that they'll do much). And I've printed out a copy of The US Photographer's Right's Card (not that it really pertains to us, but figure it can't hurt). I read Tim's question, and while it sounds like there's a considerable task force available to keep us from recording, I was wondering if there's a way to go about it wherein you actually receive permission. What are there steps that you go through to get permission for such things? Who do you contact? And how do you prove permission to some menial worker/guard when they inevitably stop you?

B) The distinct chime and station recording that (to DC residents) is immediately identifiable as a WMATA train and the legality of recording and using such a "branded" sound.

I presume that it's similar to recording your cell phone ring tone, in that you can't. It's owned by Motorola, or HTC, or RIM, or whoever and I'll be damned if I'm paying WMATA royalties. So, if I can't "legally" record it, how would I go about getting the door's sound, when every single time they open or shut they play the damn chime?

  • RE: the subway chime. I agree that the chime can (and should) be remade. I think I'm less concerned about getting the actual chime, and more concerned about getting the door without the chime, which I don't think happens. It's been awhile since I've been on the metro, there may actually be a clean edit point between the two events. Commented Aug 4, 2010 at 0:42
  • As I am not sure about chime, branded, or train recording since I am also trying to figure that out as-well. When you said, "...Prove permission to some menial worker/guard..." I haven't gotten any official permission before but I have asked security guards of different construction sites if I could record and 100% of the time they have been ok with it so far. Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 16:17

4 Answers 4


A: I wouldn't do that if I were you. Drawing attention to yourself is a sure way to ruin your recordings, or worse, have the authorities give you a hard time because they don't understand what you're doing. My advice: Go stealth. Something the size of a Zoom H2 or its equivalent. You may sacrifice fidelity but you will get the sound.

B: I don't believe those types of sounds are legally protected in the same way as ringtones are, as you mentioned. I'd feel free to use it - although I would probably mask it or alter it in some way (pitch it down or stretch it out, reverse it, etc etc.) Somebody pls correct me if I'm wrong on this one.

  • Yeah, you're probably right @birdhousesound. Better to get the sound with my M10 than get kicked out and deemed suspicious because I asked. Commented Aug 4, 2010 at 0:48

I agree with Birdhousesound, do not carry a zepplin around in places like this. You'll become a target for security guards. In LA, they will kick you out of almost every mall/privately owned public space if you have one. I know from personal experience.

Here's how I record with a zepplin stealth. I've recorded several subway systems this way (BART, LA Metro, Portland Light Rail etc.).

Buy a duffel bag, the kind you find at sporting goods shops etc.. Cut a hole in end of one side of the bag large enough for your zepplin to poke through. Put your zepplin inside, pull the recording end through the hole and gaff tape it so it doesn't slide around. Carry it under your arm when you record. I like to put the furry on my zepplin as well. People occasionally turn their heads and look at me, but they think I've got one of those tiny dog carriers. Works much better than carrying around a device with a pistol grip.

I wouldn't use the subway chime...besides it's really easy to create something like this with a sine wave and a good impulse response.

  • I like this. I like this a lot. I have the perfect bag for this actually. It has a shoe compartment on one end with a zippered mesh enclosure. I think the only reason I hadn't thought of it is 'cause I always carry it to the gym! Commented Aug 4, 2010 at 0:40

A starting point for info may be to contact your local film permits office. The first time I've had to do this was for the big fireworks recording session I did a few weeks ago. We used a public exterior location at night (a big open park) and I contacted the film permits office (in my case Film Wellington http://www.filmwellington.com/) and they were amazing! They wrangled access to the park for me with the council (& suggested a few alternate locations) and put me in touch with the right fire dept. person to get a fire permit etc, all at no cost whatsoever! I met the fire permit guy at the location and he was very helpful (and full of great stories! Also a good contact for fire recording in future) I had to do a letter drop in the streets near the park, and notify the fire dept. and the police on the night, but it felt good to have an official permit. If anyone hassled me or tried to stop me I could say: 'I have permits for this, feel free to call the police if you have any issues'

I've also used the other approach - do it until you're told to stop. On a film last year there was a scene set in the new underground train station in Auckland. I didn't even think about it, just turned up with recorder & full rycote etc.... Recorded maybe 40 minutes worth of material (ambiences, trains leaving, arriving etc) and while I saw plenty of security people they ignored me, until finally someone came & asked me what I was doing... I explained, he went away, his boss came back & told me I need a permit. I pleaded ignorance, apologised and left.... with all my recording done.

  • Thanks @Tim! I'll have to check into the film permits offices around here. Being that it's a tri-state area, I imagine that there's more than one. They may be very useful for some of the other ideas I have in mind too. So once the "authorities" come around they don't expect you to delete/destroy your recordings? Commented Aug 4, 2010 at 1:26
  • If they did, it would be easy enough to pretend to delete the files. Another reason why recording to CF is a good idea. (The card is easy to slip out and hide.)
    – bpert
    Commented Aug 4, 2010 at 17:33
  • They didnt even ask... but yes, easy enough to pretend to delete them...
    – user49
    Commented Aug 4, 2010 at 19:55

I know from when I lived up in Boston, there was a system in place with the MBTA (transit authority up there), to get a permit for video taping or recording within the stations. I'd imagine there is something similar in the DC area, and you can probably find out through the WMATA's pr department.

Of course, it cost money to get that permit in Boston. It might be the same in DC as well.

  • @Shaun Farley I think I'll spend my money on a Metro ticket first. If I don't get what I'm looking for then I'll contact the pr department, and then I'll give you a ring and we can both record! Commented Aug 4, 2010 at 1:20

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