T is for… Tapers

For my T post in my A to Z journey through the Music Fan Connection, I thought I would tackle a topic of technology out of my typical realm: Tapers.

While many bands prohibit fans from recording their live shows, other bands have made it part of their policy to encourage fans not only to tape, but to trade and share their recordings among the fan base. The Grateful Dead is probably the most famous and enduring example; their fans created a sub-culture of tapers in the 60s and 70s. And before Al Gore used the internet, Deadheads were using it to trade tapes in the mid 1980s through an online community called The WELL, which still exists to this day. In the early 90s, bands like Phish and moe., along with other artists in the jamband genre, also combined the tape trading philosophy with the emerging technology to build their fan numbers and spread their music. Many bands actually sell taper tickets, so that the audiophiles can be assured of their place and purpose once inside the venue.

Tapers are a different breed of music fan. They show up at shows with what looks like a little suitcase and claim their spot, usually somewhere FOH (Front of House). Up goes the microphone, sometimes a tiny umbrella if the show is outdoors to protect it from the sun/wind/whatever. Tapers are often the first to arrive, and the last to leave. They are passionate about sound. They are particular about their recording equipment. And they enjoy sharing the fruits of their labor from their tape tree. Taper philosophy and etiquette is never to charge for copies (covering postage is acceptable, if no trade is made and tapes are being sent through the mail) – profiting from the recordings is pretty much verboten.

Gone are the days of taking a DAT tape and making copies on cassettes. CDs are even going the way of the dinosaur. These days, tapers are uploading to sites like Live Music Archive, which is part of the larger archive.org. Go ahead, take a search. You may be surprised what you find in there!

While most tapers remain nameless to the bands they so dutifully record, some tapers have actually found themselves holding the keys to the kingdom, so to speak. Kevin Shapiro, a lawyer who began following Phish and taping their shows in the 1990s, is now the band’s archivist, overseeing the management of Phish history and information. Stan Lobitz, a general practitioner and long-time taper, is considered moe.’s official archivist, and even has a series of live album releases named after him. Titled Dr. Stan’s Prescription, each limited edition, live archival recording was a stand-out stellar show chosen by the good doctor himself.

So next time you’re at a show and you see tapers doing their thing, know that they’ve got your back. Chances are, they’ll make that show available and you’ll be able to relive the wonderful moment of music through their efforts.

My 2 most prized taper possessions:

  • rare early Jeff Buckley set at CBGB’s 313 Gallery, 1993 (“accidentally” recorded by Scott Bernstein)
  • 1982 1st generation soundboard DAT from Iron Maiden’s concert at the Palladium, NYC (a wedding gift!)

Want to learn more about tapers? Check out headstash’s 15 Things to Know about Tapers.

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  • messymimi

    In these days where everyone in the industry seems so concerned about “piracy” and “getting their cut,” it’s nice to know some are willing to share. They probably understand that building the good will does, in the long run, pay off.

    • jesstopper

      Well said!

  • Stephanie Schmidt

    I try to video shows if I have my camera on me. Not the whole thing, just the songs I’m obsessed with. I don’t go out of my way, and my camera is usually kind of crappy so there’s a lot of feedback, but eh. It makes me happy to relive the experience :)

    • jesstopper

      Hi Stephanie, thanks for stopping by! Like you, I think it’s cool to have my own little piece of the show, even if the quality isn’t good, it’s fun to show friends/re-live the memory!

  • AnotherCleanSlate

    I had no idea this was sometimes encouraged. Very cool.

    • jesstopper

      Depending on the band, and then of course, it depends on the venue’s policies. Cool, indeed! :)

  • DL Shackleford

    This is great that it is still allowed. I have never noticed anyone doing this with nice equipment, not saying much though.

    • http://www.jesstopper.com/ Jessica Topper

      True, often it’s just someone jumping around with their iPhone, LOL. I think the more improv and “jam” genre is a bit more open to the idea. Probably wouldn’t be great to have your rig set up near a mosh pit at a hardcore show. 😉

  • wharfratjeo