What’s a taper? What equipment is needed to tape live performances?

•December 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A “taper” is a person who records musical events often from standing microphones in the audience for the benefit of the musical group’s fan-base. Such taping was popularized in the late 1960s and early 1970s by fans of the Grateful Dead.  Audio recording was allowed at shows and fans would share their tapes through trade. Taping and trading became a Grateful Dead sub-culture.

Tapers generally do not financially profit from recording such concerts and record using their own equipment with permission from the artist. Taper recordings are commonly considered legal because the recordings are permitted and distribution is free. Taper etiquette strictly excludes bootlegging for profit. “Stealth taper” is a common term for a person who may furtively bring equipment into shows to record without explicit permission.

Although taping is usually done with microphones, often bands will allow plugging into the soundboard for a direct patch. Taping setups are generally portable, operating on high quality condenser microphones, phantom power, a microphone preamplifier and a recording device all of which are battery powered.

A common means of trade is by transferring the tape recording to a lossless digital format such as FLAC and sharing through an internet file share protocol such as BitTorrent with the assistance of a networking service such as etree.

Personally, I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to build a taping rig.  I did find some valuable information located at About.com that explains a rig in detail, and the pricing behind building one.

The Elements of a Taping Rig

When you’re looking at building a taping rig, there’s some major elements you need to remember to pick up. Understanding the elements will help you decide where to budget your money the best.

Microphones are the most important element of your entire rig. Here’s where you can potentially eat up a large portion of your budget. Microphones, especially really nice ones, aren’t cheap. And really, that’s an understatement — there’s some microphones that go for over $2,000 each, and up from there! You will need to purchase a pair of microphones, preferably a matched pair (a pair matched for equal sound quality). This is simple: you have two ears, so record in stereo with two mics for the best realistic sound reproduction. For taping, you need condenser microphones, compared to dynamic microphones. The reason for this is simple – as discussed in my other article about microphone types, condenser microphones offer a greater range of frequency response and sensitivity. You’ll also need to consider what polar pattern you’ll want – cardioid microphones are the universal choice for concert taping, as they pick up in a heart-shaped polar pattern, rejecting a lot of rear and side noise. Hyper-cardioid mics are also a great choice, if taping in larger rooms. As a beginner, you’ll want to stay away from omnidirectional mics – mics with a 360 degree pickup pattern – as they can be brutally unforgiving in bad acoustics.

When selecting a mic, it’s really important to trust your ears before you trust the specs. Downloading shows for free from Archive.org’s Live Music Archive is a great way to audition microphones in many environments without having to spend the money to do so yourself! Pick a mic with a broad frequency response — 20Hz to 20kHz is generally the benchmark for a fantastic mic, as that mimics the response of the human ear better. Also, pick a mic that’s durable – in the field, you’ll be surprised the abuse your microphones put up with.

Another thing to look at is large-diaphragm vs. small diaphragm. Small diaphragm generally have a tighter bass response, whereas large diaphragm have a better high-end response. Small diaphragm are must more portable, and much less fragile, but it’s not unheard of to see large-diaphragm mics in the field (AKG C414, Oktava MK219, and ADK TL Series are all common). Good small diaphragm condenser microphones to consider are the Oktava MC012 (around $100 per microphone, up to $450 or so for a match stereo pair), the AKG C480b/CK61 (around $1500-2000/pair), and the DPA 4021 ($2500/pair). There’s several other options, too. Just keep the specs in mind, and trust your ears, first and foremost. Brand names don’t mean much if they don’t sound good!

Microphone Preamp

One thing you’ll need to consider is a stereo microphone preamp. This stage is necessary if using condenser microphones which require 48v of phantom power, the way condenser microphones are powered. A preamp takes the very low voltage output of a microphone and translates it into the higher voltage line-level required to feed audio recording devices. Microphone preamp quality can vary greatly between models, but it’s generally best to spend whatever you can afford. The Edirol UA5 is a great option, available at around $250 or less. It can be used with any laptop computer – or, with a modification done by the Oade Brothers, a stand-alone recorder. It’s a really good quality preamp. Other options include the Grace Design Lunatec V3 (about $1000 used, more new, or about $600 used for the V3’s little brother, the all-analog V2), the Sound Devices MP2 (about $350 used), and the Apogee Mini-MP (about $1000). You’ll also need a battery — some, like the MP2, are self-powered, but most require an external battery, built yourself for about $100, or purchased ready-made for a bit more.

Analog-to-Digital Conversion

This isn’t as much an issue as it once was, but if you’re still recording to DAT (Digital Audio Tape) or an entry-level hard disk recorder like the JB3, your audio will benefit from a really good analog-to-digital converter. This takes the analog signal from the microphone preamp, and gives it a high quality conversion to digital signal. This can be a drastic improvement over the on-board conversion when going analog in, however most all-in-one digital recorders now feature fantastic quality a-to-d conversion. Popular options include the Benchmark AD2K ($1200), Apogee Mini-ME (a preamp and a/d converter in one, around $1000), and the Lunatec V3 (another all-in-one, $1000 or so).

The Recording Device

The last thing you need to complete your rig is a recording device. DAT has been a popular choice, and recorders are rather cheap now; the downside is that it’s an obsolete format, and finding DAT tapes and maintenance is really hard, as is that they’re limited to 48kHz/16bit recording, which is almost obsolete by the new standards of 24bit, 96kHz (remember, CD quality is still 44.1kHz, 16 bit — but as new standards of listening evolve, you’ll be happy you recorded your masters in higher quality). Mini-disc is also a popular choice, but it’s not preferable because it’s limited to 16 bit, 44.1kHz, and it’s a lossy format — compression takes away from the full fidelity of your audio. The best choices are hard disk recorders, ranging from the Zoom H4 ($299), Edirol R09 ($399), Nomad JB3 (found around $120-150 used), and on up to the Sound Devices 722 ($2495). In shopping, look for a recorder with stereo recording up to 24bit, 96kHz in uncompressed .WAV/.AIF format, with good a-to-d conversion, and good battery life.

Don’t Forget the Accessories

Remember the necessary accessories, and you’re on your way! A good, tall mic stand (most tapers use modified lighting stands to get up above the crowd), a stereo microphone bar, good mic cables, windscreens, and batteries, and you’re all set!

The usual suspects concerning file formats…

•December 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Most of the time, .MP3 formats are not used in trading communities and “circles”.  Why do you ask?  Well, the short and simple answer is that when most live performances are taped, they are transferred to a .WAV format.  Transferring them from a .WAV format to an .MP3 format usually compresses them, and the audio loses some of its quality (this is considered lossy compression of an audio file), even when converting the .WAV file to .MP3 (320 Kbps).  Usually with .MP3 files, the higher Kbps bit rate, the higher quality of audio.  But, with every conversion to .MP3, no matter the Kbps bit rate, there will always be some type of loss of quality.  Most traders do not recommend using .MP3 formats due to this issue.  To be frank, if you traded an .MP3 formatted recording with someone, it must be discussed in great detail that it is NOT formatted in a lossless format.  If this discussion does not take place, and a trader receives a live performance formatted in .MP3 format, you will most likely be shunned and “called-out” in any and all trading communities as a “ignorant” or “bad” trader.  Traders take great steps to ensure the quality of the recordings that they trade.  To trade what’s considered to be a “watered-down” copy of a live performance…it never ends well.

In the trading world, the required formats to convert to when transferring from a .WAV format is either .SHN or .FLAC.  What is .SHN?  What is .FLAC?

The .SHN file format is known as Shorten.  Shorten (SHN) is a file format used for compressing audio data. It is a form of data compression of files and is used to losslessly compress CD-quality audio files (44.1 kHz 16-bit stereo PCM). Shorten is no longer developed and more recent lossless audio codecs such as FLAC, Monkey’s Audio (APE), TTA, and WavPack (WV) have become more popular. However, Shorten is still in use by some people because there are legally traded concert recordings in circulation that are encoded as Shorten files. Shorten files use the .shn file extension.

The .FLAC file format is known as Free Loss Audio Codec.  FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is a codec (compressor-decompressor) which allows digital audio to be losslessly compressed such that file size is reduced without any information being lost. Digital audio compressed by FLAC’s algorithm can be typically be reduced to 50–60% of its original size, and decompressed into an identical copy of the original audio data.

FLAC is an open format with royalty-free licensing and a reference implementation which is free software. FLAC has support for metadata tagging, album cover art, and fast seeking.

Though FLAC playback support in portable audio devices and dedicated audio systems is limited compared to formats like MP3 or uncompressed PCM, FLAC is supported by more hardware devices than competing lossless compressed formats like WavPack.

.SHN conversion software can be found here: etree.org – shorten.

.FLAC conversion software can be found here: FLAC.

The Allman Brothers Taping Guidelines and Copyright Information

•December 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The Allman Brothers seem to play fast and loose with their taping policy, which seems to be the most unorthodox of the other bands listed below.  The only information I have ever been able to find concerning a “taping policy” is found here: The Allman Brothers Taping Guidelines.

It simply states:

The ABB support and encourage audio taping as long as it’s ok with the venue. There isn’t a taper’s section, or taper’s tix – record from your seat, being respectful of the person next to you.

Since the band allows the ability to freely trade live performances on their site, one statement stands out in their FAQ:

The Allman Brothers Band management has noticed a number of people listing Instant Live recordings for trade in the Tape Trading forums. This is illegal and will not be tolerated.

We will delete listings of Instant Live recordings for trade. Your account will be banned if you list an Instant Live recording for trade. If this continues, we will have to take more drastic action such as taking the days with Instant Live recordings out of the trading lists, or even removing the trading forums entirely from Hittin’ The Web.

I know that most of you understand this is illegal and do not tolerate it. Please report anyone trading Instant Lives to Rowland or Lana.

Thanks for your support and compliance with this. Let’s keep tape trading alive, folks!!

The language of “instant live recordings” refers to those individuals who are able to transmit the live performance on the Internet as a Podcast, Webcast, or other type of instantly-available stream, whether it is audio or video.  These types of streams are usually available through UStream, and are transmitted by a specific user, which makes that person subjected to copyright laws.  In rare occasions, a user on UStream can create a private “stream”, which is only accessible by a private link and requires password access.

Below is a video of The Allman Brothers at Wanee Music Festival in Live Oak, FL on 4/15/11 performing their hit “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”.  Enjoy!  🙂

Umphrey’s McGee Taping Guidelines and Copyright Information

•December 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The taping guidelines for the band Umphrey’s McGee also follows the same and/or similar guidelines as Phish, the Grateful Dead, moe., and Dave Matthews Band.  Audience recording of live performances is completely legal for non-commercial trading.  The soundboard recordings that are “official releases” are not to be traded under any circumstances.  Their taping guidelines and copyright information can be found here: Umphrey’s McGee Taping Policy and Copyright Information.

It states:

*Effective May 7, 2004; last updated January 27, 2011*

Umphrey’s McGee encourages the audio taping and trading of our live performances. We feel that each show is unique and want to extend the ability to our fans to recreate the live experience long after the show ends. Tapers will tape from the designated taping area. When taper tickets are available for a particular show, they are released concurrently with general seating tickets. To obtain designated taper tickets, contact the venue’s box office. Onstage and/or Stage Lip recording is prohibited at all Umphrey’s McGee performances (in-ear monitors makes our stage volume very low and onstage tapes would not yield an accurate tape). We ask that you please be considerate of those around you by not obstructing anyone else’s view of the performance.

Umphrey’s McGee will be offering a limited number of complimentary tickets to audio tapers, on a case by case basis. The taper must agree to make an attempt to distribute his recording in exchange for the ticket. Tapers must contact Umphrey’s at least 48 hours in advance of the show in order to participate in this new program. If interested, or for more information, please contact jon@umphreys.com.

All shows will be available via our UMLive offerings after the show via UMLive.net in either downloadable format or physical CD’s to ship. After each show, we aim to have UMLive copies available within 48 to 72 hours to ensure timely downloads for our fans. UMLive releases are considered official releases and therefore not freely trade-able.

All audio taping must be for personal use only, which may include trading (via analog or digital tape, CD, or digital file transfer). Recordings may be traded only for an equivalent amount of similar media (cassettes or CDs, pre-recorded or blank). Regardless of any expenses incurred, no money may ever be exchanged as part of a trade; however, stamped, self-addressed envelopes may be included with blank media.

Audience taping at Umphrey’s McGee concerts is authorized for non-commercial purposes only. Unauthorized sale, duplication and/or distribution is strictly forbidden. All Umphrey’s McGee performances and recordings are the exclusive property of Umphrey’s McGee. All rights reserved. The rights to record Umphrey’s McGee performances set forth in this policy constitute an express, revocable license. We reserve the right to withdraw our sanction of recording, tape trading and/or non-commercial digital audio file transfers on a case specific basis or in general, as we deem necessary. No waiver of any copyright or trademark right is intended.

Amateur still photography is allowed at Umphrey’s McGee shows. You will not, however, be allowed to use any professional quality cameras (detachable lens, detachable flashes, tripods) without prior consent from the band’s publicist and appropriate photo pass for that show. Only personal cameras will be allowed into the show. The use of flashes during the performance is prohibited.

Video taping is strongly forbidden and not permitted under any circumstance, including recordings done with personal digital cameras. Those caught video taping a show will be asked to relinquish their video tape or memory cards.

All photo passes are reserved for official press purposes only, and can be requested by contacting Kyle Wall at kwall@shorefire.com. Requests must be at least two weeks prior to the date of a show. Those acquiring photo passes will be given the first set to take their photographs from the pit. Please, no flash photography. The remainder of the show can be shot from their seats, unless escorted by Umphrey’s management.

If you are aware of any person or site in violation of this policy, please inform us contact@umphreys.com. Thank you.

Below is a video of Umphrey’s McGee performing their hit “In the Kitchen” at 1st Ave in Minneapolis, MN on 3/12/10.  Enjoy!  🙂

moe. Taping Guidelines and Copyright Information

•December 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The band moe. has similar taping guidelines and copyright procedures as Phish, the Grateful Dead and Dave Matthews Band.  Each band releases official live recordings from time to time, which are copyrighted by law and cannot be traded.  The audience recordings of official live releases usually are permitted to be traded.  The band’s taping guidelines and copyright information can be found here: moe.’s Taping Guidelines and Copyright Information.

It says:

moe. has some new taping and trading news to report. Starting fall 1999, we will no longer be allowing board patches. We understand that this might discourage some of you, but keep in mind that many tapers get just as good recording quality from audience mics and will hopefully allow those who do not have the necessary equipment to patch in.

moe. is not in a position to offer AC power to any tapers, so, be prepared to supply and use battery power ONLY.

NO mixers of any type, NO Reel to Reel recorders, NO Multi-track recorders, and NO large equipment boxes of any type will be allowed into any venue.

Please stay out of the way of the working crew at all venues.

Live Tapes are a big part of why moe. is growing rapidly, and we want to continue to provide a cozy taping environment for everyone. Please respect the wishes of the band and crew and please feel free to ask questions and make comments. It’s always been a goal of ours to make taping as much a part of the show as possible, please help us help you by following common sense at all times. We always try and make it as easy as possible for everyone to enjoy our shows. Respect your neighbors space.

The band has asked that you do not place your mic stands in certain areas of the venue as it impairs the sight lines of the lighting director, Chris Ragan. Upon arrival at the show, please listen to the crew and obey their wishes. While both crew and band are very enthusiastic about live taping, their top priority is putting on a quality show. At many shows you may be asked not to set up in front of the soundboard. The moe. organization as also expressed a desire that those with microphones share stands when possible. Please, if you have them, bring your clamps.

While video taping was allowed for a long period of time, that is no longer the case. As of Spring 1998, video taping is no longer permitted at moe. shows. There are, however, many quality videos to be found, through trade, for shows prior to this period.

moe. does allowing trading of CD-R. You may not trade any CD-R of moe. albums only live recordings. The band strongly supports trading of their live shows while discouraging *ANY* sale of live recordings, this includes the so-called “tape fee”. moe. has stated that they will end all taping privileges if there is any evidence of sales of any kind.

For further information on CD-R’s, check out these resources:

http://www.cdrfaq.org/

MP3 and other downloadable formats on the Internet are acceptable, but the band asks the following considerations: the webpage must be dedicated exclusively to moe. content, there cannot be any advertising on the page and no links to pages other than the moe.website.

There is currently no “official” policy on photography. Recent mailers even display the photography of select moe.rons. Great results can be obtained without the use of a flash. Keep it low key and don’t bother those around you. As long as it doesn’t become a disturbance, moe. may not see a need to create any policy regarding the use of cameras. Some venues may have their own restrictions.

If you are new to moe. and are looking to get some live tapes, there are ways to go about it:

1)Respond to tape offers. Often, those who have live tapes will offer them up over the moe-l. This is a great way for those who have no tapes to find some and for those with many to share the music.

2) Tape trees and vines. If you are unfamiliar with a tape tree is or how one works, you can check out this excerpt from the Grateful Dead FAQ:

What is a Tape Tree and how does it work?

3) Grovels, or posting to the net. Although it possible to get live tapes this way, it is a method that is generally looked upon as a waste of bandwidth. The previous two methods are much better means.

Shorten (.shn) is a lossless compression format. For a list of moe. .shns in circulation, visit the etree site:

http://db.etree.org/db/sources/artists

For more information on the Shorten format:

http://www.etree.org/shncom.html

Confused by the source information provided on a tape? moe.links has a guide to help you figure them out!

http://www.moelinks.com/random/source/

moe. does indeed tape their performances and has since Brendan O’Neill joined on as soundman in March 1995. There are also numerous tapes from prior to this time from many different sources. The moe. archives are maintained by Stan Lobitz. Almost every show is there on DAT from the time that Brendan joined the crew.

Below is a clip of the song “Rebubula” by moe., performed live on 3/29/09 at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton, MA.  Enjoy!  🙂

Dave Matthews Band Taping Guidelines and Copyright Information

•December 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Next, I will touch upon the taping guidelines and copyright information for the Dave Matthews Band.  Their taping guidelines can be found here: Dave Matthews Band Taping Guidelines.

It states:

Taping

Dave Matthews Band allows audio-taping at almost every live performance. We feel that each show is unique and want to offer our fans the opportunity to recreate the live experience through the audio reproduction of our shows. At all taping authorized performances, tapers can tape from any ticketed seating location in the venue. Also,for many of these performances tapers are able to purchase tickets for a specially designated taper section, normally located immediately behind the soundboard. No soundboard or power feeds are provided.

Taping is limited to audio-only, using only microphones. Wireless receivers are strictly prohibited. We sincerely appreciate all of our fans, so we ask that you please be considerate of those around you by not obstructing anyone else’s view of the performance.

All recordings must be used for personal use or trading only. Selling or commercializing any recording is illegal and will jeopardize taping privileges for everyone. Please read our Bootleg Statement for more information.

In addition to helping fans recreate the live experience, we hope tape trading will foster greater interaction within the fan community. Any method of trading that does not involve personal fan interaction defeats the spirit of this goal of the taping policy and is not authorized. In particular, posting audio or video files on web sites for streaming to or downloading by the public, is not authorized.

Audio Video

All audio and video performances belong to the Dave Matthews Band and are not available for promotional use without the explicit prior written consent of the Dave Matthews Band. Please read our Bootleg Statement for more information.

Bootleg Statement

A notice to our fans about Bootleg Recordings, Television and Radio Broadcasts:

We would like to thank those of you who have been helping us with the bootleg CD problem. For those of you who are unaware of what’s been going on we would like to let you know that the Dave Matthews Band has always encouraged the taping of our performances, but only for personal use, including trading, as outlined in the Taping Policy Statement. The proliferation of commercial resale of recordings of our concerts has become a concern to us. Commercial bootleg’s are not only excessively priced and of inferior quality, but primarily, they are an illegal use that threaten the taping privileges of everyone. Due to the efforts of a few unscrupulous tapers the privilege of recording live performances has been jeopardized. Those of you who have passed along information about commercialized recordings have been very instrumental in our fight against these bootleggers. An equally important violation of the integrity of the music is the unauthorized commercial exploitation of the band now occurring on television and radio broadcasts. Without our knowledge or permission, our songs have been used on soap operas, sports promotions, and even as the introduction to the Rush Limbaugh show. Once again we turn to you to assist us with putting a stop to this use of our music. If you see Dave Matthews Band music being used in what you feel may be an uncomfortable situation for the band, we ask you to notify us by e-mail or fax. Please provide the date, time, station, program name and song used. And don’t forget, the battle against bootleggers is an ongoing one. We still encourage you to email or fax us the name and locations of any retailers or distributors of bootleg CD’s along with the titles and quantities in stock. With your help we can stop the flood of illegal recordings and preserve the privilege of our fans to record our performances. We can be reached by e-mail at webmaster@davematthewsband.com or by fax at Attn: DMB Warehouse (434) 951-9006. Thanks.

Copyright/Trademark

©Bama Rags, Inc.
Bama Rags, Inc., Dave Matthews Band®, DMB®, and the Fire Dancer image® are registered trademarks of Bama Rags, Inc.
All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication, transmission or display is prohibited.

Again, this is fairly similar and in-line with the taping guidelines of the Grateful Dead and Phish.

Below is a video of Dave Matthews Band performing in Central Park in 2003.  Warren Haynes sits in on this Neil Young cover, which is called “Cortez the Killer”.  Enjoy!  🙂

The Grateful Dead’s Taping Guidelines and Copyright Information

•December 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Next, I will touch upon the Grateful Dead’s taping guidelines and how it ties in to specific copyright protections.  Their taping policy can be found here:  the Grateful Dead Taping/Transfer Policy.

It states:

The Grateful Dead and our managing organizations have long encouraged the purely non-commercial exchange of music taped at our concerts and those of our individual members. That a new medium of distribution has arisen – digital audio files being traded over the Internet – does not change our policy in this regard.

Our stipulations regarding digital distribution are merely extensions of those long-standing principles and they are as follows:

  • No commercial gain may be sought by websites offering digital files of our music, whether through advertising, exploiting databases compiled from their traffic, or any other means.

  • All participants in such digital exchange acknowledge and respect the copyrights of the performers, writers and publishers of the music.

  • This notice should be clearly posted on all sites engaged in this activity.

  • We reserve the ability to withdraw our sanction of non-commercial digital music should circumstances arise that compromise our ability to protect and steward the integrity of our work.

The Grateful Dead was one of the first bands to ever compile a set of rules for taping & transferring of live performances.  They did so in the 1980’s, which changed bootleg recording and trading forever.  It gave fans of the band the legal right to tape, transfer, and trade their live performances freely for non-commercial purposes.

Below is a video clip of the song “Shakedown Street” performed in 1981 at Rockpalast (Rock Palace), which is a German music show broadcasts live on German television station Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR).  Enjoy!  🙂