January 31, 2019

Exploring the mysterious world of "tapers"

Tapers are music fanatics that go along to performances with enough extra time to get to the middle of the front row. This is not, as Wired’s Jarnow notes, to get their hands on exclusive merch or even a fist bump off the artist. It’s in order to get a high-quality recording of the performance. Using a selection of rare and professional audio equipment, “tapers” capture high-fidelity recordings of live performances before uploading it to sites like NYCTaper.com. Regardless of what genre you choose to listen to, somewhere on the Internet exists a library of exclusive performances and recordings of them, all made available by the mysterious community of tapers.

It all sounds illegal, but it’s not–most of the time. Jarnow’s article focuses on a taper called Eric Pier-Hocking, who’s a proud taper and does most of it completely legally. Before a performance, he greets the artists—many of whom know him through his taping—and make sure to get their permission to record before beginning. For an artist such as Daniel Bachman, a guitarist who features in the article after having had a recording taped by Pier-Hicking, taping actually helps him. High-quality recordings of his performances act like adverts for Bachman, who admits that he regularly records other artists’ shows for his own use. That said, other tapers record illegally, using a multitude of technology often developed within the taping community itself. Some of this technology allows tapers to tap into the in-ear monitor systems of artists which can be combined with audience recordings to create immersive (or invasive) experiences.

In an age when our music listening habits are being changed drastically by streaming sites, tapers are sticking to their guns wholeheartedly. As opposed to the average to poor quality afforded by the likes of Apple Music and Spotify, tapers produce recordings for audiophiles. Combating the widespread lack of artist information available on streaming sites—which rarely include songwriting, for example—tapers note every last detail, “often posting obsessive data about mic placement, signal chain, tape lineage, song performances, audio imperfections, and other ephemeral and contextual information.”

Recordings are hard to find, filtering through a network of audiophiles, each as obsessed by detail as the others. The process is entirely decentralized and noncommercial; the antithesis of discovering a song by an artist you know nothing about completely by chance through Spotify’s ‘new music’ playlist. It’s encouraging to see that regardless of how simple and quick technology makes our lives, some will not let it dilute their culture. The passion for quality and detail shown by tapers is far from being broken by the ease of technology.

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