The New Standard: TAPER420

(Jack Riley)

One of the major stories of Phish 3.0 has had little to do with the actual band. Thanks to the rise of twitter and ubiquitous smart phone technology, fans found that they could “attend” every show on tour without getting off their couches—hence the term “couch tour”. Of course, realistic fans knew that the quality of the live audio and video streams would never come close to the official soundboard recordings available the following day, but this was considered an acceptable and necessary trade off. That is, until Taper420 came along.

Since his first stream from Jones Beach in 2010, Taper420 has single handedly changed the couch tour game. By providing professional level audio streams, he has raised the bar significantly on the level of quality fans can expect. Is it any coincidence that the rise of Taper420 coincided with Phish finally offering a pay-per-view online streaming venue for their New Years Run, something fans have been clamoring for since their return?

While his actions may be on the margins of the official rules, Taper420 is no pirate. His decision to only stream from sold out shows has won him many admirers and some detractors. With a changing password for each show, you have to be on your toes if you want to enjoy unbelievably crisp audio live from wherever Phish is playing.

About a week ago, Taper launched his very own website, Among other things, the site contains a section where you can buy “Couch Tour” shirts. My favorite shirt includes all the passwords he used throughout last fall. OPT sat down with Taper 420 to discuss some things that have been on a lot of fans’ minds.

OPT: Hey, I noticed you have a new site. It got me thinking, I really have a lot of questions for you. Are you going to be streaming directly through your new site now?

Taper420: I will be streaming through my site for bands that have given me permission, or have hired me. After the first two public streams I did last year at Jones Beach, Phish changed their policy to say that they didn’t have the rights to permit the live streaming of their shows. The Phish “streams” that you are referring to, that came during Fall Tour, are actually a private archival backup, for the purpose of remote storage. On numerous occasions hackers were able to obtain access to these private storage sessions, and managed to get the password out to numerous other people. Once I found this out I did due diligence and changed the password. That’s all I can do. These private remote storage sessions will never be publicly available on my website.

OPT: I first noticed your stream during the Jones Beach shows last year. What was the first show you streamed and what brought it about?

Taper420: The Jones Beach shows were actually the first shows I ever streamed. It was a combination of events that brought it about. I’ve had the audio gear for years, but the streaming half of the equation required technology that I hadn’t acquired until earlier that year. And believe it or not, I had never actually even listened to any of the streams before Jones Beach. I was barely aware they existed. My cousin Friddle kept telling me about them, and said I should really do something, because with a few exceptions here and there, the quality thus far hadn’t been that great. He knew I always got good recordings, so why not give it a try at streaming? So he really goaded me into it and helped. He was the one with the tickets that got us in the door in the first place and was even registering the u-stream channel for me at Jones Beach while I was setting up the gear. So without him, none of this even would have happened.

OPT: So were you a normal taper before this?

Taper420: Yes. First show I taped was MSG NYE 02/03, the return from hiatus.

OPT: I know wireless internet connection has been a problem for some of the indoor fall shows. Do you use a laptop with an air card or something else? Are you able to monitor your streams while in the show to make sure they are being broadcast properly?

Taper420: I actually have an array of different techniques I’ve used to gain internet access. No one method works consistently all the time. I’ve had to switch midway sometimes, and other times the location forces me to choose one method over another from the start. I absolutely do keep an eye on the connection. And I’ve pulled off some pretty miraculous workarounds when it appeared all hope was lost,if anyone remembers the start of AC first night. And I’ve certainly had some help with connections. Joephus at Hoodstream has all angles covered in that department.

Connection issues are largely a problem at the start of sets… and when any crazy bust out occurs. You could literally see the meter plunge during the Zeppelin stuff in AC. I can only attribute this to phone usage… twitter and texting and everything in between. So stay off your phones people… for the sake of the stream!

OPT: That’s really interesting, I never thought of that. There have been times where something big happens and “off air” pops up. Although you don’t typically allow embedding of your streams, OPT’s live stream page still has the chat room going (and back up, lower quality streams if needed), we all go nuts when something bad happens; “what the hell is Taper doing? taking a piss!?”

Taper420: That’s actually a misconception… it’s not that I don’t allow the embedding of the channel…. anyone can embed my channel with the proper code. It’s just… well these aren’t public streams, and therefor require a password to access during the times I’m performing a remote data storage. So I guess hoodstream just doesn’t see the point in carrying a password protected stream on their main stream page, and I think they are probably just respecting my whole wishes to keep it out of the public eye. But it actually always has been accessible on their site at along with their normal hoodstream chat. There is, however, a problem with embedding u-stream channels, in that my channel usually far exceeds the embed limit and requires the user to go directly to the ustream channel page.

OPT: Do you do this solo or with a partner?

Taper420: I don’t really have a partner per, say, as I’ve handled everything on my own on numerous occasions. But my cousin Friddle and other people–they who know who they are–have certainly lent a welcome hand in a crunch.

OPT: What kind of rig are you working with? Maybe you should come up with a way to patch directly into the soundboard!

Taper420: It’s funny you should say that, because that’s kinda what I’m doing. I’ve been able to get my hands on some CIA spy tech that’s not available to the public… it can sense the electro-magnetic radiation coming off of cabling, and convert it into a digital audio stream. Then it’s just matter of getting that signal out on to the net.

OPT: One of the things I noticed about your streams since Jones Beach was how close to soundboard they almost sound–my friends and I commented on how there was almost no audience noise during the streams. Now we know why.

Taper420: No, but seriously… I’ve been told by people more knowledgable than me that the setup I use just happens to be perfectly suited to the encoding for a stream, and the typical playback device that people will be using. I’ve also been honing in on the sound I like for years, and, well… the comments speak for themselves!

OPT: How do you feel about Phish streaming the MSG shows? It’s funny because it was probably people like you that opened Phish’s eyes to the market they were missing out on (the people that want to experience the show live but couldn’t go). I was really impressed with how well they were run.

Taper420: At first I was disappointed when I found out about the MSG streams. Especially because I knew Worcester wasn’t going to sell out, so I’d have the whole run off. But the main reason I started doing this was for the fans… to bring them the music they wanted to hear, as it was happening, and not from some crappy handheld phone. So the whole time I was doing it, there was talk about how this might drive them to consider offering an official stream, and I was all for it. You might even say I was hoping for it. Now I’ve also heard talk from higher up that I had nothing to do with their decision to stream MSG, and it was a one off special occasion and it will not continue to be offered for all future shows. Either way, I’m happy they did it, and I think it was a wise decision on their part. I enjoyed the time off, and I certainly hope we start seeing it more in the future, cause I can’t be everywhere, and tickets are getting expensive. Ya know, I’d like to be able to sit at home and enjoy a decent stream too.

OPT: I totally understand. Where are you from? I would assume you reside on the East Coast seeing as you are at so many shows out there.

Taper420: Yes, I’m an East Coast boy, north of NYC about an hour. I do take the occasional extended stay out west from time to time.

OPT: What’s the farthest west you plan on going for this summer’s tour, including probable venues that have not been announced for second leg (Deer Creek, Alpine, Red Rocks)?

Taper420: Nothing is definite. I’d like to say that I would never miss a Red Rocks show. It’s certainly my favorite venue. And yes, I’ve been to the Gorge numerous times as well. I have a lot of close friends and family that live right in the Denver area, and it’s always a great experience going out to Colorado. I love it. And I was very fortunate with tickets last time; we’ll see if my luck holds up again. Deer Creek and Alpine are also special venues for me, with touring friends in Ohio, and I have yet to see a 3.0 show out there. Unfortunate circumstances during the last run made me send my tickets out with friends, and I ended up eating the Alpines. Anything on the West Coast from SoCal to the Gorge is a given. But the big caveat to everything is money, which is extremely tight right now. I’m really hoping for something to happen between now and summer, or I’m gonna end up vending burritos and Couch Tour T-Shirts in the lot just to get to the next show.

Shirt including all the fall passwords

OPT: Do you have any idea about what east coast shows you will be attending out of the already-announced dates?

Taper420: Of the 1st leg Summer Tour dates, I put in for Bethel, PNC, Camden, and MPP. But we’ll see what I end up with. Those are the dates that are relatively close to me. I also think Bethel, Camden, and MPP will sell-out, and PNC is close to Wigman’s home town, so that will be a definite date for Show of Life. But who know’s what tickets will fall into my lap, and what shows I may end up going to. We’re still a ways off, and my plans usually crystallize in the close weeks (or days) before a show.

OPT: How did you hook up with Hoodstream in the first place?

Taper420: I actually met Joe (Joephus, founder of Hoodstream) for the first time at Festival 8. He commented on a t-shirt I was wearing, and asked to mount a web-cam to the top of my stand. The second I heard video I just went into “No way” mode, and didn’t even really pay attention to him talking about streaming at the time. But I did remember the face.

The second time I saw Joe was, as destiny would have it, at the Jones Beach shows that were my first streams. He was involved with the other stream that came out of there the second night, which I hear was pretty good but had some connection issues.

After that we started emailing, and come Fall Tour we teamed up for an idea that we both had in different forms. I had been working on a documentary called “Project #17”, which was conceived along with “Phanart” Pete Mason. We started production for that at Hampton, but it pretty much had fallen apart by the end of the first year. Similarly, Joe had ideas for a live show, broadcast from outside the concert, or even in the camp grounds of festivals. He brought Jason Wigman to the table, who is a great host, and the Show of Life was born. We started shooting material in Amherst, and did our first live broadcast down in AC. We also did some live stuff down at MSG for NYE. The first big obstacle to tackle was actually getting geared up after a show and getting out there, live. But once we did that, the people just see the camera, and see Wigman with his Hood-man microphone, and it’s like a magnet. We’ve talk to some characters, and it’s always lots of fun. We are basically just getting started and we have plans for a ton of collaborations and pre-scripted material in the future. We encourage any video/media artist phans out there to contact us about producing segments for the show, live or pre-packaged.

OPT: Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer some questions a lot of fans have been curious about. Before we wrap up, how and when did you hear about Online Phish Tour?

Taper420: Well, I’ve known about OPT for awhile, and I’ve read articles here and there. But you guys came under close radar once you started publishing articles with my name in it.

I think what you guys do is great, getting the word out to phans about the community they love. And thanks for taking the time to chat with me for a bit. I’m always happy to answer questions. We gotta get an army of streamers and dreamers out there. I’ll see ya on couch tour.

Edited and contributed to by Zim and Guy Forget