Origin of Tape Trees

The widespread use of the Internet has been great for people who like to trade music from various bands. Much of this began with the Grateful Dead, which pioneered the notion of allowing, even encouraging the recording of their live concerts. Many bands now allow taping [ show link ], particularly the so-called "jam bands"

While people have used the 'net for trading since email began, the tape tree made a big difference in making it easy to distribute shows to a wide audience. While originally envisioned for trading cassettes, trees are often now CDR based.

A friend recently pointed me at Google's archive of newsgroups. After doing a little searching, I found the Netnews posts in rec.music.gdead that originally proposed the idea of the tape tree.

The Setting

The year was 1989. Around that time, a number of kind people had made offers to copy a favorite show for anyone who was interested. They would typically get 80-100 responses, and then make this many copies of the show, either trading for another show or for blanks and postage. This resulted in lots of happy traders, and a few very exhausted tapers. Not many of them offered another one.

This prompted the following post. The idea was to spread the load, but without introducing too many generations, and their corresponding degradation in quality.

From: garry hodgson (garry@alice.UUCP)
Subject: MeadowLands 10/16 
Newsgroups: rec.music.gdead
Date: 1989-10-19 20:31:12 PST 
Hey now!

I suppose it's time to join the hordes who are, or will be,
begging for tapes from the Meadowlands 10/16 show.  I missed the show,
but my brother was there, and I'd love to surprise him with a
copy for his birthday...

However, there is a larger issue.  This sounds like the kind of
show that everyone would like to hear.  And there continue to be more
killer shows that folks would like tapes of.  I have benefited greatly
in the past from the kindness of reb, ed lalonde, and others who
generously donated their time and effort to make tapes available
to all who asked.  In each case, I gather that the offeror was swamped
with requests, and that a great deal of work was involved.
I'd like to do my bit for the community, and I suspect there are
others who would like to help, but are merely missing the raw materials
( original tapes ).  

So how about distributing the work?  Instead of 1 person making 100 copies,
maybe 5 people ( using high quality equipment ) could each make 20 copies
to ease the load a bit.  Maybe people with last names from A-F would send
requests to me, G-L to George Bush, etc.  This would, of course, add a
generation's worth of sound quality degradation, but this may not be so bad
if it makes the difference between getting a tape or none at all.  In a
perfect ( i.e. digital :-) ) world, the tree could grow deeper without this being
a problem.

So anyway, what does anyone think?  Is this a ridiculous idea, or would people
be interested?  We'd need tapers to donate the seed copies, and dubbers to 
spread 'em around.  And, of course, ideas about how this might work, or things
I've overlooked would be useful.

And if this does prove to be a bonehead idea, I'd still like to find some kind
soul who could supply me with the 10/16 tapes.  I've got a few nice tapes,
eternal gratitude, or my nextborn child* available to trade...

        garry hodgson

* sorry, my firstborn's taken.  she is too damned cute wearing my old dead
shirts as nightgowns to ever let her go.
Original at Google

The First Tree

Oddly, this didn't prompt a lot of discussion. But then one brave soul, Dave Lerner, decided to give it a try. A week or so later he posted the following, apparently referencing my earlier mail:

From: David S. Lerner (dsle@pegasus.ATT.COM)
Subject: 10/16 tape 
Newsgroups: rec.music.gdead
Date: 1989-10-24 21:31:07 PST
I'll probably regret doing this but;

Awhile back, someone posted that there should be a plan of "attack" to
get the copies of the 10/16 Dark Star out to people who needed it. That
someone shouldn't have to make 50 copies for 50 people; but someone
could make 10 and someone else could make the next 10, and someone
the next 10, etc. Well, I'm willing to start the ball rolling but do not
want to be flooded with requests.

So far, I've got 6 requests for a copy and have agreed to start taping.
I've got a very good, very clear first gen audience of set II 10/16.
I'll take a few more requests but not many more unless someone else
volunteers to make copies.

Obviously, one person making 50 copies will take considerably longer
than 2 people making 25 copies each. We should do this logically. 

If it works out, we can repeat the plan next week when a soundboard of
Hampton 10/9 (the other Dark Star) start to arrive. If it doesn't, then
I'll just do my share of 10/16 and quit. My Naks don't need the abuse.

Original at Google
So this show, a Grateful Dead concert from 10/16/1989, became the the first tape tree. (It's a great show. You can buy a copy from GDM) Each of the people Dave made copies for would post something like "I'll make copies for the first 10 repliers". These folks would then get their tapes, and make a similar offer, and so on (this mechanism was later dubbed a "vine"). There were a flurry of such posts on rec.music.gdead around that time.

Not Quite Right

It seemed to be working, sort of. The problem was that by the time you saw an announcement and replied to it, odds were that 10 others had beaten you to it. I got shut out of 4 or 5 of these offers before I got in on the 10/16 show. It was very frustrating. So a month or so later, when it became clear that things were not working quite as planned, I posted this:
From: garry hodgson (garry@alice.UUCP)
Subject: Re: Another 10/16 offer! 
Newsgroups: rec.music.gdead
Date: 1989-11-16 20:47:39 PST 
In article <4055@rtech.rtech.com>, reb@squid.rtech.com (REB) writes: > In article <1415@uvaarpa.virginia.edu> ezucker@pica.army.mil writes: > >Hi Folks, > >I have been officially recognized by the REBster as being an "Authorized > >Dealer" of the famous 10/16 Meadowlands tape.... I, too, am making an offer > >to the first dozen responders (or so).... > > This is the way we *should* be distributing tapes... and it seems to be > working out pretty well... I think we should try this for the next 'awesome' > show we get tapes of too ;-) Definitely NYE ... > > reb I posted an article a while back that proposed this method of tape distribution. I expected it to generate some discussion, but there was none. I also think it is working out pretty well, but could be better. In particular, the multiple lottery approach seems to be a bad idea. I lucked out and scored as one of the 1st 10 on my 4th or 5th try. Each time I lost, the person was kind enough to let me know. Assuming many others were in the same boat, this is a lot of wasted effort. It is also very frustrating to keep getting, "Better luck next time" mail. Now, don't get me wrong. I understand the effort involved in making tapes for people. I think these folks are doing a great thing by providing this service for the Nethead community. We just need to streamline the startup process. Here's one possibility: Assume I have a killer tape of the 2/31/89 Leap Year's Show, and I decide to spread it around. I post an announcement, and for a week or so collect email responses which say, either in the Subject line or a form-letter body: your email address whether you are just requesting a tape or volunteering to make further copies any other miscellaneous info deemed necessary. I then select N volunteers to make tapes, and send them their copies along with a list of requests, divvied up from all the requests I received. N may be the total number of volunteers, or the number of tapes I am willing to make, or some other number chosen to make the number of copies/volunteer low enough. These lucky volunteers then reply to the requesters with info about how to proceed, and things continue as they do now. If requests are in some standard form, this job could easily be handled by some simple software ( I'll write it, if anyone's interested... ) If this puts too much burden back on the original taper, a third party ( I volunteer ) could handle the requests. Then again, maybe there's a better way... Any ideas, folks? garry hodgson garry@alice.att.com alice!garry
Original at Google

The idea here was to have one person collect all responses, organize the tree, and make the initial round of tapes ( though the root of the tree could be a different person than the organizer ). This idea caught on pretty quickly. Searching the archive for the words "tape" or "taping" and "tree" shows that by mid-1990 there had been a bunch of trees offered, including Pink Floyd and Eric Clapton shows as well as Grateful Dead. There are a number of posts explaining the idea, and tips for new tree admins from "old pros", as folks worked out the kinks. Best of all, it appeared that enough trades were going on within the branches that everyone was making out.

The Name

As for the name, the first mentions I find of "taping tree" or "tape tree" are the following posts. The first volunteers for general "taping tree" duty, without reference to a specific tree. The second is an offer of a "tape tree" for the 6/9/77 Winterland Dead show.

From: sshurr@bambam.WELLESLEY.EDU (Scott Shurr)
Subject: shows, lies & audiotape
Date: 13 Nov 89 22:50:00 GMT
I'm looking for the following to complete my collection of tapes
of shows I've been to.  Can anyone help me out?  I have a large collection
of tapes I'd be willing to trade for any of these.

Also, in regards to the recent talk about how we should organize a
"taping tree" as a means of spreading the load of tape copying, I'd
be willing to volunteer.  That is, if ten people send me blank tapes,
and one person sends me a master tape or a copy of the master tape,
I'd make the 10 copies and send them back.  I'm very meticulous about
recording and people who I've traded with have generally been quite
pleased.  The only caveat is that my decks are old enough to not be
able to handle metal tape or Dolby C.


[ BTL comments and tape requests deleted ]

Original at Google

From: scott@everexn.uucp (Scott Baldwin)
Newsgroups: rec.music.gdead
Subject: 6-9-77 Tape Offer
Date: 26 Jan 90 18:01:29 GMT
I have tapes of the entire 6-9-77 Winterland show.  My copy was made off
a tape from the Dead's tape vault, so I guess that makes it 1st gen.  
I think the idea of a tape tree is great, so I'll
make copies for the first 10 people I hear from, and pass their names on
to anyone else who asks for a copy.  This is a 2 tape set.  The limit of
the first 10 can be bypassed by anyone with something really tasty to trade.
I'm looking for the '83 Frost shows, and Anaheim Dead/Dylan, in particular.

Please remove the plastic wrap from your tapes, and identify them somehow
(like maybe filling out the labels) as I'm still moving and our home is
somewhat cluttered at present, and I don't want to repeat past mistakes
with losing tapes sent to me in good faith.  

I'm making this offer because the sound quality is great and the music is
too good to just sit in my collection.
"If a driver comes in and tells me the car is handling good everywhere
on the track, I know he's going too slow."   Jack Roush, team owner
  || Have fun, RoseRunner ||
Original at Google
As it turned out, RoseRunner decided to make all the 6/9/77 tapes himself, rather than treeing it. He made ~100 copies of this show, taking more than 4 months to complete. He may well be the last one to go this route.

So anyway, there you have it. Twenty plus years of great tunes, thanks to the bands who make the music, the folks who work so hard to make great tapes and are kind enough to share the result, and everyone else who makes the effort to spread the music around. The next time you run into a taper, shake their hand or buy them a beer or something, and be glad for the times we live in.