If you've attended even a few concerts in the Twin Cities, odds are you've encountered some form of taping--even if those behind the microphones often blend into the crowd unnoticed. They blend in because they're a part of it. They're music fans on a mission to document a local scene, not only for themselves, but for posterity.
John Coughlin started recording shows in 2004 and, since, his audio library has grown by at least 450 shows and 1000 individual sets. He spawned the Empty's Tapes blog to share his efforts, offering up a refreshing "download and review" format that keeps the focus on the music instead of turning it into a forum for personal anecdotes and ideology.
Empty averages between 2-4 shows per week, often saddling up at the Triple Rock's back rail with his microphones turned on to the scene in front of him.
Gimme Noise: Do you consider yourself a blogger, or more of a taper who blogs to get his work out there? Also, is there a preferred nomenclature to "taper"?
Empty: I would consider myself a taper who blogs. For a few years I was content with just circulating recordings via bittorrent trackers but then I realized it made a lot of sense to centralize everything into one location. When I finally get around to printing up cards they will say "Audio Archivist." I've also heard people call themselves "Recordists" but I don't really care for that term. "Taper" is the old school, romantic term most people are familiar with. The majority of "tapers" identify with the term unless they want to start a small business to seek out paying gigs.
Your posting is always a music-first style that is devoid of personal details. Is that a conscious decision?
Yeah, I've always tried to keep the music as the main focus. I wrote a lot more in high school and college but I've been slowly getting back into it. I kind of turned my back on my journalism background for no particular reason. Lately I've tried to make the posts more of a "download & review." Sometimes I just don't have time to do anymore than get the recording uploaded, but I like to include random anecdotes about what happened that night when possible. I've also always appreciated a certain sense of anonymity though. Names are changed to protect the guilty and photos of me are somewhat rare.
What led to your interest in taping?
When I first got to college in the fall of '99 Napster was king and things were pretty chainless in the dorms with T1 lines running everywhere. I started downloading really shoddy mp3 recordings on my roommate's pc. Mostly Deftones in the beginning. They were often in 128kbps and sounded awful but you had to track down every one, just like the baseball cards when we were kids. As you got deeper into the scene you started running into tapers who would only trade with other tapers who had their own master recordings. That's when I told myself I was going to make my own recordings of the bands that I think should be documented and get them out to anyone who's interested.
What do you view The Role of the Taper to be?
I'm about as humble as they come and I try not to get a big head about it but I definitely believe there's a great importance in creating these documents of what is happening musically. Not just for people to enjoy in the moment, but also for people down the road to know what was going on. I think there's a general consensus that something amazing has been happening in the in the Twin Cities since the late '70s with lulls here and there.
I'm just glad that I have to opportunity to help archive this music. I'm not the only one helping by any means but I do feel a sense of pride knowing that some of these recordings will be around more or less until the earth explodes.
How has the taping scene in the Twin Cities changed since you first got involved?
I have always been able to name at least a dozen really solid guys doing what I do. We have our own little community and I've made some great friendships in the past 7 years. Some people are more active than others for various reasons. I'm probably the youngest and maybe that means I have the least to lose by getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night while maintaining the 40-hour a week grind. I have no one to answer to: no wife/girlfriend, no kids. But there's so much top shelf music going on no one can cover all of it alone. We network a lot to make sure certain shows get covered. Sometimes 2, 3 or 7 of us might be at the same show and sometimes we're spread out across 3 or 4 different venues that night making sure all of the 1s and 0s are captured. When I first started doing this I recorded more national touring bands than local acts. That was flipped a few years ago. Now 75% of what I'm covering are local shows.
How often do you go to a show and not tape it? Does it ever feel like work?
In the beginning I couldn't go and not record. Now I more open to the idea. I'd probably say 5 or 10 shows a year.
There are times when I don't feel like leaving the house, especially during the winter. Sometimes I even talk myself into staying in but, on the whole, I'm usually able to tell myself that if I don't make it out there's a 98% chance the show won't be documented. It rarely feels like work and I think the times that it begins to feel like work are the times where I take a week off to do something else with my time.