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the 5h newbie guide to tape trading
Last updated: 3/12/02

We know - you think you have nothing to trade. You have a few shows that everyone has, or you have nothing. So you think that you can't get started trading, and that your only recourse is to go to a certain online auction site and pay outrageous, ridiculous, out-of-control sums of money for CD-R's.

Guess what? That's not true! We are very lucky that 1) Pearl Jam allow and encourage us to record their shows (and to share them amongst each other) and 2) the Pearl Jam community is very generous with sharing the music for free, as it should be. If you want your live PJ fix, and need some help getting started, this is for you. This guide will cover collecting both live audio, video, and CD-R's as well. Without sounding like an infomercial, we guarantee that if you follow the advice presented in this guide, you will get results.

However, what we do not guarantee is immediate gratification, or that it will not take any work on your part. Trading and collecting takes time, energy, and PATIENCE. (We can't stress this last item enough.) If you're a newbie, you're going to be asking people to do you a favor. If you are impatient, or greedy, or impolite, you are going to not only ruin your chances, but you are going to ruin it for the rest of the newbies out there. Getting a copy of a Pearl Jam show is not a constitutional right. No one "has" to make you a copy of the show. There's nothing worse than getting an email from a newbie right when you've got three papers due or are about to leave for vacation, and when you write back and say, "Sorry, I can't do this now," to get a nasty email in response. Or to tell a newbie "I don't have time now, I will write you when and if I do have time" for them to keep sending you mail once a month.

Step One: Make A List

First, make a list of ten shows you want to start with, in order of preference. I know, you want everything, and that's okay. But you have to start with a finite number, and you have to be specific. Why? There's nothing more frustrating for a trader who wants to help a newbie to see a post saying, "I'm a newbie and I don't have anything, I would like some shows, can anyone help?"

It's much easier to respond to a request that says:

"Hi, I'm a newbie and don't have anything much to trade. I'm interested CD-R copies of of the shows from 7/22/98 (seattle), 7/2/98 (St. Louis) and 9/11/98 (MSG II). I am hoping to find someone willing to make me copies for B&P. If you can help, please write me at Thanks in advance for your help."

By doing this, you've increased your chances of getting a response 100%. Why? Let's look at it from the perspective of Joe Trader:

  1. You've told Joe exactly what shows you're looking for. If he has those shows, he can help. [Open-ended responses of "ANY SHOW" or even "ANY 98 SHOW" usually mean that he's going to have to send 10 pieces of email back and forth while you figure out what you want and what he has.]
  2. You've only listed three things. Joe now has a reasonable expectation that you're not going to turn around and ask him for 20 shows. [He may have time to help you out for three tapes, but might not have time for more than that.]
  3. You've told him up front you have nothing to trade and that you're starting out. [If he doesn't have time for a 'newbie trade', he won't waste your time by writing and asking for your list.]
  4. You've told him what conditions you're looking for - "B&P" (see below). This also shows Joe that you understanding how the trading process works, and he won't have to spend a lot of time educating you about basic trading etiquette.
  5. Your request was polite and to the point. If Joe helps you, he has a reasonable expectation that his help will be appreciated. One final note (complaint #3 about newbies) -- this isn't valid now, but it will be again soon: do NOT show up in any forum 10 minutes (or even 24 hours - or hell, even the same week) after a show has taken place asking for a copy of it and expect to get a response if you have nothing to trade. (Second to that is asking for a copy of the show before the show has even taken place!) Every show makes it out eventually, and tapers/traders appreciate people who show restraint and consideration.

    Mechanics Of The Trade

    "But why would anyone want to trade with me if I don't have anything to trade," you might ask. That's a good question. There are two types of barter mechanisms at work usually:

    B&P, or "blanks & postage"

    5h strongly supports B&P as the standard for trading in the PJ community. This means that you would send someone as many blank cd-rs as it takes to copy the show onto, as well as return postage. The trader copies the show onto the cds you send, and sends the cds back to you. Or, some traders burn the shows onto cd-rs that they have lying around and send you those and keep the blanks you've sent. Either way, there is no profit here at all.

    2:1 trades

    While we believe in B&P, there are others in the community who are okay with 2:1 trades. What this means is that you'd send double the amount of media necessary. The trader copies a show onto one set of cd-rs, and keeps the other to compensate them for their time and energy (or whatever). While we prefer B&P, we realize that there are a lot of newbies, and they take up a lot of time, and if 2:1 is what it takes to get people started, it's certainly better than paying outrageous sums of money. Additionally, you can even things out by asking if the trader will pay return postage; then the trade is about as even as B&P. (However, anything beyond 2:1 is just plain greedy; trust us, someone else out there has the tape you're looking for, so if someone demands 3:1 or 4:1, say "no thanks" and move on.)

Step Two: Buying Media

Before you do anything else, GO AND BUY SOME CD-RS. Go get them now, before you even make your first request. You can get them pretty much anywhere these days: Target, Best Buy, even Costco and Sam's Club. Brands people tend to like are Kodak, Memorex, TDK; Imation are often cheap but some people have issues with them. Until you've learned the difference, we recommend you start with Kodak or TDK. It's probably a good idea to make sure you're getting 80 minute cd-rs and not 74 minute ones.

You can buy cd-rs in different quantities - one, five, ten, twenty, and then there are "spindles" of 50 and 100. Depending on how difficult it is for you to pick up blank media, you may want to get a lot or you may want to start out with a few and see how it goes. You will also want to pick up a few padded mailers, and some blank labels, and a Sharpie or other magic marker. (While you're there, get some good quality packing tape, too. Even with self-sealing mailers, it doesn't hurt to tape it shut yourself, just to be sure, and it will come in handy later once you get into trading and want to recycle padded mailers.)

Step Three: Where to find traders

So, you have your list of shows. The next step is to find traders. There are a few ways you can go about it: you can either go out and look for people's tape lists (more work, and you're taking a chance that the person you write to has time to help you), or you can post your nicely-composed request in any of the following venues:

Lots of newbies complain that they have tried writing to traders and no one wrote back, which is why they gave up. This is why we favor the 'classified' approach in a forum that is specifically geared toward tape trading. If you've taken our advice in writing your blurb, and were concise and specific about what you want, your chances are much greater than writing to random traders who have the shows you're looking for (and it's less work for you in the long run). You may just have chosen people who couldn't help, and there are people who no longer trade "publicly" (so their lists aren't posted anywhere), but enjoy helping new traders.

A Note About Tape or CD-R Trees

As we've mentioned before, tape trees are a great way for a newbie to get their collection started. We often get email from people asking us "Where can I find a tape tree?" Tape trees are for the most part not permanent fixtures (with the exception of the folks over at In My Tape Tree); they spring up on demand in various online forums. You just have to keep your eyes open.

How do tape trees work? Well, if you think about how a real tree looks, there is the trunk, and there are branches, and there are leaves. The "trunk" (or tree leader) will send a copy of a show to 10 "branches." Those 10 branches then each make copies for 10 "leaves". The end result is that 100 people (10 branches x 10 leaves each=100) get a copy of a show by one person only making 10 copies. Additionally, most PJ trees require that branch leaders accept B&P trades, making it open to everyone whether or not they have a burner.

Step Four: Success!

Hurray! You've found someone who wants to help you out. Now, it's up to you to move as quickly as possible. The #2 complaint traders have about newbies is that it takes them weeks to get their blanks mailed out. There's nothing worse than having a lull, and agreeing to help out a newbie, and then they take weeks to get their blanks to you (by which point you're no longer in a lull). Don't let more than a week go by between the time the trader contacts you and you send out the blanks.


There's nothing more infuriating than agreeing to help someone out, and receive their blanks, only to find that they've forgotten to include stamps for return postage. Sometimes they outright forget, sometimes they're just careless and throw in a few dollars, figuring you can just take it to the post office.

Traders already spend a huge amount of their existence in the post office. It's one thing to make a trip when you're going to get something very cool out of it; it's another entirely to make a trip and wait in line to mail a package for someone who didn't follow a basic courtesy. Unless the trader specifically says it's okay, if you do a B&P deal, include stamps in your package. If you REALLY want to be super-newbie, you can assemble a padded mailer containing your tapes, with an address label and return postage already stuck on it, and then put the whole thing (unsealed, of course) inside a manila envelope addressed to the trader. That way all they have to do is tape, staple, and drop in the mailbox.

How do you know how much postage? As of this writing, postage for one cd in a basic mailer is approximately 57 cents. You'll begin to get the feel for how many stamps you need to include the more you do it. You can also take the unsealed package to the post office, let them weigh it, and then get the right amount of stamps, put them in the package, and then seal it and give it back to the clerk (or drop it in the box.) It's not rocket science. =) Or, if you can afford it, buy a Priority Mail stamp, which is good for an awful lot of blanks. You can buy a few and have them on hand at home. (Priority mail will also get your show back to you faster, and is especially worthwhile if you're dealing with videotapes; sometimes the difference between first class and priority is negligible.) There is also Media Mail, but it takes quite a long time. We don't recommend you use it to send your blanks out (given how long it takes), but if you're worried about costs, you could use it to have your shows returned to you.

Packaging tips

Send your cds packaged better than you ever think you would need to and ask the taper to return in the same fashion. We've received cracked cassette cases AND shells, cracked video shells and cracked CD-Rs, even though they were packaged well. Assume that the postal service will abuse your package, and package well.


The #1 complaint traders have about newbies is that they're impatient. (Okay, so the phrase used was "pain in the ass".) What they mean by that is that the newbie expects the shows to be back to them in a period of time that would be impossible, given the U.S. post office and the time-space continuum, to receive blanks, burn shows, and send them back. You're asking someone to do you a favor. You will be at the bottom of the trader's priority list; transactions in which the trader is getting another show out of the deal are going to come before doing you a favor. Deal with this, and don't blow things by sending the trader email every single day, or every other day. Email them when you've put the blanks in the mail, and politely ask them if they could let you know when they've gotten your package, and/or when they've finished & put your package in the mail (which is common trading courtesy anyway).

How long is too long?

It depends who you ask. For some traders, it's two weeks. For others, it's a month for newbies. However, if you haven't heard anything within two weeks, it is perfectly okay to send a short note and say, "hi, just wanted to check in and see if you've received my blanks". DO NOT ASSUME AUTOMATICALLY THAT THE TRADER IS OUT TO RIP YOU OFF. Computers crash, cats get sick, papers get assigned, bosses dump overtime - basically, life happens sometimes, and please try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Just write a short note and ask what's up.

Step Five: Shows arrived!

Finally, you got your shows, and all is well with the world. Now is the time to start your trading list (ideally in both a word document and on the web, but you need at least one of these formats). If you think you are *really* going to be serious about this trading thing, start maintaining a list of what you have. Information should include the date, location, length of the recorded show, quality and source if know it. Don't fib about the quality - most traders would prefer your honesty than getting a poor-quality show from you (that's the quickest way to ensure that person will not trade with you again).


Don't forget to write back to the trader upon receipt of your shows and say "thank you"! Do not ask them to send you more immediately -- but if you thank them, it will make it easier if you do ask again later.

Other courtesies

If you want to endear yourself to fellow traders, these are some nice things you can do that makes their lives easier, and makes them more inclined to help you out again in the future:

Trading Videos

The information above is pretty much applicable to trading in general, but video collecting is a little more problematic for most people, as the equipment required to really trade actively is less common than a cd burner.

However, this does not mean that your only choice is to BUY these formats. If you must buy a video tape, DO NOT spend more than $25 for a first or second generation AT THE MOST. *ASK* what generation the tape is before you buy it. If the seller does not know, pass it up - there is no video out there right now that is so rare that only one person in the world has access to it, no matter what they tell you. (Trust us on this one; we know.)

But we would really urge you to think about creative ways to collect videos without paying for them. If you only have one VCR, and can't afford to buy a second one, do you have a friend locally who you could partner up with? Bring your VCR over to your friend's house and have a dubbing party once a month. Don't know any PJ friends locally? If you know someone who DOES have access to two VCR's, you can still share a collection, with both of you working together to do 2:1 trades, and then sharing your trades equally - you have two people working on one list! You can also offer audio for video - the standard is generally two audio shows for one videotape. And, of course, you can go out looking for videos just like the method described above for audio tapes.

Video for CD-R seems to be a very popular trade these days, too, so maybe if you don't wanna invest in a CD-R, and you're interested in video and want only a few cd's, perhaps a second vcr is a more realistic investment. And finally, yes, there are CD-R traders who will help you out for B&P, too.

The Myth of the "Soundboard" Source

Yes, Pearl Jam record every single show from the board. No, not every one of those makes it into circulation. For the 1998 tour, there are only TWO known soundboard sources in circulation: the 3/5/98 pre-FM soundboard, and the 7/22/98 true soundboard. No, 7/2/98, and 9/16/98, or 6/22/98, or 9/11/98, any other great sounding show from the 98 tour is NOT a soundboard, no matter how awesome the tape you got sounds, or what anyone tells you, even if you bought it from a store. If you want to know what sources are available, we refer you to the ever-invaluable Hard To Imagine, which is the definitive resource for live Pearl Jam shows. If a soundboard copy of a show is circulating amongst the trading community, it will be listed on here. (However, keep in mind that just because a show is listed on HtI as "recorded" does not necessarily mean that it is 1) easy to find or 2) circulating.)

Finally: a note on mp3 sourced disks

MP3 was not designed to do anything more than sit on your hard drive. While it is super-cool to be able to download a bunch of mp3 files and burn them to cd, if you have mp3-sourced shows in your collection, YOU NEED TO IDENTIFY THEM AS SUCH. MP3 is a "lossy" format, it's a compressed file. You probably can't hear the difference, but that doesn't mean that it's not there and that it's not important to keep track of this information.

There is a newer format, called SHN, which is a lossless format. For some folks, this is a new religion. You can read more about this at More and more PJ shows are being converted into SHN format these days.

Good luck and HAPPY TRADING!

Copyright © 2004 Five Horizons