Should you be backing up your data?
Yes! Whether you’re a newly minted musician, engineer, producer, digital artist, or a seasoned veteran of the loudness wars, we all face the same conundrum: what do you do with your digital session data at the end of the day? This is a challenge faced by everyone who creates any kind of content on a digital device.
How do you save your data? How do you know what to save? How do you keep track of all the stuff you generate?
Read on, friends. We’ll talk about some options and guidelines to help preserve your work.
Why should you back up your data?
You’ll be in good company. Recently, I conducted an informal Facebook survey of engineers, and 100% of them reported using some form of data backup. More about that in a moment.
Here’s an object lesson. Once upon a time I made radio station ID music. This was high volume production work, with many, many versions: vocals/no vocals, tag/no tag; versions ranging in length from 2–60 seconds; English, Spanish, and French versions; rock, country, orchestral, and hip hop versions. You get the idea. After working on this project for three days straight, I needed to go home for a quick shower and a clean shirt, and would return later to QC all of the mixes. The session was done. What could go wrong?
In my two hour absence, a studio mangler (sorry, manager) decided that he needed hard drive space on the drive I was using—and promptly deleted 3/4 of the session, including all of the mixes. Apparently there wasn’t time to back anything up.
Result: disaster? Lawsuit? Expensive retakes? Fortunately, I printed a DAT tape (remember those?) for client approval and was able to lift the mixes from the DAT. But most of the session multitracks were gone forever. I expressed my displeasure by nearly tearing the control room door off its hinges. In retrospect, I probably should have put crime scene tape around my workstation. Or hired a canine guard. Or, realistically, asked one of the second engineers to run a backup.
That lesson started me on my path to evangelize on behalf of good backup habits.
Data backup vs. archival: What’s the difference?
Let’s dispel any confusion about these terms.
Backup is what we do to copy our production data on a regular basis, and this copy is stored locally in order to quickly offload and restore files as needed.
Archival is the long-term, offsite storage of data that you don’t need to access on a regular basis.
Many of us practice a hybrid process, generating multiple copies of our data, at least one of which is in a secure location physically separate from the place where we work. For the purpose of this discussion, we’ll look primarily at backup and hybrid backup/archival solutions.
What should you back up?
Anything that you ever want to use again. You may not need to back up your applications folder daily, but any content that you generate as a part of the creative process needs to be backed up regularly. For music producers and engineers, this includes:
If you’re an artist, you may want to include lyrics, photos, demos, contracts, etc., even the voice memos on your mobile phone—anything that pertains to the creative IP (intellectual property) you want to preserve.
Backing up your computer’s drive is easy. Using an automated backup program like Apple’s Time Machine will handle all of your OS backups in the background while you’re working or having coffee. There are several software options for backing up your sessions, like Carbon Copy Cloner, Acronis, or Synchronize Pro X.