Let’s Back Up Now

Let’s Back Up Now

Since a number of us have been talking a lot about the state of new music and all that entails, I’m going to shift gears this week and get super practical. My mind is currently laser-focused on very earthly matters, as I write to you from among stacks of boxes—stacks increasing in size every day as we pack for a move at the end of the month. I’m not going very far, but nevertheless, I am acutely aware of all my stuff, and of the fact that this wonderful apartment I have loved living in for the past seven years has a fantastic amount of closet space. Just when I think I’m making packing headway, I open up a closet and am reminded that I am so not finished!


At any rate, the current attention to one’s stuff and one’s things is not only about the physical, but also about the virtual. We’ve all experienced the horrific computer and/or hard drive meltdowns that have led to loss of important documents, and it seems like no matter how strongly we resolve to back up our stuff after such an event, we too quickly become complacent and forget to archive on a regular basis. Last week my Better Half got out of a taxi with everything but the laptop—an anxiety dream come to life! Fortunately almost everything was either safely backed up on an external hard drive here at home (which happily had not been packed), or could be scavenged from the gmail archives, so although the computer was lost, not too much of the stuff inside went missing with it. Between that little drama and reading this post today, it just seemed like a good time for a reminder to set routine backups in place.

There are so many ways to archive the contents of one’s computer now—external hard drives come in a multitude of shapes and sizes (those heavily into video really need the most space), and of course there are lots of options in “the cloud,” like Google docs, Dropbox, MediaFire, and Evernote. I like to keep most of my stuff on external hard drives—I have a sturdy one that I use primarily for working on digital audio (250GB, FireWire 800, 7200rpm), and one that is dedicated exclusively to storage. The all-important scores, recordings, and associated materials are printed in hard copy and also backed up to multiple sources including Dropbox, and if ever I lose my several years worth of photos, at least I know that all my favorite ones are on Flickr.

Now if I could finish boxing up the apartment with the tiny amount of effort required to secure my important computer files and data!

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13 thoughts on “Let’s Back Up Now

  1. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Yes, I completely agree about backups. I’ve been one of the fortunate — I lost some unimportant files a few years ago, but now back up new files daily to two sets of drives (a total of 8TB because I do a lot of electroacoustic projects, recording for others, and video). “Cold storage” goes to DVDs.

    It’s still always dicey with digital media. CD/DVD storage can ‘rot’, hard drives (even with backups) are subject to EMP disasters, etc. The notion of updating to new media is a massive time-sink. And the cloud? I don’t think so. Too much corporate death-risk for me.

    The consequences of modern times.

    Though it’s a few years old, my article for the CEC provides some perspective.

    And? Back. Up. Now.

    Why not back me up?

  2. dB

    By posting, you agree to the following:

    . Do not use these forums for any commercial purpose-no solicitation of funds, no advertising, and no solicitation for goods or services.

    I really don’t mean to single Dennis out here–I’ve seen dozens of links to dozens of kickstarter projects–but I am wondering why everyone seems okay with it. This rule is obviously put in place to keep discussions on topic (which these solicitations never are), and prevent the boards here from devolving into a string of self-promotion. I can understand the temptation to get that information out there, but these solicitations are clearly in violation of the first bullet point everyone agrees to when they register to comment. I really can’t understand why moderators are allowing it. If a meaningful post has one of these links at the end, why not just excise the link?

  3. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    As far as I’ve ever known, sigs are part of the poster’s identification and have always been allowed on forums and mailing lists. I manage numerous lists and sites, and sigs are never censored.


  4. dB

    I remember reading someone’s post that defended their sig (a link to their own website) as a means of battling the anonymity that comes with internet forums. I can understand that, but links to kickstarter strike me as bald-faced solicitation. Just to clarify, I’ll turn again to the terms and conditions everyone agrees to before registering to post here (sorry for double-posting the first bullet point, but it seems important:

    By posting, you agree to the following:

    . Do not use these forums for any commercial purpose-no solicitation of funds, no advertising, and no solicitation for goods or services.

    And further down the list:

    . Do not post off-topic. We reserve the right to delete posts we determine are irrelevant to the discussion in which they’re posted.

    . Do not link, in any post, to pages elsewhere on the Web that violate these rules.

    Taken together, I’m not even sure sigs are technically allowable (unwritten laws of internet forums aside), but links to kickstarter are clearly in violation of all three of these points.

    I’m not advocating following these rules for the sake of following them (this is a forum for composers, after all), but these rules strike me as well thought-out and important for maintaining the discussions for which these boards are designed. I kind of feel like the teacher’s pet for bringing this up (and let me reiterate that I don’t mean to single Dennis out at all), especially if I’m the only one bothered by these links, but they seem to be appearing with more and more regularity here. I see that as an unfortunate trend, and this seemed as good a place as any to voice my concerns.

  5. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz


    Speaking on on-topic, this isn’t.

    Please take it up with NMBx. I don’t really care and will happily accept their decision.

    Dennis (not hiding under a pseudonym).

  6. Juan Calderon

    Bucket o’ Crabs Mentality
    It’s not like everyone is rushing to donate to Dennis cause. Hardly anybody else but broke, student-loan paying composers visit this site. I mean, look at the amount he’s raised so far! Just because you haven’t figured out a project cool enough that you think deserves funding, doesn’t mean you should try to deter others from doing so… sad world.

  7. Alexandra Gardner

    Guys, this is not an appropriate place for this extremely off-topic discussion. Take it to your own emails, please.

    Don’t mess with my posts!

  8. dB

    Sorry for hijacking your comments section, Alexandra. While I didn’t intend for the discussion to devolve into accusations of bitterness, that doesn’t excuse that my first post was off-topic. If I may, I’d like to suggest a chatter post (by you or any other NMBx contributor) that addresses how composers promote themselves in the internet age. Not only would it facilitate a public discussion on this particular topic (which I think the site would benefit from); it would likely generate a lot of other interesting discussions.

  9. danvisconti

    A great post, Alex! I remember the first time I lost part of a piece through lax backup habits and it was really depressing to have to redo a finished movement. After this early college experience I realized that a good backup plan includes a) scheduled full/partial backups and b) multiple storage locations–I can’t empahize enough the importance of the latter. And congrats on the move!

    dB, I’ll write a post addressing the issues you raised; look for it this Thursday. You and Dennis both have a lot to contribute to these pages and your respectful manner is appreciated.

  10. Alexandra Gardner

    Apology accepted db, and thanks for the post idea…pretty sure both Dan and I will address that this week! ;-)

  11. mclaren

    With your terabyte and terabyte drives.

    Hoo boy.

    Word of advice: small hard drives, 80 gigs max. Progressive backups onto DVD-R, and then re-copy the DVD-Rs every six months.

    I got backups of music I’ve done going back to 1986 (before MIDI files, but I’ve got a utility to convert those older pre-midi-format files to standard MIDI file format) and Csound (whose SCO format has fortuantely not changed) and digital recording (PCM encoded videotape, now all copied onto CD-R in AIFF AND WAV format, and then more recently into DVD-R in FLAC format.

    The big challenge with backups is the changing format. My earliest stuff is on PCM encoded videotape and 5.25-inch 360K floppies. If you hustle, you can keep moving that stuff from one format into the next, and it stays alive. Looking forward to the neck-mounted-USB-9.0-neural interface port with the data nanocystal format any day now…

  12. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    This topic was discussed extensively a few years ago (around the time of the Wayditch conversation), but I can’t find it in a search of NMBx. Maybe Frank remembers. It included a great deal of practical information and also a discussion on the larger problems of recreating music works that require software. I did reference my CEC article There is No Future Until We Get to It above.

    Finding 80GB drives is increasingly difficult. They tend to be older designs, power hogs, and more susceptible to failures that have been solved in later drives. (Even most of my video projects are bigger than 80GB as I keep an ongoing revision set while working.)

    Automated progressive backups drive to drive, then every few months a few days to duplicate onto DVD-Rs from two different makers are as good as it gets for me … when there’s time. Some stuff I just keep on its flashcards, which I know risks its own kind of decay. But further copying? Out of the question unless I were to have a staff of several people. Right now I have 21 file drawers containing 200+ DVD-Rs each.

    Up-coding earlier material is likewise done only as needed. I maintain four archives going back to 1967, the two most important being Vermont Composers Consortium and Trans/Media. The majority of the material is still on its original media and, unless I get a financial windfall, going to stay and die that way. Once in a while I’ll get a kick to do something, as when I transferred my recording of a live Jackson Mac Low performance from 1977 to digital format. All 537 Kalvos & Damian shows are on DATs, with only about 100 transferred (just once) to CD-Rs.

    Backing up current projects is good until it becomes an albatross. Then no one’s archiving suggestions will make one bit of difference without the money to do it.

    So what are the workable solutions for those who use gigabytes of storage for each project?



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