Saturday, May 25, 2013

Disaster strikes. How screwed are you?

If you are really striving to be a professional, and be a mature respectable artist in the music industry, you need to *be* responsible and professional. If you're planning on making a living at producing, you need to take the less exciting parts just as seriously as the "fun", and creative parts. Being a musician/producer/artist professionally means treating the source of your income as important! If disaster strikes at seemingly the worst time possible, you might get hurt in several ways. There's the obvious potential loss of your time and effort, the loss of real property, but there are other losses that can hurt you professionally: potential loss of income, loss of respect & not being taken seriously, and loss of opportunity.
Pretty serious, huh?
Let's look at it. Let's say things are *really* looking up for you, you've been working for a couple months on some great tracks. You have just a bit more to do: you've put all the finishing touches on three tracks last night at 11:00 PM, and have an appointment at a top-tier studio in town today at 4:00 PM to have them mastered. Maybe you've got some time booked for a really respected engineer to do a mixdown of one of 'em. You're going to meet an A&R rep there at 6:00 and go have dinner, she really wants to hear your latest stuff as she's heard great things about you and heard your older tracks--and want's to check out the new stuff. If it's as good as you hope, maybe they'll sign you. This is a really big day, even beyond that, because a really popular DJ asked you if he could spin a couple of your latest tracks at a hot club tonight. Tons of people will be there. The DJ wants to meet with you at 9:00 PM before the club opens and pick a couple of the new tracks with you. He might even ask you to get up and do some live performance if you're both into it!
So, here at 9:00 AM you grab your laptop and get ready to throw it in the car for a ride to Starbucks. A guy on a moped runs up to you, grabs the backpack, knocks you down, and speeds off! How screwed are you? You don't have to be. Or did you lose everything?
Think about this scenario for a minute. You've only got a few hours. What do you do? If you didn't already have a backup & emergency recovery strategy in place, you've probably lost some or all of your latest work, and have *no way* to be ready in time for your appointments today. If you can't get *everything* back in just a few hours, you're going to let everybody down, including yourself. And that studio's going to charge you for the time, even if you show up empty handed--you didn't cancel your appointment 48 hours in advance.
Did your latest tweaks of your project files get backed up last night? How about the mixdowns you did over the last couple of weeks? Do you have the latest ones? How about the DAW and plugin software? How are you gonna get that back on there? Serial numbers? Is it all gone?

Here's how to have this day still work out fine! Really? Yes:

So, we need to do backups with several "levels" available for recovery. Doing this correctly speeds up the recovery process and gives you flexibility in case, as in the scenario above, you need to just do a few things quickly and easily, but *be able* to recover everything. OK so the first thing: as a professional, *invest in the tools and resources*. In IT we've got the concept of tiers of availability. For our purposes here just think about it like this: the files you worked on today, the files you worked on or changed this week, and "everything" including a full restore of your system, say, no older than one month. Or you updated it more recently if you made big changes like installed a new DAW. Treat the strategy as "disaster recovery" as well as just "backup". You want to have a "completely recoverable" image to get your computer up and running again without having to re-install every program, patch, update, and register or unlock 'em with serial numbers. You additionally should have a way to restore just a subset of the files, but not the whole system, and not require install of the backup software. Sometimes you want just a pile of your recent files. You also want to have really fast access to very recent versions of the latest files you were working on, as the full restore takes significantly more time and you might be in a situation where a system to recover to isn't available as quickly. Consider this: you may want several gigs of files, but the Internet at the hotel downtown where you're staying and at the local Starbucks just isn't that fast. You can only get a few smaller files that way.
If your house was broken into or burned down, would you lose that full system image as well as your "pile of files"? We can see that we need a solution for this as well. That's why in IT we consider *off-site* storage of backups so important for disaster recovery. Here's the system that will save you. You've got a full system backup on a hard drive in an external enclosure, and it's either in a storage space you rent or maybe at another trusted location, perhaps your parents or a (trusted) friend's house. You go get this once a month and do your full system backup, perhaps while you visit your family or friend. In your house, you've got an external drive with just your project files and media files associated with 'em that you've worked on *since* the last full backup. If this drive is big enough, you could keep a copy of *all* of them on it. You back this one up once a week (or more often). I've got mine in a little *fireproof safe* in my studio.
You also use a cloud backup service (or *more than one*) and back up your latest work *every* night. For good measure, copy the few files you're planning to use tomorrow up to Dropbox as well.
So, now you're ready.
1. Call your friend/family, and see if they can meet you or bring the full system restore drive to you. It might be a cloned drive of your system drive and a full backup of your program and data drive. This stuff is in a little box or bag all together with whatever cables you might need. So, say they can do it, and if they meet you halfway it's 30 minutes drive for each of you. They'll meet you in an hour and a half. If you're really serious about this later in your career, you could have this sent to you by courier or overnighted if you're on tour (after you make the big time).
2. What are you gonna do with that backup when you get it? On the way, you go to the big-box store and buy a laptop. (You *do* have a credit card with enough available credit, or cash in an emergency savings account, right? And after this emergency is over, you're going to get a check from your insurance company. You *do* have an insurance policy for the stolen laptop, right?)
3. Even if these first two steps make you nervous because of the tight schedule, you do have a little security. You put your external drive with the week's "pile of files" in the *safe at the hotel*. So if you run into a technical glitch with the new laptop, you've still got the week's work available.
4. Last night's edits and "finishing touches to the mix" before mastering are available via your cloud backup. Yeah, this meant you had to have the laptop running overnight or have done the sync before bed--but you did it. Worst case you'll have yesterday's .wav files you created even if you for some reason can't load the project files that are up there too.
5. You get the laptop and the backup media, and get started on the restore. It's around 10:30 when you get started. Oh, wow, looks like that full restore is going to take about four hours!...but that's OK, it's 2:30 when we're done with the restore, and we'll see that we'll be done in time to drive over to the studio and make our 4:00 PM appointment easily!
6. Our backup finished, and we grab the portable drive from the hotel safe, hook it up to the laptop, and copy those files to the laptop. Then we connect to the cloud backup service through the hotel's "slow" internet. It takes about 30 minutes for all this, but we've copied all our work up through last week, and we download the most recent work up to and including our last-minute work yesterday and last night. Now we are in the *same state* we were in before the disaster struck! And it's 3:00, plenty of time to make it to the studio even with traffic. Put the restore media *and* the external drive with this week's files *back* in the hotel safe.
7. At the studio, we've got everything we need on this new laptop, we've got everything we're gonna need for our dinner with the label rep, and we're ready for tonight's gig with the DJ! If the label rep says she thinks you should make a couple of track changes and come by the office at the end of the week, you don't have to say "um...these mixes are all I've got, the projects are all gone."
If you're doing lots of work, or are really paranoid, there's nothing wrong with a faster "cycle", where you do a full system backup/image once a week, backup all data files nightly, and sync changes to your working files up to the cloud once an hour. In conclusion: External storage is cheap. Cloud backup is cheap. Backup software is cheap. You haven't lost all your hard work, you don't end up looking like you shouldn't be taken seriously by other professionals, and you aren't missing out on your opportunities! You want to be a professional? Plan and operate like a professional. If you think you can't "afford" this relatively small expense and the time and effort, then you've decided that you *can* afford to lose everything, or close to it. The peace of mind a properly executed strategy like this provides counts for a lot.

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