In this age of fast connection speeds, dirt-cheap drive costs, and commodity online storage and bandwidth, why would anyone not have a backup routine?

This is especially vital, of course, for musicians. Data integrity is part of your creative process. You could lose creative ideas forever. You could lose work and income. You could lose data on tour.

Of course, the problem isn’t that musicians don’t understand the need for a backup – they do. The problem is that they likely assume backing up requires more effort, time, skill, and money than it actually does.

The thing is, commodity online services are providing a terrific failsafe.

You can spend about fifteen minutes right now, and for a few bucks backup everything without having to think about it.

I know some of you administer servers for a living, so if you’ve got a complex script backing up your data right now to a server you own and a stack of drives in the studio doing local backups, good for you. (Actually, I want to hear about that – do sound off in comments.)

But if that description doesn’t fit you, there are some pretty easy steps you can take right now. Based on my experience, that looks something like this:

Choose a set-it-and-forget-it cloud backup. Online backup right now is absurdly cheap and easy. I’m not talking about solutions from Dropbox, Apple, or Google. I’m talking dedicated online backup services (Carbonite, Mozy, etc.). Of these, the two I most readily would recommend are Backblaze and Crashplan.

Basically, for a few dollars a month, you get unlimited backup of everything – your local drive and connected external drives, so long as you’re online. (It might be time to think about an Internet connection in the studio, just to do this.) Both platforms offer easy-to-use, cross-platform tools and quick restores. I’ve found I’ve relied on them sometimes when I accidentally deleted a file or screwed up a project, so when you have something like this, it finds uses you don’t expect.

Both apps also include native software and mobile apps.

I rather like Backblaze because it’s so dead-simple to operate, and it backs up absolutely everything. Also, unlike Crashplan, you can quickly grab big files from a Web browser.

That said, Crashplan is the more sophisticated option, with more interactive restore options and backup configurability. It also includes integrated local backup at the same time as online backup (though that wasn’t terribly important to me). And it runs on Linux, not just Mac and PC.

Both offer free options. But either would be suitable for musical use – though I’d choose Backblaze’s unlimited downloads from the Web interface for quick access, and probably Crashplan’s backup sets to facilitate dedicated backups of just project files. (I’m pondering trying Crashplan in place of Backblaze for a while, so I can report back on that.)

Keep oft-shared media in a dedicated cloud tool. This is a godsend for me when it comes to critical files that other people need to get at, like downloads of albums, PR folders, and project or tour information. Google Drive and Dropbox are two common solutions; there are also self-hosted tools you can run on your own server. I especially like Google Drive for its integration with other tools (Slack for chat, Wavebox for email in my case). Cloud tools of course can also take care of tasks like backing up video, audio, and photos you capture with your phone – so my road tour and field recordings are always safe.

Don’t forget local storage. Online backup is a start, but for any essential content, I think you want a dedicated local copy, too. For me, the strategy is to buy any drive in pairs – fast 2 TB production drive = add a cheap 2 TB backup drive to mirror it.

It also makes sense to have a redundant copy on a mobile hard drive that comes along on tour. This should naturally include all the files you need to play. (That could be the topic for another article.)

Use Git for development. Developers should do this already – use something like GitHub or another version control system both to maintain changes as you work and creates a backup. (Just mirror that repository remotely.) This is especially relevant to music, though, because apart from music coding tools like SuperCollider and Csound, patcher environments Max/MSP and Pure Data also store files as text and can be easily used in a version control context.

Encrypt critical files. It should go without saying that if you’ve got personal information as part of the backup, you’ll want security. This is something else the online services take care of for you, but it’s worth watching on local drives.

Set aside some archiving time. Lastly, it may be useful to just set some time for archiving and organizing old projects. I find this can turn a backup and file management routine into something creative – because I’ll often find bits and pieces to reuse in new music.

How do you work? Let us know your backup and archive routine, and any useful services and tools you’ve found – or questions or problems you might have. We can do a follow up if there’s interest.

  • jshell

    Backblaze offers a ‘only run backups at midnight’. I highly encourage turning this on to avoid Backblaze’s background IO and network processes slowing down your workstation! Folks who commonly have their studio machine tuned for music probably know this already but it surprised me last year when I did a big cleanup of some data which prompted a fairly big backup session kicking off in Backblaze. I thought my hard drive was dying already before I saw all the Backblaze processes in Activity Monitor.

    I finally feel fairly confident in my simple hobbyist studio setup. I use a big slow but redundant Drobo for long-term storage/archival of projects and have that and the internal drive backed up locally via Time Machine, and then Backblaze runs overnight for offsite.

    I also waited until I had a two-week vacation to run the big-backblaze backup.

  • Ashley Scott
  • Andy III

    For the actual project files, Blend.io has been working for me. I can sit down at any of my machines and everything is synched. It’s cool.

    Everything else is Crashplan.

  • Steaders5

    I’ve tried both Backblaze and Crashplan and neither are really perfect for my needs. I canceled my Backblaze subscription because I discovered that it creates thousands of .dat files (180GB’s worth) on my (400GB) system drive. I contacted Blackblaze and they replied “These .dat files map the locations of your files on our servers. If they are deleted, you will lose these files online and your backup will become corrupted. The only way to safely shrink this directory is to uninstall and reinstall the program, beginning a new backup.”
    Crashplan does not leave behind .dat files but uploading is painfully slow and I dread a drive failure on one of my 2TB drives because from what I’ve learnt, downloading will probably take just as long (2 weeks to a month for 2TB).

    I wish Google’s new backup service was cheaper so I could try that.

  • Robin Parmar

    “Cloud” is short for “someone else’s computer”. I wouldn’t keep my personal information in some random person’s house, so why would I keep my files on someone else’s computer? Every website gets hacked eventually and then all this info is up for grabs. Don’t believe me? Check out this fun site:
    https://haveibeenpwned.com/

    Yes, you can use encryption. But I remain unconvinced that most people use double-key hard locks on all their data.

    I store data on three different hard drives, at least one of which is (or should be) off-site, but at an undisclosed location. (Exchanging with a trusted friend is a good idea.)

    • Bot

      Using the same method as you. I remember being told:
      If you only have one copy of something – it does not exist.
      If you have two copies of something – it exist.
      If you have three copies of something – you have a backup plan.

    • Polite Society

      Because everyone wants your tracks. They’re mad for tracks!

  • Armando

    Just wanted to throw it I use Carbon Copy Cloner. https://bombich.com

    I have two 4TB drives. 1 is the main studio drive, the other is scheduled to carbon copy in case I loose the main. Granted my house burns down I’m screwed but that’s where online backups come in handy.

    Point of this post is always have a back up of the back up.

    • Get a little water/fireproof safe and keep it in the garage/garden/balcony/where-ever is not directly where the other stuff is: it’s not 100% offsite but it means the numbers are stacked further in your favour if there is a fire/flood (flood from firefighters putting out a fire) etc.. Buy a couple more 4TB drive though, two copies is not really a backup.

  • Arq is a good one. you can choose your own data storage provider and there is an open source aspect to it. Shame our upload speeds in Australia are hopelessly pathetic.

    How about an article about storing and backing up iOS music stuff: BM3 just came out and looks great — it’s making me question whether I need a computer, but I’m firmly entrenched in the world of desktop data management and backup. It’s not clear to me how to integrate an iPad without the computer (to backup the iPad data and then backup the computer)

    • microgramma

      I’ve found iMazing (not the best name) to be a perfect solution for iOS stuff. Been keeping versioned images of my and my girlfriend’s phones and production iPads for awhile, has saved us both more than once.

      https://imazing.com

      • Thanks, i’ll check it out. Ha yes iMazing, I thought we were done with all the ‘i’ stuff …

  • itchy

    computer version ( most current ) – monthly back up to time capsule – the time capsule is backed up to external hard drive every few months. – that drive is cloned again at same time. so 1 current , 1 a few months old , 2 copies 6months old.

  • Foosnark

    I run Autover on my “Maschine Data” folder mostly to give myself an undo from my own mistakes. (E.g. accidentally delete a sequence, and reflexively hit save immediately after…) It automtically creates backup versions every time a file changes, with an optional delay timer to save it from going crazy while you record audio to disk. I haven’t needed to use it in a while but it’s saved a lot of frustration in the past, and it’s good to have a bit of safety net.

    My main drive is a 1TB SSD, and I back it up to the hard disk that it replaced.

  • heinrichz

    No need for the cloud. Daily Timemachine and a copy in two different buildings. To just have a backup in the same place where your computer is won’t help you when the firetrucks stand in fron of you house.

  • Igor Warzocha

    Have you lost something recently? :))

    One thing from me, after losing over 250gbs of photos.

    NAS. With UPS. No USBs. Ever.

  • I’ve been using Backblaze. Works great. My initial backup took days, but now that it’s happy I just back up at midnight. Also a large internal drive (which are silly cheap now) makes their .dat files a non issue.

    Also, Splice is wonderful for my Live Sessions.

    Personally I’d rather pay for someone to have the problem of maintaining physical media. I know the sad truth of hard disk life spans, hate having stacks of older disks around, and any half decent cloud service security is going to be wayyy better than mine.

    And yes. I still have everything backed up on two large drives that I pull out of cold storage (my gun safe) and update latest data bi-monthly.

    Well worth the peace of mind.

  • R__W

    Backblaze seems good until you actually crash and want your data back, and then you find out it takes them over two weeks to find your data and mail you drive. If thats ok with you then I guess they are a good service.

    Crashplan is so slow and buggy it simply doesn’t even work for uploading large datasets, like a drive’s worth of music and video projects. I wonder if you’ve even used it.

    Both of these things are useless on spotty internet connections, such as one finds in the entire country of Australia.

    i would suggest a home NAS and a portable backup drive for travel. Apple’s backup is good for iDevices and MacBooks.

  • The Eighth

    I keep all work on an external usb-hdd for like 5-4 years. It has aome disadvantages, such as copying times, but that’s ok since I use it to store old projects.

  • Dubby Labby

    I bought a NAS and use dropbox/gdrive.
    NAS for personal data which rarely I use.
    Dropbox for samples to import into the iPad but I didn’t use it too much.
    Gdrive for projects I don’t want to care anymore or those which I want to share fast/collab.

    At the end I bought more sample packs as IAPs and forget about old library. With new projects I ended going straightforward: compose>record>share>forgive

    Life is short, data is infinite, time is gold.

  • Interesting. I use Time Machine to a USB hard disk and have redirected my Documents folder to iCloud. As long as I store all files somewhere in that folder, i wouldn’t know what else I should bother with. Like it or not, but Apple makes it really easy to set and forget all things backup. And yes, I have restored everything from both sources already, so I’m sure it works in a real disaster recovery situation.

  • Gunboat_Diplo

    Keep in mind that if you start tomorrow and already have dozens of gigs of data, upload speeds can be very slow and your ISP might object if youre trying to back up 80gb of Kontakt samples. And your studio pc will have to be on all the time. If it sleeps, it won’t back up.

    While some backup services send you a drive for your first large backup, if you install a 20gb sample library, or spend a day making a large project of many gb, its going to take forever to back up over the cloud.

  • Chris R Gibson

    For Content I use ‘ChronoSync’ to run:
    Copy 1: Back up files from local drive A -> local drive B (drives vary per content type). That would be my recent samples, audio, recent app installers, new music, etc from one local drive inside my Mac Pro to another drive inside same computer designated as back-up only.

    Copy 2: Back up from various ‘Copy 1’ partitions/drives above to separate OEM/Raw drives installed in outboard Mercury Pro Drive Rack via Firewire.
    ChronoSync in these cases is running a ‘container’ of individual scripts for different folders and dumping them all to paired destination folders as ‘Back-Up, not ‘Mirror’, so it has the cumulative effect of simply updating contents with newest files. Eventually, I then ‘retire’ these drives as they fill up by pulling from a slot in rack and storing in individual plastic cases in a large banker box size protective foam especially designed for hard drive storage, replacing with new ‘raw drive’ of current size specs (so no added power supplies, added enclosure real estate, and big cost savings on purchasing drives sans enclosures).

    Copy 3: Back-up as I go along to Taiyo Yuden/JVC DVD media (and I am currently experimenting with Blu-Ray and M-Disc for larger/longer storage). Having high quality media optical media back-up helps me sleep better at night given the 20+ experience I have had with it (again, the original media manufacturer being key). This will become problematic as high quality DVD media makers close shop but I have several years supply to think about it and plan new strategies 😉

    For System Drive:
    I use ‘Super Duper’ to maintain several copies of system drive, and in various states of ‘freeze’ of different OS upgrades, again via either FireWire 4 Drive Mercury Rack or individual USB 3 ‘Voyager’ drive docks). I also keep one OS back from current system on a separate partition on same current boot drive for those times of discovering recent OS version has rendered a less-used/non-obvious app/plug-in unusable so I can quickly reboot and continue for that particular session.

    I use Dropbox syncing for daily ‘critical’ smaller file/database/catalog files (like archived DVD discs/files and all hard drive contents via NeoFinder)…along with password sharing via ‘1Password’ across all machines. That way I can update current hard drives and search ‘offline’ stored drives to identify specific file locations if needed. I still use Toast 10 and ‘DiscCatalogMaker RE’ (also sharing it’s database via Dropbox with all machines) to keep track of burned optical discs, though I have converted them to NeoFinder format and storage for database redundancy and longtime access.

    I use iTunes for keeping ‘crates’ of my own tracks on main studio machine with it’s own dedicated ‘Library,’ and constantly burn a days work as chronological ‘Playlists’ to CD’s (both for immediate back-up and easy access via 500+ ‘wallets’ for non-computer play).

    Other peoples music is in separate ‘Library’ on different computer dedicated to entertainment/internet, and use AudioFinder for general sample management. Total Spaces for separate ‘desktops’ allow these different apps to open up in their own window spaces so they are already appropriately configured for directories and number of open windows on a dual monitor set-up.

    So, generally…4 drive Mercury Rack is filled with current ‘Copy 2’ drives (each of unique source/destinations thus different content) and turned on every couple of days to update from internal ‘Copy 1’ drives. ‘Copy 1’ back-ups are done in real time manually as appropriate while working, or at end of day via bulk ChronoSync multi-folder scripts. ‘Copy 3’ optical copies are done at end of week in creative downtime.

  • Chris R Gibson

    For Content I use ‘ChronoSync’ to run:
    Copy 1: Back up files from
    local drive A -> local drive B (drives vary per content type). That
    would be my recent samples, audio, recent app installers, new music, etc
    from one local drive inside my Mac Pro to another drive inside same
    computer designated as back-up only.
    Copy 2: Back up from various ‘Copy 1’ partitions/drives above to separate OEM/Raw drives installed in
    outboard Mercury Pro Drive Rack via Firewire.
    ChronoSync in these cases is running a ‘container’ of individual scripts for different
    folders and dumping them all to paired destination folders as ‘Back-Up,
    not ‘Mirror’, so it has the cumulative effect of simply updating
    contents with newest files. Eventually, I then ‘retire’ these drives as
    they fill up by pulling from a slot in rack and storing in individual
    plastic cases in a large banker box size protective foam especially
    designed for hard drive storage, replacing with new ‘raw drive’ of
    current size specs (so no added power supplies, added enclosure real
    estate, and big cost savings on purchasing drives sans enclosures).
    Copy 3: Back-up as I go along to Taiyo Yuden/JVC DVD media (and I am
    currently experimenting with Blu-Ray and M-Disc for larger/longer
    storage). Having high quality media optical media back-up helps me sleep
    better at night given the 20+ experience I have had with it (again, the
    original media manufacturer being key). This will become problematic as
    high quality DVD media makers close shop but I have several years
    supply to think about it and plan new strategies 😉
    For System Drive: I use ‘Super Duper’ to maintain several copies of system drive, and in
    various states of ‘freeze’ of different OS upgrades, again via either
    FireWire 4 Drive Mercury Rack or individual USB 3 ‘Voyager’ drive
    docks). I also keep one OS back from current system on a separate
    partition on same current boot drive for those times of discovering
    recent OS version has rendered a less-used/non-obvious app/plug-in
    unusable so I can quickly reboot and continue for that particular
    session. I use Dropbox syncing for daily ‘critical’ smaller
    file/database/catalog files (like archived DVD discs/files and all hard
    drive contents via NeoFinder)…along with password sharing via
    ‘1Password’ across all machines. That way I can update current hard
    drives and search ‘offline’ stored drives to identify specific file
    locations if needed. I still use Toast 10 and ‘DiscCatalogMaker RE’
    (also sharing it’s database via Dropbox with all machines) to keep track
    of burned optical discs, though I have converted them to NeoFinder
    format and storage for database redundancy and longtime access.
    I use iTunes for keeping ‘crates’ of my own tracks on main studio machine
    with it’s own dedicated ‘Library,’ and constantly burn a days work as
    chronological ‘Playlists’ to CD’s (both for immediate back-up and easy
    access via 500+ ‘wallets’ for non-computer play).Other peoples
    music is in separate ‘Library’ on different computer dedicated to
    entertainment/internet, and use AudioFinder for general sample
    management. Total Spaces for separate ‘desktops’ allow these different
    apps to open up in their own window spaces so they are already
    appropriately configured for directories and number of open windows on a
    dual monitor set-up. So, generally…4 drive Mercury Rack is
    filled with current ‘Copy 2’ drives (each of unique source/destinations
    thus different content) and turned on every couple of days to update
    from internal ‘Copy 1’ drives. ‘Copy 1’ back-ups are done in real time
    manually as appropriate while working, or at end of day via bulk
    ChronoSync multi-folder scripts. ‘Copy 3’ optical copies are done at end
    of week in creative downtime.

  • Chris R Gibson

    btw &fwiw, sorry for the ‘run-on’ paragraphs in my post below…apparently too many paragraph breaks cause ‘Disqus’ to automatically detect post as spam! (which is what happened when I posted the original ‘formatted’ version two days ago).

  • Peter Freeman

    Out of sheer paranoia (based on long experience), I use a main backup drive connected to my primary work computer, additional multiple raw backup drives via a Thunderbolt dock,
    a QNAP NAS (the “personal cloud” concept works well for me) with about 12Tb of storage,
    and an offsite backup drive located in a different city.
    Backups are handled by either Synchronize Pro X or CCC.

  • Travis Basso

    Great read! Is anyone using Git (or similar) to store and track non-code related projects? Like uploading a DAW session or similar? I had never thought about that, but your post got me thinking about it.