Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Future-Proofing Your Songs

When most of us are recording our music, we rarely think much further than whatever deadline we're up against. The reality is, however, that with the rate music technology changes, often your mixes will end up being in 'obsolete' software within a couple of years. Most DAWs are pretty good about backwards compatibility, but problems can still arise if plug-ins you used no longer work in your current OS, if you change DAWs, or if, as is the case with Logic, you need your old dongle to open files created in the old, dongled version of the software. What happens if you lose it?

It is useful to try to think ahead and plan for this when you are recording in the event that you need to come back to the songs at a later date (to remix, to make a more up to date version to use live, or for an 'Early Tracks' type compilation like I am about to put out). So here are a few things you can do to help in that regard.

1.) Document, Document, Document!
I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. When you back up your songs (and trust me, you'll want to do this as soon as you're finished), take time to document as much as you can about it. Include the date of recording, the BPM of the song, the version of software you used to record it, the version of software you used if there is any data compression like .SIT or .ZIP. If you use multiple mics regularly, mention which you used on this project. Mention any hardware synths used and back-up their patch files as sys-ex data embedded in the MIDI tracks. It may seem excessive, but no one has ever been upset by having too much information when they revisit a song years later.

2.) Safety in Numbers

When you bounce down your tracks as audio, take the time to make note of the starting bar of each track. This is most easily done in the track name itself. If you recorded an SH-101 bassline that started on bar 17, for instance, name the audio file 101bass(17).wav. Many DAWs will do this automatically when you bounce down softsynths, but not when you're recording external audio such as vocals, hardware synths, guitars, etc. Just get in the habit of doing it. If you end up changing to an entirely different DAW in the future, you'll be able to easily reconstruct the track by importing the audio and dragging its start point to the appropriate bar. Another option is to simply record every single track for the entire length of the song, but this is a bit wasteful of disc space, if you ask me.

3.) Save Every Version Separately

When you're working on a song, any time you do something major, take the time to save it to a new, separate file. This way, if you make a mistake and ruin something that was fine before, all you have to do is call up the earlier version and you're good to go. All you need to save is the song file itself with the appropriate number on it. It's not a bad idea to keep a notebook or file on your computer indicating what the differences are in each version. You might be able to remember that easily now, but in a couple years, I guarantee you probably won't.

4.) Print Those Effects

If you want to really ensure your mixes will be replayable on your system at a later date, it's not a bad idea to bounce down all your audio complete with the effects on once your mix is completed. I'm kind of borderline on this one since it does take up more disc space, so what I generally do is bounce down anything where a specific plug-in is integral to the sound. If it's something that just won't sound the same using another similar plug-in, bounce it. This saves you the headaches of dealing with abandoned plug-ins that never get an update to a current OS or plug-in standard.



Anu said...

Bounce your drum sampler to separate tracks (at a minimum, do kick, snare, hat, and everything else).

Inevitably you will change or upgrade your drum sampler and the old version either won't work right or will get uninstalled.

This single thing has bitten me more than any other element throughout the last few years.

As usual, great stuff.

Tom said...

I'm actually always surprised when I hear from people who don't record every drum sound separately anyway! Maybe I'm a control freak, but I can't imagine getting good mixes any other way...

mangadrive said...

This is one reason why I chose Sonar. (PC Guy) Was tired of bringing mixes back and having 'red' everywhere or blank spots.. Even missing FX an so forth. Sonar has a project 'wrapper' that puts it *all* (even backtracking if you specify) into one nice file kinda like a zip. This makes backing things up very very nice. The only downfall is that its Sonar specific, but personally I doubt I'd move from it.

Naturally this does'nt work with stuff I've done in the distant past so yes I highly agree with coming up with a naming system. I still have banks and banks of saved parameters of junk I thought I'd want later, but of course theres stuff I wish I had that I don't.

I would like to also add that backing up in general will be the first realization of process in computer related music. If your hard drive goes, then GG. I've never had it happen, but I could imagine the agony of it did and have heard horror stories.

Tom said...

Yeah, good backup practices are something every electronic musician knows they need to do, but it seems as if most don't really start doing it until they've had some sort of disaster. haha

Abba Bryant said...

As a software developer first and sonic enthusiast second - I have always wondered about the feasability of using a local source control repository ( cvs, svn, git ) to store versioned copies of audio.

If you could export to a sane directory / file structure you could use such a system to version your work and thusly revert individual files / archives as well as store the older dependencies that might go defunct in the future.

Just my two cents. I guess I should implement it and see if it is actually realistic.

Tom said...

Abba, you're talking WAY over my head technically... haha But if you try it and it works out, definitely let us know!