Remember the video tour I posted of McPherson Studios a few weeks ago? Well, I was hanging out with Michael (the engineer) yesterday, and he was telling me about a recent session he had that almost became disastrous.

He had booked a week’s worth of sessions in the studio for an album project. They hired great musicians for the week. They originally planned to track 12 songs, but they got in the groove and ended up tracking 18. All in all a really productive week.

The last session was on Saturday, May 1st. As you may recall, we got a little bit of rain that weekend. They finished up recording, and there was a break in the rain on the forecast. They had about thirty minutes to get home before the heavy rain started up again.

Michael thought about just waiting until the next day to back up all of the files. After all, it would be there tomorrow. He’d be right back the next morning.

He was THIS close to heading out the door when he decided he better go ahead and back things up.

Fast forward to the next morning. Michael shows up, fires up Pro Tools to start working on the songs. Tries to open up the hard drive.


Yep, you guessed it. The hard drive had failed. It was one of their go-to workhorse drives, but it had decided to stop working entirely.

Did Michael freak out? Did he lose hours of recordings and flush hundreds or even thousands of dollars down the drain? Nope. He backed up.

All he had to do was pull up the backup drive and go to work. Imagine if he had decided to leave ten minutes early the day before.

I’ve said it here on HSC before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, because it bears repeating. Back up your files. Hard drives fail. Digital media is not perfect. Don’t wait for a huge disaster to strike to develop a habit of backing up your files.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not the best at this. I have a handful of songs that I’ve tracked vocals to that I haven’t backed up yet. I’ll be doing that today. You just never know…

Do you have any hard drive horror stories or close calls? Share them in the comments section.

I need 10 comments today before I post another article. Ready? Go! 🙂

[Photo by miss karen]

  • dremits

    Another option is to use a NAS (Network Attached Storage box). These used to be only used in corporate networks but you can get easy to setup home NAS boxes that provide one central drive for all your computers to access. Not only is this useful for backup but also for practicality as you can store all your and your family’s documents and files on the drive and have easy access to them from whatever computer. Probably not feasible to track to NAS boxes mind you.

    Also, a lot of the home user targeted products feature built in RAID functionality and other features such as web server functionality and media server functionality.

  • I lost TONS of audio material I had stored in external hard disk because of failure (but gladly got some of them back from another external hd).

    Back then I thought external hd’s were reliable. Now I’ve learned my lesson. 🙂

  • Two years ago, I was working on the first alright-paying job in a new studio. The band came in for 4 days of recording guitars, bass and guitars, leaving only lead guitar and vocals for later. This was going to be the bands last recording together before they disbanded. (Bass player and singer where moving away.) THey just wanted to go out with a bang.

    So after 4 days of tracking we get 6 songs down and everybody is really happy about the sound.

    I leave and come back a week later with the singer and lead guitarist to start doing their parts. One of my Mac Pro hard drives is down. Permanently.

    For some lucky reason I changed recording drives mid session, so only 2 songs where gone. But they were gone for good. The other 4 remained. And because of limitations in time, we never got to re-record them. So it ended up as a four track in stead of a six track EP.

    And I learned to ALWAYS back-up.
    Hasn`t happened again. Although I`ve seen an alarming amount of hard drive`s dying in just 2 years.

  • fortunately, i’ve never had my drives crap out on me, but i guess i’d better take this more seriously. some of the stories in here are way more disturbing than the latest saw movie. DVD backup is the way to go until i get my hands on a glyph 😀

  • Al

    Working with computers since 1989 had taught me not to trust any kind of disk drive; any brand.
    so I have been backing up all my files after every “save”.

  • I went the whole hog and got myself one of those insane rackmount 4 bay 3TB OWC drives. Its noisy like a jetplane but I’ve got 3TB of bullet-proof backup and Time Machine reminds me when I haven’t backed up recently.

    My only worry is that, without thinking it through, I bought a RAID 0 striped hard drive config, and its one that I can’t change. Which means if any one of the hard drives in this insane unit fails, the whole things kaput. Which begs the question – is it dorky to *back up your back up*?

    Since I only switch on my backup drive when I’m actually backing up, and switch it off after, and along with the fact that its got insane fans keeping it cool, I tell myself that it’ll be a LONG time before that thing fails. Touch wood!

  • Dave

    Can’t stress backups enough! If you can, try and plan for multiple backups – seperate ones for each day of the week. I’ve been in situautions where I’ve come back to a project after a couple days to find the file corrupted. If I’d been doing incremental or even single daily backups, he file would be gone, but all I had to do was go back to the last day I had a good file, and I was good to go again.
    Time machine does this kind of backup, but seems to hog resources I’d like to allocate to my DAW.
    You should also consider RAID drives for your backps as well…

  • I would even encourage everyone to backup during breaks. Last month my external drive stopped working while editing some drum tracks. I had just finished tracking and started doing some clean up work. It locked up PT and started clicking. The drive never mounted again. You never know when these guys are going to fail.
    Here’s a question for you guys. What’s the best way to back up while working? I’ve heard of RAID, but I’ve read PT does not support RAID. If I would have had a way to have the audio copied to two drives at the same time I would not have lost my drum tracks. Luckily I had the sessions back up and only had to retrack the drum tracks.

    Great topic Joe.

    • RAID is great for backups of data, but not tracking. If you have the resources to spec out and build a dedicated backups file-server, then RAID all the way. But for tracking you really want one spindle, at least for most RAID configurations (although Avid doesn’t support it — a buffering RAID controller w/ 15K RPM SCSI drives would probably give tons of i/o with low overhead…but the new Firewire 800 does the job and it’s one spindle so much easier to deal with. RAID can be very complex)

  • I’ve got a 1TB USB just there for backups, and to further things along this data is backed up to Mozy as well (man was it S-L-O-W getting that data backed up to begin with, you gotta have cable/fiber to realistically do it…but it is so nice having off-site backups up in the cloud after that 1st backup is completed & just backup up changed/new files.).
    With backups, I believe in an old army saying I heard once when it comes to copies of your data: “two is 1, and 1 = none”. Two copies of everything. In the IT / SAN world we say that as RAID 10, but that ain’t all that practical for studios…so just at least 1 other backup drive. If the data is old, it should get copied to a 2nd drive and put off-site in a safe place to protect against theft or other disaster (safety-deposit box, data storage place, etc).

  • I just backed up yesterday. 🙂 with time machine there’s no excuse to not backup.

    • Joseph Lyons

      I love time machine, its what I use

  • Ethan

    I’ve never lost any of my audio recordings due to hard drives failling but I have lost other stuff. My worst is I was writing a film script for an independent film I was going to direct over the summer. I had about a week off so I had nothing to do except write! So that’s what I did for the whole week. I got about 60 pages into the script and decided to leave it alone for a few days. When I came back….all of it was GONE! No early drafts no rough anything….all of it was gone. Needless to say I backup everything I do now!

  • Joseph Lyons

    Also, two days ago I set up a brand new session to start recording drums on a 5 track demo. I had set all the mics up and started to do some test runs. I was in the middle of doing test runs when I realized that these test runs were good enough to be the actual recording (kind of like how you talk about using quick punch to capture the singers performance at all times in case he hits a great one). I went to save and it wouldn’t save. I reopened pro tools and got some sort of error message about “pro tools had to adjust or delete audio regions.” When it opened, the session was blank. I checked the audio regions folder and all the audio was there, it just wasn’t in the session. I opened a backup that was about 30 mins old and didn’t have much stuff, but was better than nothing. I should have used my time machine to back up everything I had had. As of now, all of my projects are on hold because I have never had this problem and I dont want to really start recording and lose everything again. I can’t find an answer as to what this error message is or why I received it.

    • Does it happen every time? That’s odd. May be time for a reformat of your hard drives maybe?

      • Joseph Lyons

        No, this is the only time this has happened. Im asking avid and people at the DUC currently, but no answer from either of them at the moment. Im thinking I’m going to have to reformat my drive, but I dont use a separate drive for my PT audio, it’s just my Macbook hard drive, and so reformatting is really getting me down as it has every single thing on it.

        Also, I had been running my macbook for about 4 days. I had been sleeping it and not shutting it down. I was been doing a ton of starting/stopping playback and starting/stopping recording on 7 different drum tracks. Im wondering if my memory had just been completely bogged up and freaked out. I should have restarted my comp before I started ANY session so that I would be starting with clean ram.

        • Wayne Johnson

          I big portion of the problem is using your internal HD. You need a external hard drive that is firewire as a dedicated recording drive. I had problems with PT using just one drive. I went to several external drives 3 Glyph drives. I use a 500 gig for backup and a two 80 gigs for actual recording. Check Joe’s site he has a video on it. That will end most of your problems. I haven’t had PT crash on me since. I also use Sonar 8.5 with no problems and I also use a PC.

          • Hey. I`ve been watching this thread on the DUC. Haven´t seen that errormessage before. Scary stuff.

            BTW: Anybody have any insight into using external SSD HD`s for recording in ProTools?

  • Joseph Lyons

    I was doing a 3 track demo with my friends. I had recorded and edited all songs and only had mixed one song. I wanted use the settings of the mixed song on the other two songs so that the mixing was completely consistent across the demo. I think I used the import session feature to pull in the tracks from the mixed song to the unmixed songs. This way, I could delete the audio from those tracks and drag the audio from the new tracks onto them. These sessions would now be instantly mixed like the other one. Lastly, I didn’t want my sessions being monstrous and so I “deleted all unused regions” to try to delete the regions I had imported and didn’t need. Apparently, pro tools didn’t make copies of these regions when I used “import session data,” it just told the session to look towards the original parent folder. Smart move on digidesign because it did save space, but in the end, i deleted the original audio regions and lost it all. I lost most of the session, but not all of it. I still had the drums, but I lost guitars, bass, and vocals. It killed me.

    • Man, that’s awful. One suggestion, use the Import Session Data feature, but DON’T import any regions. That way it will just bring in your track/plug-in settings. That’ll bypass this issue in the future.

      • Joseph Lyons

        Yeah, this should help me out a lot. Thanks

  • chrisw92

    its not like its hard to do either, there is many ways to backup data… USB/firewire drives, internal HDD/SDD drives, CD’s, DVD’s, even the internet without setting up your own server through services like drop box or windows skydrive (25gb of free space).

    my friends have lost whole years full of recording sessions by losing their only external hard drive (which they use to record onto as well). Backup people!

    • We’re starting a backup revolution. You’re totally right. It’s not like it’s this huge, hairy ordeal. Just takes a little bit of extra effort.

  • Hey Joe.

    Thanks for the admonition in reminding us to backup… I have to say I have had several drives crash on me before I had a backup in place. I’m using Time machine to backup my system files and also have a CalDigit Raid Drive that is my main video drive. However, for Protools I just realized I don’t really have a good backup in place so you know what I”m going to do today…

    Thanks again,

    • Attaboy. It’s kinda like getting good insurance. You don’t ever think you’ll need it, but you’ll be glad you took the time to get it.

  • W

    I haven’t lost any sessions in cyber space yet. Before I had backup drives I used DVD’s to back up sessions. This is very inexpensive way to save sessions, but better yet, you you can use rewritable DVD’s and add files. until it’s full. I now have a 500 gig Glyph drive as backup and several smaller Glyph drives to record on or to store samples on. On a budget DVD’s is the way to go in my opinion.That wat you will never have to say Oh %#**+#? what happened to my songs. Keep on Trackin’

    • Great point. It’s much cheaper to buy a stack of DVDs than another couple of hard drives. Obviously it takes a little more time to back them up, but it’s certainly worth it.

  • dom

    i have my production folder synced to dropbox. i usually backup to my hd every week. my laptop failed two days after signing up with dropbox 🙂

    • Dropbox is awesome. And it has the added benefit of having an OFF-SITE backup. So if your studio gets broken into or stolen, you’ll be able to download all of your files at a later date. Even if your studio burns to the ground or floods (God-forbid), you’ll at least still have all of your files.

      The downside is that they currently only offer 100 GB accounts. Then again, that’s plenty of room for most of us to back up projects we’re working on.

      Another option is to back your files up to DVD once you’re finished with the project, then store that DVD at another location, like your in-laws house or in a safety deposit box, etc.