In my latest newsletter I wrote about a friend of mine who lost a lot of work due to a hard drive failure. In light of the last several articles dealing with productivity, it’s important that we look at archival and backup. Our theme has been making the most of your time in your home studio. Backing up your files can be a huge time-saver.

If you haven’t already, be sure to read this article on why you should use a dedicated/external hard drive for recording. With that in mind, the next step is to acquire another drive for backup purposes. Ideally you’ll have at least three hard drives:

  • System Drive – This holds your operating system
  • Recording Drive – This is where you save your session and audio files. (All your audio streams to and from this drive.)
  • Backup Drive – This is where you…drumroll please…save backups of all your files.

Living in a Digital World

We’re living in the digital realm. While there is a huge list of benefits to being all-digital, there is one overarching downside — hard drive failure. Hard drives do crash, and it’s our responsibility to be prepared.

Your backup drive doesn’t need to be anything fancy. I use a Glyph firewire drive as my recording drive. For my backup drive I have a cheap little firewire drive. I actually bought the drive and firewire enclosure separately and assembled them myself. This drive is ridiculously noisy, so I keep it powered off during recording. However, it works just fine, and I back up all my files to it.

What’s in a backup?

There really isn’t much to backing up your files. The first time you do it, it’s simply a matter of dragging and dropping a folder from one drive to another. Simple, right?

But what if you’re working an a large session, or an album. The entire group of files could easily be 10-20 GB or more. Do you have to copy that entire folder every time you backup?

Only Copy What’s New

When I first began working with Pro Tools, at the end of every session I would copy these HUGE files to my backup drive. Then we’d have an overdub session. Let’s say we were doing vocals. Over the course of the session I would record roughly twenty new audio files. 

At the end of the session, I would copy the ENTIRE session folder over to the backup drive, replacing what was there. This ended up being a huge waste of time, since I was copying files I had already copied before. I was re-copying everything every time I would do a backup. 

The solution? One day a very smart engineer showed me that there was no reason for me to keep copying every single file. All you have to do is open up your session folder, then use the columns within that folder to sort the files by “Date Modified.” Open up the backup file in an adjacent window and do the same. (If you don’t have a “Date Modified” column, then check your view options, you can usually access these by right-clicking in the window.) It looks like this:


Now all you have to do is copy the newest files over to the backup folder. For example, if you had a vocal overdub session, you’ll most likely only be copying the updated session file and the new vocal audio files that you recorded during that session. That’s it!! The rest of the audio files are already on the backup drive. Copying them would be a waste of time. Simply copy all the files you created since the last backup, and you’re done!

*Note: With Pro Tools you don’t need to copy any Fade Files. Pro Tools will automatically generate those for you, so don’t worry about it.

Date Created vs. Date Modified

You may wonder if you can use the “Date Created” column instead of the “Date Modified” column. You certainly can. However, you most likely created your session file on the first day of recording. If you’re not careful, you’ll forget to copy over your newest session file, since the “Date Created” will be much older than the “Date Modified.” Copying over the audio without the session file to go with it will be of little help to you. The audio is important, but the session file runs the show, telling the audio where it belongs in the song.

The moral of this story? Back up, and back up often. You’ll be glad you did.


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5 Responses to “Productivity Part 4 – The Importance of Hard Drive Backup”

  1. Anonymous

    it s importance can be distuinguished by the reality thathard drive backup is the heart of the note books and the same condition is the explained here.
    regards at
    data recovery

  2. Stephanie

    I learned my lesson on this a LONG time ago, and I run pretty much the kind of configuration you describe, only I run a ‘continuous backup’ program on my Win7 system (Pro Tools & Sonar are my DAWs of choice) using Acronis backup… it backs up any changes every 5 minutes to my network drive. I think ‘Time Capsule’ does something similar for OSX?

  3. Cesar

    Joe Wut about if i did some changes in the mix, plug ins,(a change in reverb or comprssion) and that kind of stuff, where are them? Or…?

  4. Juan Miguel

    Well, as someone that lost his work recently to a hard drive failure, I have a message for anyone reading this excellent post. Imagine your computer catching fire right now, and all that’s inside being lost forever. Really, do it. We’ll wait… If that was really scary, you have something to put on your “to do” list for tomorrow (ie get a drive!).

    I thought it would never happen to me, and what do you know? The controller card on my HD failed and an idiot of a repair man in the disc recovery service I contacted made a huge mess instead of replacing the logic, virtually destroying the data inside.

    The bright side? I have an external drive for backups now!

    But it’s empty, because the CD I was working on is gone. On second thought, that wasn’t too bright…


    And congrats on the site, Joe!!!

    • Joe Gilder

      Sadly, it seems like most people won’t understand until it happens to them. I hope some folks will listen to your advice!!


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