Time was the end result of a composer’s efforts was a score and parts on paper.  And paper is surprisingly durable – they are still finding Bach manuscripts in Germany after 250+ years.  But 21st century composers use a variety of digital media to do their work: notation software, MP3 or .wav files, executable application files and maybe some spreadsheet and word processing files for the business side.

Apart from the variety of files to be stored there is the issue of media durability. We have all probably experienced hard drive failure. Turns out CDs and DVDs are not forever and may degrade after 20 years. Files kept in the cloud may be at risk if the server has some sort of catastrophic failure.  And another issue is platform longevity – some of the early music composed by computer 30 years ago can exist only as recordings; the hardware needed to realize it is obsolete and no longer available.  Software may be abandoned by the company that created it or your version may not be compatible with later operating systems.

So what is the best thing to do?  I know I don’t address all of these issues but I do keep my files in three places: on my PC hard drive, on an offline storage drive (updated from my hard drive twice per year) and in the cloud.  My notation software is on a CD so I can reload if my PC fails, and other software that I use is freeware and I keep back-up copies of the executables.

So what is the best practice?  What are some of the solutions for the long-term issues?  What do you do and what have you found that works best?

2 Responses to “What is the Best Practice for Archiving of Music Realized Electronically?”
  1. Kala Pierson says:

    Sounds like you already know the answer: multiple copies of anything you care about.

    I’d definitely suggest updating your local backup drive more often than twice a year. Have at least 3 current copies of anything you care about (right now you only have 2, unless you’ve got more than 1 copy in cloud storage).

    Good question for everybody to ask: “If my main computer disappeared today, what would be the MOST RECENT existing copy of the files I’m working on?” Preventing lost work (and work hours) in the future is worth some thinking now.

  2. I am getting more optimistic about this question.

    A few years ago I was despairing, particularly about software that would no longer run. But now I think we’re in a transitional period. Emulators are appearing in languages that can be updated. Old hardware is decreasingly significant with the extensive level of emulation becoming available. Music programs that I wrote 30-plus years ago are running again under emulation, and are spread around among many people who have been interested in them. With smarter computer technology, whole classes of computers (including short-lived ones of the 1980s) will be emulated and that emulation moved upward through developing technologies. That means the chances of a composer’s work in electronic form will survive somewhere to be discovered like old Bach.

    Yes, a lot of work will be lost while we are waiting, especially if the source materials themselves have become corrupt. And a lot will be lost by those who are not interested in archiving, or who are careless — a fact that continues to amaze me. I hear a lot of “I’m more interested in my next composition, not my last one.”

    But artwork is always lost — even physical objects that surprise us. Artists who worked in plastics 50 years ago are seeing their work yellow, fracture and powder. Museums are engaging in massive restoration campaigns for recent artwork that match their efforts to recover Renaissance murals.

    Here are 10-year-old and 5-year-old articles I wrote that cover the situation then. It’s amazing how much progress has been made in so little time: