Kim Lajoie's blog

Are you backing up? This is how I do it.

by Kim Lajoie on February 27, 2013


Your work.

It’d be a terrible shame to lose it.You’ve heard it all before – hardware fails, accidents happen. The question is: what are you doing to protect yourself? How much will you lose if you accidentally rm -rf *, DELTREE *.* or rd /s /q in the wrong place?

For me, it’s a day of work for minor disasters (including hardware failure and accidents).

Fortunately, I haven’t had to. But I can tolerate losing up to a day of work. Depending on my workload and schedule, I can recover (i.e. do the work again) from that kind of loss within a week. That’s acceptable to me.

For major disasters (thieves, fires or meteorites), it’s a month.

I have two external hard drives that I use to back up my music computer. At any one time, one drive is at the studio and the other is off-site (in a different suburb). I switch them every month. For those kinds of disasters, losing up to a month of work – and having to take a month to recover – is pretty acceptable.

As part of my end-of-day ritual, I simply make sure I copy to the backup drive the project folders for any projects that I’d worked on that day. I also copy my vstplugins folder or Cubase preferences if I’ve changed anything in there. I keep it pretty simple; that way I don’t need any special software to read or restore from the drive. Just copy the files and keep working. I don’t bother backing up my system files or applications because I keep that part of my system pretty standard. I can set up a new computer for my studio and have it operational in a day or two. It’d take a pretty severe hardware failure to need a whole new computer though.

I don’t use any online backup services because the project sizes can be pretty huge and the risks is extremely low. Melbourne’s a pretty stable place.

This is a process that I’ve been using for years and I’ve developed it in accordance with my own risk tolerance. But I’m curious:

  • How are you backing up your work?
  • What kinds of disasters can you survive?
  • Are you satisfied with your current approach?

Online backup is something that’s becoming more popular these days. Is anyone here using it? While my approach works for me, I’m always interested to know what other people are doing too.


15 thoughts on “Are you backing up? This is how I do it.

  1. Maikel Paverd says:

    had this problem exactly one week ago. Lost all my projects because my external HDD crashed.. ( i switch between Win / Mac so all projects are on this mobile disk)

    The only option was to completely format the drive and start over…

    But… And for me It’s the BEST thing out there at the moment: (gobbler dot com) … -> if you have this little program on your computer it automatically saves ALL changes made to your musicprojects, and backs up faster than lets say Dropbox/Google Drive…

    really worth trying it out, and no I’m not getting paid for this plug:)

    Thanks for all the knowledge in your blog! keep em comin

  2. Kim Lajoie says:

    I’ve heard about Gobbler. Looks pretty neat. The problem (as with all online backup systems) is that a restore means downloading gigabytes of data – must slower than even a basic USB hard drive, and reliant on a good internet connection.


  3. Maikel Paverd says:

    I was really skeptic about Gobbler too. And since Im a big fan of collect all and save” in ableton, which means my project are always 600mb+.. The uploads to gobbler were even faster than copying to a usbdrive, and it runs in the background. it waits till you shut down your DAW or stop fiddling knobs, then it saves all the progress..
    You can even go back in between different timed sessions, because all those small adjustments are saved.
    Only restriction is that its 5GB maximum for a free tryout.. But really worth a try:)

  4. hemp-t says:

    I try to cover all my bases in two moves. I have on-site hard drive backup and online backup via Backblaze. They send you either a USB stick or a drive if you require it, or for small restorations you can download. Best sleeping aid short of a pillowtop matress.

  5. Joachim says:

    As a mac-user, this is actually too easy. I use the mac built-in ‘Time Machine’, and use it on an external hdd. It backups automatically, and i can also go back in time (hence the namd) if i lost something on the way. The thing is it notices when i change something, and therefore its always updated. It actually backups my whole computer, so even if my laptop would die, i can buy a new one and just in a few hours get it exactly as the previous one was. One good thing is also thst i can choose folders to not backup, i.e. movie folders as those take too much space on tjw backup-drive. Its really good use if you are a mac user.

  6. Kim Lajoie says:

    Time Machine is pretty great. I use it on my Mac.

    Windows has a built-in backup tool too, but it saves files in a proprietary format, which means I’d need Microsoft’s tool to recover the files. Time Machine backups can be interrogated and recovered from without any special software.


  7. Alex says:

    HDD is convenient, but its NOT suitable for backup nor archival purposes.

    Neither internet (in that case would be better to have own personal server with RAID 5 system).

  8. Alex says:

    for backup purposes ideally it should be this type of medium
    on which you can set hardware “readonly” flag (so compoter cant change the data contents whatever it might try). Also its better to have medium which is galvanically isolated (harddrives are NOT, optical medium is).
    In other way around — what will happen when connecting to faulty machine a backup copy which has no write-protection flag in hardware level?

    Ethernet can be another alternativ here (but then you still have to worry about backing up server contents… 😉 ).

    My own solution is still this one:
    from a DAW the backup copys are mirrored in server (which consists of HDDs), and to compact flash at the same time.
    And couple hours later in server the content is backed to BlueRay or DVD rewritables.

    You dont have to back up all 500GB data, its totally enough to copy only the changes in the system.

    For system backup works well norton ghost (or its alike clones). And if you have just a copy of linux server then just connect harddrive to it and copy the system partitions. Well, yes one harddisk is huge, but hey you dont have to keep all on one partition.

    Its very clever to have harddisk divided to 2 partitions (atleast) — SYSTEM and user data. I have divided to 4 partitions: SYSTEM, PROGRAMS, samples-syntsysex, SEQUENCERFILES

    Sequencerfiles you copy anyway every night. Samples-sysex files change not so often. SYSTEM is the area which you dont have control over and might crash every night if Mac or M$ wants it and is very keen to go out of control.
    On PROGRAMS partitions are just one-directory installed programs.

    this way it allows to have better control over the system and usually in this case its only 2 partitions you need to restore: SYSTEM and PROGRAMS.

    THe backup of SYSTEM and PROGRAMS is recommended to make just on that day when everything works allright and BEFORE installing new programs. half year later if You have installed, changed the system and everythingworks fine, make new backup. Best is to write them to DVD-R and on 2 copys. ALso still keep also 3 older backup copys (what happens if you see that something dont work any longer, but worked a half year ago?).
    This way if system or hardware crash happens even on your system, you are back on music in couple minutes or hours, instead of whole week.

    Furthermore — do you have spare harddiscs, video cards, memory modules, CPUs, spare ethernet cards? Very handy. if some trouble occurs, just swap and continue. Well, in this case laptop is far from being reliable since its integration of components.

  9. Alex says:

    so this way it can survive — ethernet, internet service provider failure, hardware failure.
    Also if manufacturer decide to discontinue some products.

    After hardware failure its just question in minutes of continuing.
    Dont forget power supplys or soundcards if its saturday and shops are all closed… very handy to have these. Somewhere I have still some old screens too.

    In the software failure the whole restore is in 5 minutes and
    harddisc crash it is restored in half hour of work.

    All these situations are on minitower type computer.

  10. Rich says:

    ok, best backup?

    the one you actually do!l

  11. Kim Lajoie says:

    Hey Alex, it sounds like you’ve spent a lot of time and effort developing a backup system that is extremely robust and resilient. Obviously there are a wide variety of different risks to consider.

    You didn’t mention if you keep any backups offsite. It’s interesting that you’re extremely well-prepared for hardware failure, but you might not be well-prepared for significant physical events (such as theft, flood, fire, meteor, etc).

    Or am I missing something?


  12. Paul D says:

    Unless I’ve missed it no ones mentioned Carbon Copy Cloner for Mac. It’s a step forward from Time Machine as it will create a bootable copy of not just your project files, but your whole system (OS and data). If disaster strikes, just plug your backup drive into another Mac and boot from it, and everything is just as it was on your original machine.

    I have a nightly backup run via Carbon Copy Cloner onto a USB drive which I swap weekly with a second backup drive.

    When swapped out, I keep the second backup drive in a fireproof safe in another building separate from my house.

    Fast, cheap, reliable and safe.

  13. Kim Lajoie says:

    I’m pretty sure Time Machine backs up OS and system data. TM can be used to restore a fresh new Mac – including preferences, apps, configuration, etc. It’s not bootable like Carbon Copy though.

    I’m actually transitioning to a new backup system because I’ve now got three Macs in the studio and shuffling six different external drives is getting a bit silly.


  14. sylvio says:

    To bad TM only does an internal backup.. I have everything external Its a job on its own I lost several years of productions still sick to the stomach to not be able to go back to any of them ..Atm I have a similar system you have now

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