Q It Up: Are you prepared for a studio disaster?

Q It Up Logo 4Q It Up: Are you prepared for a studio disaster? How do you back up your work? USB external hard drive? Do you use a "cloud service", and do you encrypt? How often do you back up? What do you back up, just audio files, or documents and system files, too? What about the hardware side of the studio? Do you maintain spare studio parts/equipment or even a spare computer? Can you troubleshoot and service your own hardware? Do you use a UPS for power conditioning, particularly in parts of the country prone to heavy lightning or "dirty" mains electric?

Ralph Mitchell, iHeartMedia, Mobile, AL: I'm very fortunate that all of my files at the radio station are backed up nightly to a shared drive. Then for my own peace of mind (and because I'm a bit of a control freak, I suppose), I also back up my audio files and session files to my own USB drive. This way, not only do I feel relatively secure that should the shared drive at the station crash, I'll still be able to keep working. I also like knowing that if necessary, I can work from home. But even more important to me and my family, all of my sessions for freelance work produced at the station are safe in my backpack. If I ever got a pink slip, I know that my service to my own clients would continue seamlessly.

As for UPS... we have a very large unit that is wired to every computer in programming and production, so in the rare event of a power glitch, we can keep working. Additionally, the building has a massive generator that automatically kicks in when there's a power failure. So the UPS would never have to power the systems for very long at all if we got cut off from the grid. My home studio computer is a laptop, so the internal battery is my power backup. When severe weather threatens, as it often does on the Gulf coast, I unplug the power cord and keep going (or shut down and take shelter should the need arise).

John Pellegrini: The smartest investment I ever made was in an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) battery backup. I bought the first one while I was in Chicago, around 1999, during the days of the 'rolling brownouts' that ComED was imposing on neighborhoods. I had been in the middle of a major project involving multiple commercials and multiple tracks when the power went out and I lost almost everything in that project. Bought the UPS the next day. Two weeks later another brownout hit and I had over an hour of time to save everything before having to power down. It paid for itself in that one project. I've never been without one since. Don't buy cheap ones, invest in something that can run your entire studio setup for at least an hour or more. Worth every penny.

Dave Lee, Eagle Communications: Are you prepared for a studio disaster? Absolutely. I've seen ‘em happen, and it's not fun to re-create tons of work! One of our competitors in another market had their building destroyed by fire. That was the point I started to take it seriously. If you're not backing up ALL OF YOUR DATA, you're asking for trouble. Everything from spots to songs, voice tracks to Adobe Audition sessions. Back it up!

How do you back up your work? We have battery backups on every critical machine in the building and we do redundant data backups. First, we have an automated backup of our server that backs up all of our audio (spots, music, voice tracks) and our traffic and automation databases to an External HD 4 times per day. We also have duplicate backups of the server backup on USB drives that leave the building every night at 5. We could lose the entire building and be back on the air in a couple of hours from a remote location.

What about the hardware side of the studio? Do you maintain spare studio parts/equipment or even a spare computer? Can you troubleshoot and service your own hardware? Do you use a UPS for power conditioning, particularly in parts of the country prone to heavy lightning or "dirty" mains electric? The answer in short is, Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

Mitch Todd, Sirius/XM, New York, NY: We have a ridiculously large internal company storage network that gives us total redundancy. Many producers also have their own personal back-ups too (usually their own USB drives).

We archive all Pro-Tools sessions with bounce folders containing all the bounces. This is a mandatory, monthly exercise. In fact, we simply name the Pro-Tools folder with the specific channel prefix code, Producers then dump there sessions to a main archive folder and they will be automatically filed by channel, by month & by year. Naturally, we’re all very careful to assure all associated audio files are in their specified folder and clean out superfluous audio before archiving each individual session.

We’re continually trying to automate the tedious but critical functions like accessing older sessions, and keep the workload system up to date. Our building’s on a massive UPS and diesel generator, so no issue there (worked great in the last NYC blackout)! And we have at least one spare of everything!

Walter Wawro, WFAA-TV, Dallas, TX: Wow, talk about timely. I just finished a major upgrade of my Pro Tools HD set up. I've been on Pro Tools (PT) 10 HD for some time, before that PT 7 HD. With the advent of PT 12 and Avid dropping support for some of its legacy hardware, especially the Pro Control work surface, it was a good time to make the switch. So the new system runs PT 12 HD Native with the newer Omni interface. For a work surface I went with the new more compact S3 and the transport control.

The heart of any PT system is the iLok. You either tolerate Pace Technology and their ubiquitous little dongle or you don't. I brought the new system online the week of July 7 and all was fine until July 29 when Pace announced an "upgrade" to the iLok software and requested that it be downloaded. I did. And then the iLok became pretty much unusable. I do not know if it was the Pace "upgrade" or it was time for my iLok to fail, but the timing was more than coincidental. After almost a week of back and forth with the iLok people, consulting the Avid PT forum etc. I discovered that more than a few people were having the same issues I was. Not a lot of users, just a handful, and it became annoying to say the least.

I'm sorry, but Pace/iLok has a mixed customer service reputation. And after email back and forth with their customer support department (where they seemed to suggest the it can't be their issue), I decided to just return the iLok to them as broken and have them send me a new iLok and have my licenses moved. As I write this, I'm waiting for the return of my new iLok, which should be here in a day or two or three.

But, the good news is that I have an iLok'ed PT system at home, and I found that my personal iLok is somewhat OS agnostic (I'm Mac at work, Windows at home). So my work system will respond to the foreign iLok to an extent, enough for me to be reasonably productive, and for that I'm thankful.

I've also bought another replacement iLok and authorized their "Zero Down Time" service in case this ever happens again. Lessoned learned? Yes. Love for iLok? Let's just say there are necessary evils in our lives. iLok is one of them.

Thomas Auge: Personally, I use Crashplan. The software itself is free, comes with good encryption (optional), and allows you to back up your data between different PCs or servers anywhere on the internet. For a modest fee you can subscribe to use their central backup location, and you can back up to multiple places, just in case.

You select the folders you'd like to back up, and the software takes care of the rest automatically by monitoring changes to the selected files. I include my user/home directory and a second hard drive where I keep bigger files.

Backups are incremental, which keeps bandwidth usage to the required minimum. It also retains different versions of files that changed, and you can configure for how long to keep how many versions. Backup times and bandwidth allowance can be limited, so it does not degrade your internet connection. The interface is a bit clumsy for my taste, but considering you just need to use it once in a blue moon, that's bearable.

Something to keep in mind: Tech fails, even backups, and at six bucks per months, it's probably not Fort Knox. It's all about chance. Losing your data shouldn't be a daily occurrence; Crashplan losing data should be very rare (but has happened and will happen again). Your own drive and Crashplan failing at the same time is highly unlikely to happen to you. But, and that's why I think it's such a great thing, if you have more than one machine, your data will be near 100% safe with a mix of your own backups and theirs.

Ross Huguet, Voice Actor, www.rosshuguet.com: As far as produced work goes, all sessions are immediately saved to the cloud. I use Dropbox. I've learned the hard way not to trust drives or computers for backing up production. This also enables easy access to files for team members and clients. This also serves as a backup in the event my computer breaks down, allowing easy file retrieval with a another computer.

Al Peterson, Radio America, Arlington VA: Anything and everything we produce does not get saved to the local production machine, but to a server down the hall with massive storage capacity and redundancy. If one drive poops the bed, there are always two others mirroring it. A separate computer is used as a logging machine, air-checking everything that goes out over all our channels 24/7, and it too is similarly backed up.

 No matter what you've been told, servers need not be a costly proposition with crazy-expensive hardware and cryptic mystical operating systems. Ours were built in-house using off-the-shelf components and powered by free Linux-based server software. Security is high, stable operation is assured, and maintenance is done by us, right down to vacuuming the dust filters every week. For that matter, having a logging computer that records and airchecks everything can be equally free. Have your chief engineer pull a retired PC out of the junk room and load it with a program called ROTTER (http://www.aelius.com/njh/rotter/). Given enough disk drive capacity, you can save and archive shows for months.

We are tied to the backup generator in the office building we occupy -- there are some heavy hitters in our building, including a major government contractor and construction firm, and both require emergency juice. We share the same circuit they do, which switches nearly immediately when there is trouble. When you are responsible for national programming carried by thousands of affiliates, you don't want to go hunting for a working outlet when things go dark. However, should things completely go off the rails, we keep a backup automation and storage system offsite at a local radio group's facility. We can switch over to their rack to play out pre-recorded programming until we get a handle on things here.

Gord L Williams: Are you prepared for a studio disaster? Reasonably prepared. Floods need not apply, and earth shakes are too noisy anyway. Other than that I am probably too prepared.

How do you back up your work? USB external hard drive? Do you use a "cloud service", and do you encrypt? Yes, yes, yes and no. I feel that if they can find the work, they can have a listen. So encryption is a bit heavy handed. Commercial work with proprietary connotations to it are sent to an individual cloud for that client and there depending on the client I may encrypt it. If a client wants an encrypted copy, they probably do not want 'stray' copies. So I delete the masters after payment, unless I have permission to put it on a demo. But really, how many demos do you hear with the clients name bleeped out?

How often do you back up? Paying work, every time. Demo stuff, only when I feel I want to keep a copy for inclusion into something else.

What do you back up, just audio files, or documents and system files, too? With my DAW I back up the master copy of it on a thumb drive, a USB drive, and cloud as well. This goes also for licenses and plugins. The DAW takes seconds to install and with all the plugins probably a half hour. Nothing to worry about, as long as I have it. System files do not need to be backed up, in fact because I use Linux, I simply keep a 'recipe' of modifications to the system and do a fresh install, each time. It also takes less time. Too much practice maybe. I find if you keep system files that may turn out to be a mess, as they may have caused the system to slow down in the first place. Best to be sure you’re not having problems with them.

What about the hardware side of the studio? Do you maintain spare studio parts/equipment or even a spare computer? I have a second sound card, and extra set of headphones and another computer. But if the flood comes, probably both will be under the water, same for other stuff. Best to keep a backup like that off site. If you’re live to air, redundancy is a must. But if you record maybe once a week or even daily, recovery can be had. My more recent focus has been to be ready to run somewhere else. USB and thumb drives about cover it. Grab the extra sound card and gone.

Can you troubleshoot and service your own hardware? Most hardware is modular, and pretty cheap if you by the right stuff. Haven't touched a soldering gun for a while.

Do you use a UPS for power conditioning, particularly in parts of the country prone to heavy lightning or "dirty" mains electric? Yes, power conditioning is a must there are several devices leading up to the computers that help keep that stuff as much in line as possible.

Ashley Bard, www.ashleybard.co.uk: Our company is very hot on this. If for any reason there were a major attack, we have premises in another city ready and awaiting our arrival, full of on air studios & production studios. However, on a more local production loss situation, I'm backed up with Apple's popular Time Machine. It has saved me more than once already.

Joshua Mackey, www.MackeyVoiceTalent.com: There's just too many tools out there to have a studio disaster derail operations. Maybe derail "operations as usual", but not operations. I do my work on my PC's (Windows 8.1, Pentium i5, 8GB RAM) internal 1TB D Drive (separate from my 256GB SSD C Drive). Every couple of days, I move all user data (audio, sessions, websites, graphics, pics, docs, everything) to my primary external USB hard drive (2TB Seagate). Every week or two, I copy my primary external hard drive to my backup external USB hard drive (2TB Seagate). I also have a disk-image of my system (created after all software is installed and customized) saved on both of my external drives. I keep very little important/user data on my computer's internal hard drives.

I don't currently use a cloud service, but I'm constantly looking into them. When lossless compression becomes a little cheaper and more reliable, I will likely invest. I do not currently operate a UPS, though I have in the past and will again in the future. I do, however, invest in the higher-end power strips that have really worked wonders for me – though they can get expensive. I do live in a lightning-prone area and have had the power go out during an editing session. I haven't lost data yet. If, for some reason, my studio computer falls apart and dies, I have a laptop (Windows 7, Pentium i5, 8GB RAM) that can be put into service in moments.

Regarding servicing, I haven't really had to deal with that much. I can replace fans, power supplies, hard drives, memory and sound/graphic cards. Though I typically only get into my computer to upgrade something (like moving the internal hard drive over to a storage-only drive and installing an SSD for the OS). For me, redundancy and mobility reign supreme.

Adam Venton, UKRD, Bristol, United Kingdom: We’re a bit old school in our department at the mo – we back up all mixouts and session folders to an external hard drive, and a 2nd backup on a shared NAS drive. Scripts and things aren’t really saved, just audio mainly. We are exploring the option of a cloud based service, as the NAS/external option can be a little slow… so I will read other producers’ responses with interest!

Geron Scates, 91.1FM KGWB: Even though we are a low power FM college station, our local community still listens for the music and the variety of programming you don't get on a traditional music FM commercial station. Therefore, staying on air is important!

We have at least two old computers cleaned and formatted that can be put into service if our main broadcast studio computer goes out. Other than those, we don't have a lot of spare parts lying around. I make backups on the machine that has our log and data creation software, including backing up on an external hard drive.

We use wav files for our music, and we have those on both the broadcast computer and a production computer in another studio. We also have some music wav files on an external hard drive, music CDs from our music service, and we have downloading options from our music service as well.

If we had a major crash and burn with computers, we can get back up and on air in a timely manner. If we would experience a deep-fried board or transmitter disaster, we would be down much longer.

Andrew Frame,  BAFSoundWorks, Lehigh Acres, FL: Sometimes it's not so much the equipment, but it's the lost time getting it all back in place. A Windows reinstall takes all day, Linux and Mac can be an hour or so. Then there are the applications!

There's a mantra among preppers: "Two is one and one is none". The point is redundancy is your friend. Things fail without warning. So we run two desktops for redundancy. One Windows-based for audio editing, the other Debian GNU/Linux is for everything else.

The editor is connected to an external USB drive and backed up every day, or after any particularly data intensive operation. The backups are file & directory copies, instead of "backup-restore" type files, so if the editor crashes, I can plug the external into another machine, install my audio software, and be back in a few minutes. I'm planning to add another USB drive to have a redundant copy.

The office desktop doesn't carry much data, so it backs up to a flash drive. Just like the editor, if the office machine were to crash, I can plug the flash drive into another machine and be up running in minutes.

We back up all data - copy, audio, session files, music libraries - everything. Backups go back as long as we have been in business. E-mail is backed up, too. We started doing that about two years ago. Also, dry voicework for our barter network going back one year.

Nothing is stored off site. We don't use cloud storage, nor free e-mail like Google or Yahoo. By not using cloud storage, we can be back in operation in minutes, instead of waiting for data to download, and we never have to worry about an external entity going through our files.

(The first thing I'm asked is "what about a fire?" Although the number one emergency/disaster issue in Florida is fire (not hurricanes), statistically, the chances of my office actually being in a fire are negligible. And if there was a fire, I have a lot more important issues to deal with than lost edit sessions and invoices. So, local storage works fine for us.)

We have two older laptops - one Vista and one Mac - that can be pressed into service if either of the desktops fail. Desktops can be repaired in house, as can be most all wiring, hardware replacements, networking issues, electronics troubleshooting, etc.

Computers go through rotations every year or two where the drives are backed up, wiped, and the OS is reloaded. Software is reinstalled and everything is configured. No more than one machine at a time is down for overhaul.

We maintain UPS/battery backups on all the machines, mostly to give the two or three minutes to do a safe shutdown. We have a lot of lightning and power issues during the summer, so they kick in several times a day, it seems.

It's taken a little time to get everything in place, but it's worked when needed the few times something has failed.

Zach Gilltrap, Radio Pharm LLC: Thanks Radio and Production for this orifice puckering question. I would love to tell you that Radio Pharm is both ready and has a trash can full of back up cables, a PC loaded with editing software, water, a blanket made of foil, racks of shot gun mics and toiletries, but this would not be true. The closest we have to a backup is our audio booth and set up, I lovingly refer to as “Pharm Labs”. That said, I do, ninety three percent of the time back up sessions on a portable hard drive and also have a redundant back up book. Come to think of it, I should probably do my back up of my back up this weekend.

I am however very fortunate to have two set ups. Pharm Labs housed inside Studio Hippo here in Denver is limited but a second studio none the less. Pharm Labs is linear and primarily used for voice actors and clients that want to voice their own spots. We are planning on dropping in more equipment after this article lands us hundreds of thousands of dollars. I also have a full studio in my home, which I can do anything from voice-over to custom jingles and my new love and creative dork, sound design. In both studios we have battery backup, all hard effects and music are on externals, music licensing lives online, and like most of us prod peoples, I have a few choice tools I can swap out in the event of meltdown (Symetrix 528e, Mics, cables & a USB mixer). Of course, no prod guy is a prod guy if he doesn’t have a list of brilliant life-saving, orifice un-puckering genius engineer types. Unless the prod guy is an engineer of course [coughs].

 Thanks for making me think though; sounds like I need to have a few words with the CFO, in the very least drop some coin on a spare preloaded plug and play computer.

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