File Management with Andrew The Audio Scientist

ACX’s resident audio scientist first joined us on the blog last month, when he discussed the theory and best practices for encoding audio. Today, he’s back to discuss the bedrock of any successful audiobook production: file management.

File Backup and Preservation

Andrew_250x320Anybody who has produced a lengthy audiobook will tell you that it can be rather arduous. After hours of prep work, days of recording your narration, and several additional days of editing, QC and mastering, the last thing you want to have happen is a disastrous and sudden loss of all your hard work.

As a former Audible Studios engineer, it didn’t take long for me to realize the importance of backing up my work. While it may be obvious to some producers that data backup is important, learning file storage and archiving methods appropriate for audiobooks is key to your project’s success. Today, I’d like to go over some best practices for data preservation and how you can help prevent any tragic file loss for your next ACX production.

5 Keys to Proper File Management

  1. SAVE, SAVE, SAVE. Make a habit of saving your work every five minutes. It takes almost no time at all and will ensure that, if data loss occurs, you will be able to recover most of your current work. The keyboard shortcut to save is almost always “Ctrl+S” in a Windows program, and “Command+S” in a Mac program (command is the “⌘” key on your Mac keyboard).
  2. Each chapter’s audio file should be backed up upon completion of each stage of production:
    1. Completed Recording Backup – The WAV or AIFF file containing the completed raw recording of your chapter.
    2. Completed Edits Backup – The WAV or AIFF file containing the completed edits to your recorded audio.
    3. Mastered Audio Backup – The WAV or AIFF audio file created after putting the Completed Edits Backup file through your mastering chain.
    4. Encoded Masters – The Mastered Audio Backup file that has been encoded to MP3 for ACX submission. This is your final, retail-ready audio.
  3. At the end of each day of production, you should make a backup of your DAW session, making sure the filename contains the day’s date.
  4. Each time you make a backup of your work, it is strongly recommended that you store the files in two storage locations. (We recommend doing automatic backups to an external hard drive as well as cloud storage. More on that in a bit!)
  5. Until you are ready to encode and submit your audio to ACX, back up all audio as WAV or AIFF files. No chapter file should be backed up as an MP3 unless it is 100% complete and ready for ACX submission. Making changes directly to an MP3 will lower the audio quality of your final production.

The above practices are important habits to form. Should you ever need to make changes to your files or fix an error found by our audio QA team, having consistent backups at each stage of your production will ensure that changes can be easily committed. For instance, if you master a chapter file only to discover that you want to re-record a particular line of dialog, doing so would be as easy as opening up your chapter’s Completed Edits Backup file and re-recording the line. Without this file, you will be forced to record and master your new dialog to a different file and paste it on top of your old Mastered Audio Backup file. Things can get messy!

Data Storage Options

File preservation is important, but it is undoubtedly a hassle. Luckily, file storage is more versatile, cheap, and reliable than ever before. We producers can take advantage of not just excellent portable hard drives, but specialized software and online backup services as well! We recommend the options below.

Portable External Hard Drive – The easiest and quickest file storage solution is to simply purchase an external hard drive. We love the Seagate Expansion drive series, which has a 1TB option priced at only $64.99. Cheap and easy to use, these drives should be on the shopping list of every beginning ACX producer. However, using it can be a bit clunky, as you must organize all of your files manually.

Backup Scheduling Software – Luckily, there exists software for both Windows and Macintosh platforms that aid file backup. We strongly recommend that Mac users utilize the built-in Time Machine feature on OSX to automatically back up and organize your files on your external hard drive. For Windows, I love the free FBackup by Softland. Both of these tools are easy to use and can be configured to automatically back up your files to external locations every night, or even every time the file is modified.

Cloud Storage – Amazon, ACX’s parent company, knows as well as anyone how important reliable storage solutions are for consumers. AWS, Amazon’s online web storage platform, is the leading “cloud storage” solution on the web. What is cloud storage exactly? In essence, it is a series of interconnected servers which safely handle and store massive amounts of data for customers of all stripes. Amazon provides this service to consumers for free as Amazon Cloud Drive. Upon signing up, all users receive 5GB of free storage! Using Amazon Cloud Drive in conjunction with the free Cloud Drive App, you can automatically back up your files to the Amazon Cloud Drive network without needing to lift a finger. Once you finish installing the Cloud Drive App, simply follow the on-screen instructions to set up your computer for automatic nightly backups.

In following these best-practices, you may save yourself and your rights holder from a potential disaster, and you will be putting your best foot forward by amply protecting both your hard work and your rights holder’s intellectual property.

What is your file management and backup process? Do you use any of the methods Andrew recommends above?

17 responses to “File Management with Andrew The Audio Scientist

  1. Thanks! This is helpful.

  2. Amen to backups. A good rule of thumb is 3 copies of the same backup with at least one being on offsite storage. Also a system restore/recovery disc set should be made periodically with a boot sector and a copy of the restore discs should be kept offsite too.

  3. I use Audacity. Their native format is .aup. I make a separate file for each chapter. I edit and save as I go. When the chapter is done, I save one more time. Then I master it, and make the mp3. Then I close without saving. Later, when I find fixes that need to be done, I go through the loop again.

  4. In our studio we organize all project files in a separate folder on a non-system drive. i.e. D:\Sonar_Projects\Project_Title. At the end of each day’s tracking/editing it’s a simple matter to drag and drop the project folder to an external drive which is stored separately from the DAW, preferably in a different building. It’s also a good idea to keep multiple backups of the project files by renaming the folder being backed up by using the project name and the date. i.e. \Project_Title_5_22_14. That way each day’s progress is saved separately in case you need go back to make changes. If you really want to be anal about it, get three external drives and alternate them on a daily basis. Backing up preserves irreplaceable information and it’s so much easier than explaining to a customer that you have to re-track the whole album or song. ~Bob

  5. Andrew, can you help me understand? I want to start utilizing the ideas in your post, but need clarification. The “RAW” file is where I get word perfect, listening at high speed. The “EDITED” file is where I remove unwanted breaths, set the pacing, re-record as needed, do general clean up, and do a final listen at regular speed. Are you saying that the only thing I do on the “MASTERED” file is apply my mastering effects, plus the beginning fade in and and the ending fade out? No other edits at all? What if I do a final listen through on the mastered file and discover minor edits to the timing, and I am into the track 20 minutes, say 50% of the way, and have made 5 minor changes. I then discover a big mistake that requires me to re-read a sentence. Should I toss my mastered file, go back to the edited file, re-record the sentence and then create a new mastered file? (thereby losing all the minor edits I did on the previous mastered file) I am missing something? I really like what you are saying here, but I am confused on what steps you are suggesting are done on each file.

    • James, I’m not sure if this is precisely what Andrew meant, but I use three (well, four) stages as well. The first one is recording the raw file. The second, as you said, includes all of the cuts, editing out clicks and breaths, making small adjustments to pitch or timing, adding room tone where needed, etc., but with no further effects applied. (I’ve been using Audition, which allows me to do this with my “rack” of master effects turned on to preview the final sound.) The third pass adds any mastering effects that the audio may need (either due to the original recording, in order to match other tracks, or just to sweeten the sound)— EQ, compression, limiting, filters, whatever. Doing this on a separate edit allows you to go back if you’ve screwed something up! I usually proof the recording at this stage, making sure there aren’t any major glitches that have crept through — multiple takes, inadvertently deleted text or so forth, but also checking that the mastered recording sounds good. And then the final stage is encoding the file to MP3 — something you can do directly from most DAWs, as long as you know what settings to use.

      The ideal (I gather) is to avoid too much local playing around as you prepare the mastered file. Most of the effects at this stage (again, I gather) should be applied globally. So yeah: you’d drop your rerecorded bits directly into the “edited” version and then apply all of the master effects again. (Most DAWs have some way of creating preset groups or racks of effects that you can adjust before applying, so you can save them from one session to another.)

      I think you could probably splice any rerecorded material in to the mastered edit — though you’d obviously need to keep the new raw recordings (properly recorded) and you’d have to spend time making sure that the edits sound the same as everything around them. I’m guessing that’s why the editing should be done in the, you know, edited version.

      Someone else may have a better answer than I do, but that’s how I’ve been doing it, and how I read the post.

    • If you find yourself doing edits, no matter how minor, during the mastering stage then you need to stop mastering. Go back to your Completed Edits Backup and finish the edits. You should never begin mastering until ALL edits are complete.

      For more info, watch Andrew’s post and video on this page. He covers your question a little over a minute into the video.

  6. I have a mac, so I use a Time Capsule at the other end of the house for short-term “oopsie” backups. I use, and like, BackBlaze for my cloud backups. It’s easy to configure, just set and forget.

    My DAW is Pro Tools, and here’s the backup scheme I learned from the engineer on my first audiobook. Most of this (except the playlist duplication) should work with any DAW:

    Turn on automatic backups in Pro Tools. Make a track called “Record” to capture the raw narration for a given session.

    At the end of the session, duplicate the playlist (cmd-ctrl-\) and name it “Edit”. Before quitting, do a “Save As…” into a backups folder, putting either the date or a unique number (I order from 01 – 09, etc.).

    Later, when it’s time to edit, do your cutting in that Edit playlist. Use markers to set up your chapters. Then duplicate the Edit playlist to one called “Post”. That’s where you can run any Audiosuite processing it may need.

    Then you’re ready to bounce out your chapters for delivery. Besides having backups, you can always roll back to the previous playlist if you goofed on the edit, etc. So you have backups within the session, backed up versions on your local disk, safety copies on your nearby Time Capsule very soon after each session, and cloud backups within a few hours. No fuss, no muss.

    As a former sysadmin I know there are two kinds of computer users: Those who have experienced data loss, and those who are about to.

  7. Great advice Andrew, thank you! I use a Seagate Slim Drive on my MacBook for periodic backups of my hard drive plus DropBox or Google-Drive for ongoing backup chapter by chapter. I like DB for sharing files with my sound engineer for Mastering and QC. Amazon Cloud-Drive is also excellent.

  8. Thanks, Andrew! All I’m missing is backup to the Cloud. Next book! A naming convention that works for me, particularly when doing it all on ACX: I figure out how many tracks and then use abbreviations for each stage: RT (raw tracks), RE (rough edit where I’ve chosen takes and checked for word match), FE (final edit which is final pacing and QC), and M (mastered). For example 01.RT_OpeningCredits. When I batch convert to mp3, I send the files to a separate “To Send” folder without any abbreviations. Now I see my backup copies should be labeled as such. Thanks for the info about Amazon Cloud-Drive. Wasn’t aware of that.

  9. Pingback: How to Succeed at Audiobook Production: Part 1 | Audiobook Creation Exchange Blog (ACX)

  10. I am about to start using a cloud storage! After I lost more than 20 000 pics on my hard drive I think it is a wise decision!

  11. I don’t want any service to “automatically” back up my files. I, at my leisure, would like to pick and choose what DAW (ACID) files to move from my PC to the cloud and when. Is this possible with ACX?

    • Hi Eddie,

      This post provides recommendations for backing up your files locally. As long as the audio you upload to ACX meets our audio submission requirements (http://bit.ly/1ITIuV9) and is approved by the rights holder, you may store your local files however you wish.

      Cheers,

      SJ

  12. Thanks for the answer!.. not.

  13. Hello,
    I have a return from ACX who tells me “”#15 Talking On The Phone.mp3 has Low RMS issue.”.. and i don’t understand why… I know that all the files must measure between -23dB and -18dB RMS. alle my files are at – 20 dB … help me !!!!

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