Your Masters Matter

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Masters

As usually happens, it all started with a crazy idea. For a while now I had been considering changing all of my copies of the tracks I had written to AIF files, instead of wav files like I had been using for…. well, ever.  The main driver was that I wanted a better way to make sure all the graphics I had created for my releases stayed with the audio files. And as the DJs among you might already know, AIF files support not only embedding artwork, but also meta-data.

And speaking of DJs, I wanted to convert all of my Tarekith DJ and live sets as well. Not just for the artwork aspect, but also because I could then embed the tracklists in the files as well. Just makes it easier to ensure all the relevant info is there when I need it.

And just for fun, I figured I would also do the same for all the MP3 versions of my songs, except I would create 320kbps AACs as the compressed format. I’ve already been releasing all my tracks online as AAC’s over the past year, and so far it hasn’t been an issue for anyone. Why AAC? Read my blog post on the subject here: http://tarekith.com/mastered-for-itunes/

Of course, nothing is ever easy is it?

The plan had been to first create all the different formats I needed from the original wav files, and then bring everything into iTunes to do all the tagging and artwork embedding. But as I started collecting all the current files I had, I realized that somehow things had gotten sloppy over the last 20 years. Sometimes I might have a wav version of a song but no MP3 version (not a problem), other times I might only have an MP3 version of one of my DJ sets, but I didn’t have a wav version saved on my hard drive (problem).

I’m normally really organized when it comes to my own music, but over the last 20 years I’ve written over 130 songs, as well as dozens of live and DJ sets. Somehow a few tracks didn’t get copied to the right folders I guess. I wasn’t too stressed about it though, because I ALWAYS make physical back ups when I finish a track as well, typically to CDR or DVDr.

As I started going through my stacks of CDR backups however, I began to realize that some of the really old ones had hit that point where they were no longer readable. Or maybe I had saved the DAW project files for a song, but no longer owned that DAW (Cubase, Reason, etc). Either way, quite a few of the back ups were either unreadable, or I couldn’t access the data easily which really defeats the purpose.

That’s when the fun started. 🙂

I had to slowly go through every one of my archives and check to see it was readable, then burn a new copy if it was more than 5 years old. In some cases I had to enlist the help of friends with different software to help me get access to DAW projects I couldn’t open on my own. In the end, I was able to create the AIFs and AACs I needed for all of my songs and sets, with only one exception. Luckily that was a crap song I did last minute for a contest years ago, so it wasn’t a huge loss.

Still, a scary reminder that physical media isn’t permanent, and that we need to check our archives every so often to avoid scares like this! I always knew it was going to happen eventually, this is just the first time I had experienced it with some of my own archives. Crisis narrowly averted! 🙂

Once all the new files were created, the next step was to track down all of my artwork for the releases. Pretty easy for the newer stuff, since those were all on my website with the artwork already. But for some of my older tracks, I had to either revisit the CDR back ups, or spend a lot of time hunting around online for the right images. My previous artist name was “rEalm”, so it’s not as simple as you’d think to find some of this stuff via Google!

The last step was to get all the info I wanted to embed in the files. Things like details I might have posted on forums about how I wrote a track, or maybe copying the descriptions from my blog or tracks I had for sale on Beatport and Addictech. Just any information about the song that I, or maybe other people, might find interesting in the future. Maybe.

Last but definitely not least, I had to bring it all into iTunes and get it all organized. I thought a lot on naming conventions, standardized formatting for the info, tags I wanted to use, etc. Just to make sure everything had a consistency to it and would make sense to anyone other than me who happened to look at the info.

The final step was then to burn all of the new master AIF to disc once again as a redundant back up, along with copying them to a couple USB sticks. I still have to re-grid everything in Traktor, but right now I’m burnt out on this project since it took so much longer than I expected. Someday! 🙂

Now, I can see some of you shaking your head at all this. It’s a lot of work, and since I had wav versions of just about everything anyway, why bother? Well, for me this is my legacy. This is showing what 20+ years of hard work did, it’s what I’ll leave behind when I depart this world. More than that though, it reminded me that just because we religiously save and make back ups, it doesn’t mean they will last forever.

Media decays, formats change, tools come and go from our arsenal, things get lost or misplaced, you name it. In short over a lifetime of making music you’re going to generate a lot of it! Take the time now and then to go through some of your old back ups and make sure you can still read them. At the very least, get in the habit of saving a high resolution copy of your masters and keeping them all in one place.

You never know when it might save your ass, and at the very least it’s a good habit to make sure you really have the back ups you think you have!

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