Jeff Balding: Thoughts on archiving

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This blog is part of Iron Mountain Media & Archive Services’ “Protecting Legacies” series, featuring guest authors’ perspectives on archiving in pro audio. Jeff Balding, Producer, Engineer and Audio Production Advocate, joins us as guest author for this blog.

Jeff Balding
Jeff Balding
GRAMMY-nominated Producer & Engineer
February 7, 20227 mins
Jeff Balding: Thoughts on Archiving
Engineer and audio production advocate Jeff Balding has worked with icons across genres and decades, including Eagles, Hardy, Thomas Rhett, Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, Dan+Shay, Taylor Swift, Shania Twain and Megadeth, as well as scores of colleagues behind the scenes. His work has garnered him six GRAMMY® nominations personally, and he has contributed to many other GRAMMY-winning records over his career. 

He currently serves as Chair for the Delivery Recommendations document committee of the Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing, and he has previously served as P&E Wing local chapter president for Nashville and a National Chapter trustee. He also currently serves on the P&E Wing Steering Committee. 
Jeff Balding
As a working engineer and producer, archiving is on my mind on a daily basis. For me, it’s a daily ritual. In the morning before a session begins, I take stock of where everything is and decide what needs to be backed up elsewhere. After a session wraps, I make backups. If I take a break for lunch or coffee in the afternoon, I make sure things are properly saved. I have a system that I follow, and I stick to it. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. 
In broad terms, I recommend everybody read the document “Delivery Recommendations for Recorded Music Projects,” which details best practices for archiving, along with other minutiae of the production process and its aftermath. This document was created on behalf of the Recording Academy P&E Wing, by a committee of professionals deeply engaged in this topic, to serve as a resource to the entire industry.
In my mind, I separate archiving into long-term and short-term (or immediate) categories. The importance of long-term archiving seems self-evident to me: to preserve all the great music that is generated by the talented artists, producers and engineers who work so hard on it. It is important to preserve what our culture puts out music-wise, and it’s as simple as that to me.
Short-term or immediate archiving is important in a more direct way. It’s what covers my back as a music professional. If something were to happen overnight to a hard drive, or some digital glitch or mistake presented itself, I know that I don’t have to worry about it, because everything is backed up according to a time-tested system. But in that case, if I don’t have it archived, it’s a serious setback for me and for the client. Again, it’s a daily ritual for me. If I’m just working on a mix, I’ll sometimes drag the session file to the desktop, just to have an extra copy. At the end of every day, I archive everything over to a RAID.
It has two copies on the RAID and then the RAID’s connected to the cloud service and everything uploads the cloud service every night. Basically I have a master and a double, a duplicate copy on a backup drive server locally. Then I have the cloud at a separate location. That makes me feel pretty secure about things.
Archiving has always been important to me, but I scaled up my system as my career went on. In the early years, I can think of an example where I was backing up a master to a safety at the end of the day, and there was a small power brown-out, which not only caused a glitch in the transfer but destroyed the master itself. Luckily it didn’t end up being that major of a setback, but it was scary enough for me to learn my lesson. Ever since then, it’s always three copies in two places. 
This “three-two” theory is a system where you have the data on three different drives for three different formats, three different media and two different places. These are the best practices outlined by the Recommendations document. It might seem like overkill for some people, but it is the most fool-proof, sure-fire way to preserve the work, both in the short term and the long term.
When you look at it from a work-for-hire standpoint, which most of us are, our responsibility is through the creation of the project, and then once it’s turned in, it goes to the content owner or the label. At that point, it’s really under their purview to make sure that they’re taking care of their asset. I encourage artists to check in and make sure that their projects are being archived properly and that they’ll be there one day in the future when they need them again for some repurposing.
Major labels often aren’t comfortable with engineers holding on to projects in their personal archives, but in some situations, it’s absolutely welcome. And many engineers and producers I know have experiences where the label comes to them well after the fact – whether it’s for a movie mix, or a new reissue, or some new revenue stream – and need the stems or some other aspect of the session. Basically, if you’re encouraged to keep something on your end, it is always a good thing to do it.
Luckily, I think that archiving is more on people’s radar than it used to be. With the Recommendations document, which we are in a continual process of updating, the industry has a blueprint that it did not previously have. Recording and engineering education programs across the country are stressing these guidelines as part of their curricula, which means that the next generation of audio pros will have preservation and archiving in their creative DNA.
I think that archiving is an easy subject to overlook for some people – easy to put off on the back of someone else. But I think everybody needs to be diligent and realize the importance of it. At the end of the day, it’s a simple process; it’s really not complicated. You just have to get the basic information and it’s like brushing your teeth every day (you just do it and don’t think about it). Ultimately, any of these projects are “assets” in the most literal sense – tools for income and revenue. If they are not properly preserved, they cease to hold their value. 
Jeff Balding Studio

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