December 2011


Well, Happy New Year, and here’s to a data-safe 2012!

As lots of folks take this moment as a good opportunity to finalize their bank accounts, receipts and tax information, it’s also a good time to check on your data, be it music, videos, personal and professional files, documents, and so on. Far too often, folks find out all too late that they’ve not kept their data in a safe place (or two).  And when it’s lost….look out; the pain starts.  Big time.

If you haven’t heard it yet, here’s one simple truth that anyone who works in the digital data world (which at this point is 99% of us!) knows:  Data isn’t safe until it exists in three places.  (That’s right; THREE places.)    The master copy, the backup copy, and the safety/second backup copy.  And if you think it’s expensive, what price would you put on all your data if it just goes POOF and disappears?

If you haven’t set up a data backup plan yet, now is a good time to start.

You may have only a few gigs for your personal stuff: calendar, address book, photos, emails and documents, or you may be well on the way into the ‘Terrabyte” world, esp if you’ve been archiving movies, music, online books, etc.   Over time, it does all add up! If you don’t need all THAT much space, you may want to just get some USB thumb drives, or SD chips that hold 8, 16, 32 or even 64 gigs of data.  The bigger ones aren’t all that cost effective (yet), but they have no moving parts, and in theory at least, should last a long time.  The most important issue beyond the media itself is the backup.  Always the backup!

Another quick and somewhat easy way is to just buy an off-the-shelf, self-contained hard drive by one of the big manufacturers like Western Digital, Seagate, LaCie, etc.   They’re sold everywhere now, online and in stores, in all kinds of sizes and configurations, and it’s never been cheaper, faster and easier now to just hook the drive up to your main computer via a USB cable and copy all of your critical files in one easy move.  Most come with software that will walk you through this and it’s great if you just want to let it work that way for you, or you can simply do it yourself manually.   The really good thing about dedicated storage drives is that they’re not being used over and over again (like the “C” drive in most people’s computers), so they’re often used only a few times to simply store and occasionally retrieve data.  That’s a big difference in the longevity of a device like this.

After you’ve made copies of everything from 2011 and before, you now have one of two choices:  Unplug the drive (or SD card, USB stick, etc.) and put it away until the next time you want to back it up; say every other month or so.  Or, simply keep it connected, and use the timed backup software that came with the drive and let it do it automatically behind the scenes.  (Every Sunday night at2-3 a.m.for example, is often a good time and a good way to start your week.) If you do keep your main storage drive connected and powered up, consider an uninterruptable power supply for it, as well as a surge protector for those inevitable lightning strikes and power outages.  They wreak havoc on storage systems.

If you’re like me, you may want to go that extra mile or two with a second backup system, just to be safe.   I may be extreme, but of course my business depends on it, so whenever I finish a project for a client (specifically, once I’ve been paid and the check clears the bank), I make sure there are three (and sometimes four) copies of a project in existence somewhere. The client gets their copies, the dupe copy lives on in my duplication system’s hard drive, and the masters – audio & video files as well as mix/editing templates, bounced stereo files and final renders for CD or DVD – are off on a hard drive, in a dedicated folder, with the client’s name, project and date, so I can easily retrieve the project from long-term storage to update, repair or simply re-copy it for another duplication run.

Before cheap SD & Hard Drives there was Tape and Optical….

Once upon a time, people used tape for data storage, and then came CDrs/CD-ROMs.

I’ve found over the years that tape (data tapes, that is, not necessarily analog audio tape) isn’t a very reliable way to save data.  (I’m so glad I never took the excabyte route that many colleagues swore by in the 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s.  Yuck!)  Old DAT (data and audio) tape retrieval/restore can also be a white-knuckle experience.  Was the machine that made it in good shape in the first place?  Will the DAT play on my current machine?  It’s always a roll of the dice… Mangled, chewed up DATs will never play properly; and unlike analog audio tapes, you can’t get “just a little” out of them; it’s all or nothing.

Early burns of CDr’s from the 90’s are pretty scary, too. Although I have to say I’ve had pretty good luck with media burned from the late 90’s and onward.   Early, first-generation CDs (early/mid 90’s era) have proven to be pretty unreliable, but I’ve recently had to re-master a holiday project from 1996, with all files retrieved from the only mixed/edited masters I had, on CDr’s and CD-ROMS.  Happy to say, thanks to good media available of the day, I had zero problems retrieving them.  (You bet I put this latest version away on a hard drive, too!)

Backup, Backup, Backup

All that said, whatever media you prefer, take some time today to figure out what you need to backup personally and professionally, and how you’re going to do it. The same goes for old movies, tapes and other treasures.   If you’re not sure you can do it properly, get them to a professional to back them up, make digital copies, etc.  10, 20 or more years from now, you, your kids and your clients will be glad you did.

Have a great 2012, and remember to back it all up for the next New Year, too.

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Well, all good news to report so far.   Yesterday’s setup and final dress rehearsal recording went perfectly.   The crew at the Grand are total pro’s – Steve Manocchio and his assistant Stacey, specifically – and got me and my gear loaded into the theater via the backstage lift in short order, giving us about 2.5 hrs to get mics set and a good spot for my “control room”.    We worked quickly and without a hitch; everything I needed, they got for me, and couldn’t have been more helpful.  I can’t tell you how much something like this helps, right off the bat; we’re in, we’re set up, and things are cooking!

In all, we’re using 23 mics/line feeds for this recording.  (2 mics on the audience for ambience, applause & new year noise-makers, 2 mics on a stereo bar as the main pair for the orchestra, spot mics on all principal players, an M/S ribbon configuration on the winds, 3 on the percussion, as well as piano, celeste and harp.    Last but not least, we’ve got a hand-held mic feed from the house PA, where Maestro Amado will announce various pieces, as well as introduce the orchestra and various segments throughout the performance.

I did a last minute mic placement check onstage around 7:15 and got to say hello to a lot of the musicians, many I know well from their work in and around the area.   I was happy to see concertmaster Luigi Mazzochi on the stand; I’d almost forgotten he was with DSO!   Next I had a brief chat with Music Director David Amado, and we discussed the order of the works he’d be taking in rehearsal, and how we’d compare notes after the real performance.   Another positive sign was how prepared the orchestra was; having been alerted that we planned to record everything “just in case”.   In my experience, this gives everyone a little breathing room; they give a little extra at the dress rehearsal, knowing it’s being recorded, and also lets them kick it out a little bit more at the performance; they can concentrate on their art, and not worry about little mistakes here or there.

I quickly set levels throughout the tuneup and first few pieces, but otherwise we were well on our way.   All tracks were captured flawlessly on my JoeCo “Blackbox” 24 track hard disc recording system, with an SD chip (stereo) backup, and just for redundancy, a CD copy as well.   I had a nice cozy setup backstage, in the connecting space between the Grand and the “Baby Grand” theater right next door.  Sweet!

My 'control room' - backstage at the Grand

By 10 p.m., we were done and quickly struck just the mics, leaving everything else in place for Saturday. (Fortunately, nothing else going on in the theater means everything stays set up and in place for Saturday’s performance.)

Today (Friday), as planned, I transferred all tracks from the rehearsal into my main Sequoia workstation and began working on the overall mix.   Happily, everything came through as planned; I don’t expect to change much at all during the re-set on Saturday.   The orchestra really played well, in top form, even for a dress rehearsal, and I’m more than happy with what we’ve captured.   The strings are solid and lush, and the percussion (esp the huge bass drum) really spice up the sound.  I’m glad I used so many mics!  Lots of control over such nuannced performances.

I’m rendering a temp stereo mix of both halves of the rehearsal as I type this, and will have these ready for “dropping in” bits or pieces here or there, as needed.

Overall, I’m feeling pretty excited about everything at this point, although the big, challenging moments are still to come… We all know things can change quite a bit betwee I’m holding my breath just a little bit longer, until we’ve got it all in the can, sometime around 9:30-10 p.m. tomorrow night – December 31st.

Once again, stay tuned; I’ll have more to share soon!

Well, things are moving along nicely on the project, and excitment is buildng.   As mentioned before, the mid-show interview with Music Director/Conductor David Amado is completed, save for some editing based on what happens at the concert itselft.

On Tuesday, the script I wrote for the voice-over was approved by DSO, and sent to Jack Moore to read on Wednesday.   Jack (ever the pro!) turned it right around and did a great read, with a few extra touches that really make the production shine (and my job a little easier).    I’ve since tweaked it a bit and put it on the timeline in my editing software (Samplitude/Sequioa) for the broadcast template.

So now, we’ve got all the talking we need for the broadcast: a beginning, a middle and an end. We just need some music!  😉

This afternoon, I’ll be leaving with all my recording gear and heading over to the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, for a 4:30 load in.   The plan is to be set up and ready for a 7:30 start of tonight’s final dress rehearsal.   Then the REAL work begins. We’ll be using most of the available 24 tracks to capture the entire orchestra, the audience, and whatever else needs to be recorded.

The goal for today is to capture everything and bring it back here for a preliminary mix – for backup and possible repairs, depending on how everything goes at the concert itself.  (I’ll spend most of Friday, Dec. 30th working on this. )  This also helps for the final mix in that we’ll have overall levels set, tracks and effects assigned, etc.   The more time we can save on the back end, the better.

So that’s the latest from here.   If I have internet access, I’ll update again from the rehearsal tonight.

Thanks for following along!

I’m excited to announce we’re recording the Delaware Symphony Orchestra LIVE at their New Year’s Eve Gala this Saturday, December 31st at the Wilmington Grand at 7:30 p.m. and turning it around overnight for a 2 p.m. broadcast on WRTI on NEW YEAR’S DAY, January 1st.  (The countdown begins when the music stops around 10 p.m.  That’s roughly 16 hrs to get it completed and on the air.  No pressure!)

I hope you’ll follow along with me here as I update our pre-production progress, recording the dress rehearsal, and then the concert itself at 7:30 on New Year’s Eve.  The VO script is now written for the broadcast, (hosted by WRTI’s Jack Moore) and Music Director/Conductor David Amadao has already sat down for an intermission interview at WRTI’s studios.   (That’s already “In the can” and ready to go for the middle of the broadcast.)

You can read more about the concert here:  http://www.delawaresymphony.org/specials.htm

I’ll be checking in again soon with more updates during the week, so stay tuned for what happens next….