Some of you may know that I have an alter-ego: ‘Professor’ Sallie Goetsch (rhymes with ‘sketch’) of the Podcast Asylum. I’ve been a podcast junkie for about two years now, and am rarely seen without earbuds. On the whole, I prefer listening to producing, but in the past couple of weeks I’ve been interviewed for/guest host on three different shows, and I’ll be reprising my guest host appearance on For Immediate Release this coming Thursday.
What does that have to do with backups?
While I do make my own backup copies of certain podcasts, because I might want to listen to them again, I don’t save all of them. Eve Abbott of A Brain New Way to Work (who wrote a guest Backup Reminder a couple of months ago) has a rule about what to save, and says that you don’t need to bother hanging onto anything that you can get again if you need it. Podcasts fall into that category: I can always download them again, unless the podcaster takes the old archives offline. So I usually just save the ones that I appear in and the ones I’m collecting as a complete set (like the Podcasting for Dummies companion podcast).
Naturally, if you’re the host of the podcast, like Anna Farmery, who wrote the April 27th Backup Reminder, you want to back up your own shows. You might well want to back up the Audacity project file as well as the actual MP3 output, too, in case you need to re-mix anything. Anna puts hers onto an external drive.
So we’ve covered all that, and it should be fairly obvious that if you produce media files and they’re important for either your business or your personal life, you should back them up. What I want to talk about today is making backups during the actual recording process, something I touched on after last year’s Podcast Expo when the official recording team somehow failed to record my presentation—and so did I, through unfamiliarity with the way my new iriver IFP-895 worked. Where we should have had two recordings, we had none.
I think audio recording—and I presume video recording, though it’s not something I’ve done since the days of the 8mm tape—is one area where tapes really are more reliable than disks. Or, at least, they are more reliable than audio recording software. If the batteries on your mini-cassette recorder die halfway through a recording, at least you have the first half. If your audio recording software crashes halfway through a recording, you lose whatever you’ve done up to that point and have to start over.
This problem seems to be unique to recording. Outlook automatically saves drafts of e-mail messages. I can save a Word doc while I’m working on it. Ditto a Photoshop image file, and even an Audacity project file where I’m mixing together several different sound tracks, or a Camtasia video file where I’ve been editing a screen capture video. Once the recording is made, saving changes you make to it isn’t a problem, and even if your editing program crashes, or your system freezes up, or your cat walks across the keyboard, the most you’ll lose is the most recent few minutes of work.
Heck, even the WordPress blog software I use for my Author-ized Articles and the dynamic content on the Podcast Asylum site now auto-saves posts while you’re composing them.
But the only way I know of (and I’d love to hear any suggestions for alternatives) to back up a recording in process is to make more than one recording. If you’re producing the recording in your office, try making one recording onto the computer and one onto a portable device. You could even make one onto good old-fashioned cassette tape. This might mean having multiple microphones if your backup device doesn’t have a good built-in mike, but at least it can save you starting over at the beginning.
If you’re working from a script, starting over only costs you time; if you’re not, you might lose energy, spontaneity, or a particular insight that doesn’t occur to you the second time around.
If you’re recording an interview conducted via Skype or telephone, the best thing is to have both parties record. Combining the two recordings to ensure maximum audio quality is called producing a “double-ender,” and many podcasters who work with co-hosts via Skype do it for every show, because in most recordings of this sort, the person making the recording sounds a lot louder than the person on the other end of the call, and combining the recordings saves fussing with the levels.
Having two recordings can save a lot more than that, however. Case in point: my debut as guest co-host on For Immediate Release on May 10th. For some unfathomable reason, the regular hosts of the show have both upgraded to Windows Vista, something not even the Ur-Guru has seen a good reason to do yet. This doesn’t seem to have caused a problem for Shel Holtz, who usually records the show through his mixer, but it messed up HotRecorder completely, and that’s what Neville Hobson normally used when he was the one doing the recording. Neville had just switched to Pamela for Skype at the time he and I were recording.
I was petrified about doing the show, but one thing I didn’t worry about was the recording. I have a nifty program called Skylook which integrates Skype with Outlook and can record Skype calls automatically. (The only down side is that Outlook has to be running for it to work.) So I knew that even if Neville continued to have problems, I would be fine, especially as I’d just tested Skylook after installing Pamela myself.
About halfway through the show, Skype crashed at Neville’s end. “Disaster,” he reported when he had it back up again. Skype had brought Pamela down with it, and his recording had vanished. “I’ve got the recording at my end, so it’s not a disaster,” I responded. (Skylook had simply terminated the recording as it does when a call ends normally, and I’d already checked to see that the WAV and MP3 files were there.) So we picked up where we’d left off, and then I uploaded my recording to an FTP folder where he could pick it up and edit it.
The next day I was interviewed for another podcast, and the podcaster was having trouble with his recording software, so we just used mine.
The moral of the story is: record at both ends. If someone is interviewing you, make your own recording of it. Telephone recording devices (which plug into your headphone jack at one end and a recording device at the other) cost about $20. You can get free trials of software like HotRecorder, Skylook, and Pamela, which will get you through any one-off interview, and they’re not all that expensive to buy. Like any other backup, it could save you a lot of trouble.
I’d love to hear readers’ suggestions for backup audio and video recordings. There have to be techniques I haven’t thought of, though some may require more equipment than the average home office user has around.
And I’m always open to publishing reader stories about their experiences with backups, data loss, data recovery, and the like.
Hear Sallie on For Immediate Release May 24th, 2007 at www.forimmediaterelease.biz.