How to Deal With the Headache of Managing Large Music Files

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A music career eats up space on your computer like nobody’s business.  Hopefully this article will save you a few file management headaches and free up your creative time.

Between lyrics, music, graphics, and spreadsheets (if you’re a particularly ‘Type A’ musician), it can be difficult to keep your “music stuff” from completely taking over your device.  And that’s before you even consider trying to send any of your larger files to anyone else (including members of your band, mixing engineers, and other collaborators).

Large files tend to become unwieldy pretty quickly, especially when you need to send them around, store them, or quickly find them.  There are also security issues involved, especially if you’re a more developed artist working on an upcoming release.

The easiest first step towards resolving a lot of these headaches comes from the cloud.  For starters, the ‘cloud’ refers to a server that isn’t your hard drive, but rather a remote server that can store a ton of stuff (basically, an unlimited amount for the right price).

Simply stated, the easiest way to store and share large files is cloud storage.

The quick benefits are:

  1. keeps all of your files in one convenient place.
  2. allows you to easily share access to files and folders.
  3. allows you to skip compression (like zip folders) and huge emails.
  4. makes it far, far easier to collaborate with rough versions, stems, etc.

There are a lot of cloud storage solutions, but we’ll use our sponsor Dropbox for this quick tutorial.  And once you learn one cloud storage solution, you can use any option you want later.

Cloud storage solutions basically function like remote folders.  It’s almost like they’re sitting on your computer.

The only difference is that instead of directly saving your files, you’re uploading and downloading them (but that generally doesn’t take too much time).

Here’s what one of our Dropbox folders looks like at Digital Music News (you’ll see some podcasting folders in there).

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This is a simple, password-protected Dropbox folder.  Just sign up, and you can start uploading and downloading files instantly.  You can also start off-loading a huge amount of memory drain from your computer, which could have a noticeable impact on performance (especially with more demanding music apps).

Next tip: Emails bad.  Very bad.

Once you’re using email to shuttle lots of files around, you’re basically inviting a giant headache.  Larger files become unmanageable really quickly, and quickly fill up storage quotas (even in Gmail).

But any file, of any size, is hard to organize in email, especially when it comes to the creative process.  Collaborators (let’s say band members and a mixing engineer) can quickly get confused about different files, and waste lots of time sifting through emails trying to find the right files.

Email + Cloud Storage Links = Very Good.

A cloud storage solution replaces all of that by allowing quick access to files via links.  Even better, those links can have specific permissions settings, so access is restricted. By contrast, an email can be forwarded anywhere, and subsequently leaked.  That’s far less likely to happen with a secure link, especially if it’s put on ‘lock down’ (i.e., permissions revoked).

Some tips about organization.

Recording and collaboration involves a lot of versions.  Sometimes, a version exists just to demonstrate a certain effect or mastering approach, for example.  Other times, it’s an incredibly rough framework of how a song will be structured. That makes it really easy to get the version out of your head and into reality, and get quick feedback from others (inside the group or outside of it).

A quick tip for organization is just to create an easy tree of folders.  It should be stunningly simple and intuitive: overall project folder at the top of the tree, then folders for different songs, then different cuts and elements within each song.

Sounds simple, though the opposite is to upload files into a giant, common folder.  That is easy to work with when there are ten files. But it becomes unmanageable pretty quickly, until it’s difficult to figure out which versions are which and where to find specific elements.

Should you erase stuff?

If it’s definitely not going to be used, the simple answer is yes.  And the quick benefit is that it’s out of the way, making it easier to find the files you do want to access.  The downside, of course, is that if you ever want to access a discarded file, you’re out of luck.

One way around that problem is to create a ‘dump folder’ of discarded tracks.  That way, even if you’re never going to access the track, you eliminate the risk that there’s something you want to access later.

Last Part: How to Avoid Leaks.

If you’ve achieved a certain level of notoriety (congratulations), leaked files become a problem.  It’s hard to prevent leaks by insiders, i.e., people directly involved in the collaboration. But you can substantially reduce the risk of a leak by regularly updating passwords to cloud-shared files and quickly closing access to files that aren’t being used.

If you’re really, really adamant about protecting a leak, the simple solution is not to collaborate remotely and rarely (if ever) share digital files.  Everyone collaborates in one room, and nobody gets access to files. Other than that highly-controlled approach, you basically have to live with the possibility that something will slip out (but again, you can dramatically reduce the chances of that happening).

Buying storage.

The good news is that storing files isn’t expensive anymore.  You can easily grab access to 100GB and more of storage for a few bucks a month these days.  And of course, you can access it anywhere, as long as you’ve got a connection.

Hopefully those tips helped you get a better handle on big files.  Once you’re cloud storing stuff, it becomes second nature and pretty easy.  And far less headache-inducing.


This is a sponsored post for Dropbox.  All opinions are my own.  Dropbox is not affiliated with nor endorses any other products or services mentioned.