Organizational Best Practices for Sound Engineers and Producers

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When I first started engineering and producing music, I was, strictly speaking, a complete and utter mess. I would often lose project files, samples, preset libraries—I couldn’t keep track of anything. Sometimes I’d find what I was looking for by sheer luck, other times it would be gone forever.

After several frustrating years of data loss, I decided to get serious about organizing all my music production audio and files, and regularly backing up my projects. And, what do you know? My productivity increased, my system ran more smoothly, and I could find what I needed, when I needed it.

Dedicated Drives

Having dedicated hard drives for each aspect of how your computer handles the music production process is important not only for organizational reasons, but it is also essential for maximizing system performance. There are four different drive types that producers typically utilize: the operating disk, the write disk, the sample library disk, and the backup disk.

The Operating Disk

The operating disk is your main system drive that comes with your computer, where your operating system lives, and where you’ll install your DAW and plug-ins. This drive should be fast, preferably an SSD, or if you go the traditional hard drive route, 7200 rpm is recommended, at a minimum. This drive should also have a fair amount of storage for storing programs—256GB at a minimum, but preferably 512GB or more.

While it is possible to record to the operating disk, it's strongly recommended that you use this drive only to store programs, such as your DAW and plug-ins, while recording to a separate drive—namely, the write disk. This prevents disk errors from occurring due to too much strain on a single drive.

The Write Disk

This is where you’ll record all your audio and store all your project files. In addition to performance and space considerations, this disk is an important failsafe to have if your operating disk becomes corrupted. Obviously, for this drive, bigger is better, but speed is a factor, as well. The cost/benefit sweet spot when shopping for a write disk is generally to go for the largest SSD or 7200 rpm magnetic hard drive you can afford that supports the fastest connection available on your computer. If you’re working with a desktop computer, and drive portability isn’t a concern, going for an internal SSD with PCIe interface will likely be the fastest solution, although SATA based SSD and 7200rpm magnetic internal drives are also great, and you’ll be able to get more storage for your money by going that route.

Samsung 1TB 860 QVO SATA III 2.5" Internal SSD

If you have a laptop, or if you need to work with your session files on multiple computers, you’ll need an external drive. Available on most modern machines, USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt™ both offer extremely fast performance, and there are tons of portable SSD and 7200rpm options available to choose from.

Samsung 1TB T5 Portable Solid-State Drive

The Sample Library Disk

Some of today’s most essential virtual instrument offerings, such as Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2, and Native Instruments KOMPLETE 12, have enormous sample libraries that can annihilate the space on your operating disk in a hurry. Thus, a dedicated drive for your sample library data is recommended. As far as the recommended specs go, the same general principles apply for choosing a sample library disk as for a write disk.

Native Instruments KOMPLETE 12 ULTIMATE Collector's Edition - Virtual Instruments and Effects Collection

The Backup Disk

Backing up your work is one of the most important steps in music creation and audio, or any type of creative digital workflow, for that matter. You don’t want to learn this lesson the hard way. There are several ways to approach your local backup, one being to simply buy a really large, but not necessarily fast hard drive, such as the super-affordable, 5400 rpm 10TB WD My Book Desktop USB 3.0 External Hard Drive. The one caveat to backing up to a drive like this one is that you need to remember to do it—making a local backup of your work should be a daily routine.

WD 10TB My Book Desktop USB 3.0 External Hard Drive

If you’re like me, and you don’t see yourself getting into the habit of making a daily backup, you can run a dual-disk RAID system like this 2 x 4TB Glyph Technologies StudioRAID array in RAID 1 mode, which can act as both your write disk and your backup disk at the same time. With this elegant method, the same data is written to both disks simultaneously, providing you with an original copy, and a backup copy of all your work, right as you do it.

Glyph Technologies StudioRAID Enterprise Class 8TB 2-Bay USB 3.1 Gen 1 RAID Array

In addition to your local backup, an off-site backup to protect against theft, natural disaster, and other catastrophic events is also essential. Although this is beyond the scope of this article, a simple Google search will reveal that there are many cloud-based subscription services to choose from to serve this purpose.

Organize Your Storage

Now that you’ve got your dedicated drives, it’s time to organize your file structure. While it might seem obvious, many new producers and engineers fail to create a detailed folder/sub-folder structure for all the different projects they’re working on. For example, if you’re working with different artists, each artist should have their own dedicated folder on the write disk, and the project files and audio for each song by that artist should live in a sub-directory of that dedicated folder.

Similarly, it’s also a good idea to organize all your samples and presets on the sample library disk in a way that makes sense. I recommend creating a “Samples” folder with a file structure that breaks all your drum libraries, samples, and loops into categories based on genre. You should also create a “Presets” folder that organizes all your third-party preset libraries by the virtual instrument for which they’re intended, as well the genre style. For example, a third-party dubstep preset library for Native Instruments Massive should be in the “Presets” folder, in a sub-folder called “Massive Presets,” in a sub-folder called “Dubstep.”

Conclusion

While it may not be the most fun part of the music production process, getting organized and backing up your work will save you headaches down the line, opening up more time for the part we all love—being creative. If you put in the work, and get organized from the get-go, it will streamline your creative process, and make you more productive. And, in the event of a “disaster,” such as a system failure or worse, you’ll be able to pick up where you left off without missing a beat.

Do you have any organizational tips of your own to share, or questions? Post them below, in the Comments section.

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