Archiving Digital Audio

Olympus LS14 650x487 Archiving Digital AudioI’m not much for editing audio. Those that know me and my workflow will see that for the last few years I have mainly used the classic Audioboo app. Recording straight into my phone with a standard mic windshield over one end.

I subscribe to my own Audioboo podcast feed in iTunes to grab the mp3 to my hard drive and also use IFTTT to auto copy the mp3 from my feed into dropbox. This ensures my audio is in three different places. Four if you include my time machine backup.

Occasionally though I will record using a solid state recorder. Especially if I am off the beaten track, outside areas with a GSM signal, needing longer recording times, looking for high quality stereo audio or just compiling long form audio for a later release.

In those instances I can end up with numerous audio files in need of archival and storage. Here is a brief guide as to how I do it:

Archiving Digital Audio

Always record audio at the largest uncompressed quality that’s practical.  I’d rather buy a larger memory card and spend time waiting for WAV files to copy across and process,  than save space recording a compressed lower quality Mp3.

Once I have copied all of my recordings from my device or memory card to my desktop, I like to review all the clips to see what I have. Use headphones.

I drag my digital audio into a folder on my desktop marked with a project title and date. i.e. ‘Syria 10/09/13′.

I will not delete from the card until I know all my files are archived and in three different places.

Where possible, keep all of your audio clips. A ‘bad’ interview or distorted recording may still contain some valuable ambient or background sound. What you don’t find valuable now may become invaluable in a later edit.

I differentiate between which audio recordings I think have long-term value and those clips that are disposable but may come in handy at a later on. I then drag the ‘good’ clips into a folder marked ‘WAV files‘ and the ‘bad’ into a folder marked ‘Waste’.

I then label the recording with a number, a date and a descriptive title. i.e. ‘001_10/09/13_On the road to Syria.wav

Where I have a number of similar recordings or takes I will add an ‘a’, ‘b’ or ‘c’ etc to the end.

wav metadata 354x650 Archiving Digital AudioMetadata
As you have dragged and dropped your files onto the desktop all your vital metadata should be intact.

File kind, Size, It’s current location path on your computer, the date and time it was last created, the date and time it was last modified, the sample rate, the bit rate, the duration and how many channels it’s recorded as.

For additional metadata you should add a text file to the folder highlighting any missing context in your recordings. Such as location, names of interviewees or additional descriptions that will help in the final edit.

If you choose, you can delete the original files on your recorder once you have copied your named files to at least three separate places. If out on assignment, I like to include the files on the recorder as one of those places unless my recordings are of a sensitive nature. Then it is best to keep the recorder clean and hide the cards on and off your person.

If your audio is of a sensitive nature you will need to secure the data with encryption using something like True Crypt on at least three separate unmarked micro SD cards or USB drives. Look at saving the files to a partition and encrypt that within another.

I record one copy of my named audio files to DVD, one to a RAID array and one stays on my laptop/time machine backup or pocket hard drive. My copies live in at least two separate geographical locations.

Any backup device will degrade overt time, especially those with moving parts. Only buy the best hard drives you can afford and check your backups regularly. Copy data over to newer drives as storage technology advances or at least every 5 years.

So. This is how I do it.  There are countless archival systems out there.  I’d love to know your methodology.  Please leave your tips and tricks in the comments below.

And if like me you love the medium of audio and capture more recordings than your workflow can manage, it may be worth hiring a professional to compile and edit your work. I currently use and highly recommend @Mcfontaine. That said I still have a heap of audio i’m sat on waiting to reach peoples ears.

I care a lot about audio and the moments I’ve captured. Thankfully they are archived and backed up.


There is a CC Licensed version of this guide available as a downloadable PDF here.

About Documentally

Talking, teaching and documenting using mobile tools. Running workshops and consulting worldwide with a focus on social technology.

  • jcherfas

    Seems like a good workflow to me. I use something similar, but without the need for encryption because I just don’t do that kind of thing. The real pity about audio is that you cannot search for meaning. Yet. If I could afford it, I’d have a transcript of all the interviews and “text” stuff I’ve got too. But I don’t

    • http://Documentally.com/ Documentally

      Even more reason to add extra context to your files. Although I’m sure that kind of deep search is just around the corner. Thanks for the comment.

      • Dubes

        It’s a big corner, I hope

  • Dubes

    Awesome. This has been on my mind . On the to do list!

    • http://Documentally.com/ Documentally

      Good stuff. I bet you have months of audio/music in your archives. :)

  • Christopher Sleight

    I can record up to a gig of raw audio a week as a radio producer. I would love to have the time to archive it all properly, but I don’t so here’s my compromise…

    Most projects or stories have multiple tracks. I log these before editing, and change the filenames to reflect the content (e.g. Interview with Mr X or River FX). At the end of the week, and before I reformat my audio recorder, I dump the files from each project onto a Mac Automator action that zips them up and puts the zip file on an external hard drive, in a year subfolder. The filename for this file will include story slug and location. The external hard drive gets backed up. I also keep my finished radio packages as they’re broadcast.

    What it lacks in granularity, it makes up for in simplicity. The less friction, the more likely I am to do it. I wish there were an Aperture for audio though.

    In the field I download every night to a laptop and log the files. Then I copy to two USB drives, one of which I keep on me at all times.

    • http://Documentally.com/ Documentally

      Super fast and a really interesting workflow. Especially the use of scripts to speed up the process. Love your point on an ‘aperture for audio. I have iSpoffle.com. Lets build it and sell it to apple to put in Garage Band ;)

      • jcherfas

        There are media cataloguers that handle audio files too; iView Media Pro is one. Never tried using it for that though.

        • http://Documentally.com/ Documentally

          Thanks. they always seem to focus on images and i’d like something designed for audio.

    • andrew

      I agree on the Aperture for audio. I have no idea why no one has made this yet :)

  • Andy

    I have audio from a multi-country multi-year trip and I wondered whether to group it by country or chunk it into chapters or types like story sections or interviews, music, background noise, narratives? Any thoughts?

    • http://Documentally.com/ Documentally

      Personally I would archive it in a timeline marking clearly when each country is featured. This is where tagging would be handy as you could then group and edit the features from the timeline. You could use a clean, uncluttered iTunes and use folders to archive.

      • andy

        When you say timeline, do you mean physically drawing it out in a map and then going from there. I think for me that would work really well. I found a piece of software called Clementine http://www.clementine-player.org/ that looks good as well as Switch audio converter- http://www.nch.com.au/switch/index.html – unfortunately many of my files were recorded in WMA with a low budget Olympus recorder so they do suffer from overzealous compression. I upgraded to a Tascam DR-100 and Rode NTG 3. I noticed you were using an iPhone to record- how is the sound quality?

        • http://Documentally.com/ Documentally

          When i say timeline I meant archive in the order of of when everything was recorded. I do enjoy tagging content to a map though and think an audiomap would be a great final destination for all your stories.

          • andy

            Great idea. Thanks.

        • http://Documentally.com/ Documentally

          Clementine looks interesting. It would be better if you could turn off all the music playing/streaming functionality and focus on audio in general.

  • http://about.me/mcfontaine mcfontaine

    Absolutely spot on … as always. I do the following:
    All my work is done on a separate disc to my C:/ on my pc.
    When i have completed a batch of work, it gets copied to a tired hard drive i have on the pc.
    Then a third copy is made periodically to my external backup drive.
    Then again every now and then i make a coplete zipped version of my “studio” to another external drive.
    All those years working in IT must have rubbed off :)
    Thanks for the shout, but it is always a pleasure to work on your audio because you just know how to capture a story … any audio from you always has the 3 E’s … Entertaining, Engaging and Educational.

  • Pingback: Link roundup | Kind of Digital