If I have learned anything about saving yourself from future headaches, it would be proper archiving. I’m not only talking about labeling all your files correctly and having a backup copy, but all the other stuff I’ve learned along the way. Since I began recording I have moved from different 4 track cassette recorders to ADAT to digital hard disk to DAW. First Cakewalk, then Logic (on a pc), to Acid, to Vegas, to Cubase, briefly Sonar, to DP, to Logic Pro, then to Pro Tools 7, 8 and soon to 10 which of course uses a new file format! Ugh!
When you have a recording session/project that you have worked on and you want to make sure that it is forward compatible, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
- Chances are in a few years you will have different plugins. This not only pertains to your compressor settings from that one freeware compressor that you can’t remember the name of, but also to your soft synths and samplers. I have moved and renamed samples and can’t get back that particular “X” sound again.
- Chances are you might have changed DAWs. Going from one DAW to another can be awesome, but horrible for backwards compatibility. Now .wav and .aif files are pretty good cross platform, but when were they placed in the timeline? What plugins were used and what were their settings? We’re any native soft synths in the original DAW used which aren’t available for use in the new DAW?
- Chances are if you are an analog nut like me you used a certain hardware piece that you no longer have, or have over-written the patches, or any number of other excuses for not being able to get back that original sound. Did I run that synth through my friends bass amp that I borrowed for a week during mix down ?
What can you do?
- “Export” or save two copies of every track. This is a nice way to have both the unaffected and post effects tracks. If you need it to sound like the original you are covered, if you need to change it up you are covered.
- Export every track starting at bar 1 as a continuous .wav or .aif file. You can drop those into any DAW all starting at the same spot and still have perfect alignment. The DAW tempo won’t matter. If your original synth part audio only starts at bar 45, still bounce it down starting at bar 1. Trust me, with hard drives as cheap as they are it is no big deal.
- Bounce down any external hardware tracks with and without effects. If you use a hardware processor, record the affected audio to a track. If you use a hardware synth, bounce it to a track instead of mixing it in as a live track during your final bounce. Again, if you sell that synth you are out of luck.
- Meticulous documentation. The more notes the better. Anything and anything you can remember about the session to help you later. Make note of the tempo of the session in case any midi tracks or tempo synched effects are going to be used. If you can, take a snapshot/screenshot of the mixer settings.
- For the most future compatibility, you want your computer to basically be just mixing the tracks together on your final mix. That means all effects and soft synths have been printed/ frozen to a track and only volume adjustments are needed for the final mix. No effects or plugins! If you have a screenshot of the mixer you will be able to recall the volume settings of each track in any other program and your mix should be easily recalled.
- Save your midi tracks as standard midi files so you can import them into another DAW. Again export them starting at bar 1.
- Save your presets! I use Native Instruments Kontakt a lot, and it is tough when I open an older project in which I used the previous generation of Kontakt. The presets aren’t recalled. It just says “Kobtakt 3 not available” and doesn’t tell me which presets were loaded. Save any “multi” files or presets to the same folder as the session.
- Duplicate files if necessary. Sometimes you have a particular sound, sample or loop which is key in the song. Save a copy into the root folder of the project as well.
That’s it! All of these recommendations come from personal experiences. I hope this saves you some issues in the future. It may or may not be worth the effort depending on the project, but that is up to you.