Help me with this project thanks!

May 11, 2010 9:08 AM

Advice sought for a possibly strange multi-year project involving melody preservation.

I had an idea for a project that I think I may try to do, but was hoping to get some thoughts and advice from the MeFiMusic hordes. The basic idea is this: I want to record some melodies and perhaps some basic tracks, enough for an album, and then stash them away somewhere for 20 years before ever touching them again.

Some questions:

- How would I best maximize the chances that I can actually use those tracks in 20 years, and that they won't be obsolete or damaged or otherwise incompatible with the future?
- 20 years was an arbitrary choice. Does it sound reasonable?
- Would it be a better idea to add overdubs once every, say, 5 years for 20 years?
- Other thoughts? Feel free to suggest alterations as well.

In case you're wondering why I want to do this, I'm not sure, really. I love the power of art that developed over long periods of time, and I thought it could be fun to record an album at 50 'featuring' my 30-year-old self. Heck, perhaps if I felt like Round 2 I could then finish it up at 80.
posted by ORthey (11 comments total)

Well, the first thing that pops into my mind is writing and recording a verse to a song every 5, 10, 20 years. The last verse would inevitably be like "Now I'm old, all the shit I said before was stupid, goodnight..." but it would be the actual old you singing it. That would be awesome.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 11:44 AM on May 11, 2010

How would I best maximize the chances that I can actually use those tracks in 20 years, and that they won't be obsolete or damaged or otherwise incompatible with the future?

Uncompressed WAV is the closest to future-proof in terms of format as you can get. It's been around for around 20 years already, and the underlying PCM encoding has been used for even longer. I can't really imagine that in 20 years you wouldn't be able to read a WAV file on any given computing platform, even if it requires a special conversion tool.

As far as what to store it on, that's trickier. DVDRs will probably go bad in that time period, and there's a decent chance that it will be difficult to find a drive for a modern system at that point. I think a thumb drive might be your best bet, because even though USB will be obsolete by then there will probably be some sort of USB to whatever conversion method, and I think they should have a pretty good shelf life but I'm not 100% sure on that. Or you could just set aside a whole laptop with the files on it for 20 years and hope that there's some way to transfer the files from it when you want to do it.

Honestly I would go with the revisit every 5 years plan just because of these technical issues. Throughout my history with computers, it's always been relatively easy to get to data from a 5-year-old machine, but it's never been easy to get data from a 20-year-old machine.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:11 PM on May 11, 2010

Maybe you could try something lower tech?

If you know how to write music notation, you may want to jot down whatever melodies and chords you come up with.

A lot stuff I've recorded in the past few years were actually taken from sketches I made before I even had a computer, let alone recording software. This album was drawn from a series of sketches I made back in 1999.
posted by NemesisVex at 12:39 PM on May 11, 2010


If you're worried about technological change negating the project 20 years hence, you need a "closed system" of storage. For example, if you have a stand-alone DAW (like my Yam AW2400) you can simply record the backing tracks, dump them onto a stand alone hardrive that can be accessed from the DAW and make some safety copies of the data to cd as well. And make sure you don't sell the DAW - even if it becomes obsolete. In other words you're not relying on "external" storage or retrieval media that may be subject to technological change.

The internet will still be with us (??). If you dump the files onto a website that you control together with a copy of the software needed to access them (Cubase or ProTools or whatever), you should be sorted.

Key to this seems to me therefore to be to have the recordings and the playback/recording media kept together - it's plainly high risk to just store the files on their own. In 20 years time it'll probably be ultra retro-cool to put an album out recorded on "that antiquated old ProTools system".

And you'll need one shitload of self discipline to not "just have a little peek" at the proto-album, particularly when you're in creative dry patch. Good luck!!
posted by MajorDundee at 1:08 PM on May 11, 2010

Should have added an object lesson to that. I've actually come a cropper in this way myself. I used to have a Boss BR1600. Recorded loads of songs on it. Backed up all the data onto cds. Sold the Boss. Can't unlock the files to use them on my Yam. Fucked.
posted by MajorDundee at 1:15 PM on May 11, 2010

Cool idea, ORthey. Jamming with yourself, 20 years later. Lessee, if I try this, my 72-year-old self can jam with my 52-year-old self!

um, for some of us, maybe not such a great idea...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:16 PM on May 11, 2010

It seems pretty safe to say that recordings will still be 1s and 0s in 20 years. The question then ends up being whether you'd like to have the oldest tracks come close to keeping up with the newer ones in terms of fidelity, or whether you'd like the audio quality to index the era, like cassette hiss and vinyl crackles do now. So you could record a 44.1khz sampling rate/16 bit depth Wav file, or you could get access to something that records 96/24 or even with the assumption that higher density formats will become more standard as storage density goes up. It also seems safe to say that there will be ways to convert older digital formats to newer digital formats as they arise, in the same way you can emulate an apple II on a current computer, or even an iphone.

I think if you can store it on-line somehow, as well as on a thumb drive, and just move it around to another on-line storage option when necessary (when yahoo goes out of business or whatever).
posted by umbú at 6:16 PM on May 11, 2010

96/24 or even higher sampling rates, I meant to write.
posted by umbú at 6:17 PM on May 11, 2010

I would almost update/make a new copy every year. I would probably put a copy in some cloud like Amazon's S3 and burn a couple copies on DVD-R. The next year I would burn a couple more copies from S3. The best part is if DVD-R or S3 suddenly wasn't available or a better media became available you could do that instead for that year forward. It's less of a set-it-and-forget-it-but-cross-your-fingers-and-probably-just-forget-it and more of a cheap SYA approach.
posted by xorry at 8:40 PM on May 11, 2010

Flash drives also have a maximum data retention of about 10 years so be careful about using any USB flash drives or SSD...
posted by TwoWordReview at 11:38 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll echo most of that ^^^. WAV is the way to go and store it in the cloud - I'd probably go with 2 services: S3 and Dropbox, plus keep local backups. DVDRs are NOT The way forward - I tried to restore some data from DVDRs (x3) each less than 5 years old and the disks were in terrible shape - I/O errors everywhere (although I can happily restore data off 10 year old CDRs - less data per square inch I guess)
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 1:04 PM on May 19, 2010

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