Safe and Sound: Tips for Preserving Digital Audio Files

This post is the third in a series where University Archives’ digital archivist, Meg Tuomala, will explore practical tips for archiving your own personal digital materials. This post also coincides with the 2012 Day of Digital Archives– learn and read more here.

Our music collections are the soundtracks of our lives, and these days most of us purchase our music in digital format. Audio files are some of the most used and well-loved personal digital materials we keep; they should be cared for just as our other cherished personal digital collections.

Keeping your digital audio safe for the long-term isn’t too difficult if you follow the steps outlined below. And if you’ve been reading along as we post tips for archiving your own personal digital materials, all of this should sound quite familiar…

First, IDENTIFY your audio files and where they are kept. Check your computer, audio players, phone, and removable media such as CDs, DVDs, and memory cards. Remember to look in the audio software programs you use to play your music, such as iTunes and Windows Media Player.

Next, DECIDE which recordings have long-term value. If you’re like me, that means all of them! Pick the recordings that you feel are important. If you have multiple versions of the same thing, save the one with the highest quality.

Now, EXPORT the audio recordings you’ve selected. This is just a fancy way of saying moving them from the places where they were stored and saving them in another location where you can store and manage all of the files together. If you’re saving a lot of files, you can do this automatically. Also, save the files in an open format. This will ensure that they remain accessible and usable well into the future. Some examples of open formats for audio are OGG and FLAC.

Next, ORGANIZE the audio recordings that you’ve exported—

  • Give each file a descriptive name. Find more file naming tips here.
  • Tag the files with information about the recording, such as album, artist, date, and genre
  • Create a directory or folder structure on your computer to store the recordings.
  • Write up a brief description of the directory structure and recordings and save it in the directory as a readme.txt file.

Last, MAKE COPIES of your audio recordings. Create at least two copies of your audio collection and keep one on your computer, and one (or more) in another place such as an external hard drive, CDs or DVDs, or hosted Internet storage. If you do use CDs or DVDs get the highest quality available and store them in a cool, dry, and dark location. If you can, send one of these copies to a friend or relative in another town. If disaster strikes you’ll be glad you did. And remember to check the files every year to make sure they still play!

If you’re an avid music collector with a large analog collection, it’s also possible to get your vinyl collections into digital format for easier, more convenient listening. To transfer vinyl to digital, you’ll need to use a conversion turntable. For recommendations on conversion turntables and the conversion process, look here.

University Archives has a wonderful collection of audio recordings of the Assembly Series Lectures that are held on Washington University in St. Louis’ campus. For the Series, distinguished scholars, leaders, and celebrities are invited to speak to the Washington University community, and recordings of these lectures have been deposited in the Archives since 1949. Digital recording of these lectures started in 2009, and part of the job of a digital archivist is to make sure that these recordings are properly preserved, cataloged, managed, and made available to researchers. You can find out more about the history of the Series and see a listing the recordings we have available in the finding aids for the Assembly Series Lectures,  and if you’re interested in listening to any of these please contact us! Keep an eye out for future blog posts on some of the more interesting lectures we have archived.

Source: Library of Congress. “Keeping Personal Digital Audio

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.