What's the best data protection for digital music projects?
I've been seeing a lot of pushy sales schlock recently for products that supposedly "protect your music data." And the products are junk because they don't offer any better physical data protection at all.
However, there are legitimate ways that do offer proper music data protection that actually work.
1. Use memory cards made for digital cameras and camcorders
What makes something like Samsung 64GB PRO seen above better than a regular card?
A few things.
First, it's built to have the crap kicked out of it. Digital cameras and camcorders - particularly camcorders - absolutely kick the crap out of memory cards with the constant reading and writing of data. File integrity must be good, else anything you record will encounter file corruption and be useless. Cards built for camera/camcorder abuse make for excellent use in a music recording rig no matter what kind it is.
Second, pro-grade memory cards for cameras/camcorders are built to withstand things like x-ray scans at airports. If you didn't know, it is possible for a memory card to have its data corrupted by an airport security scanner. Pro-grade cards are billed as being x-ray proof and being magnetic proof as well. In a studio environment (even if just a small home studio,) using memory cards with that kind of protection built-in is good to have.
Third, pro-grade cards handle data streaming data a lot better than regular cards. In a multitrack session where multiple streams can be going on from multiple files, this will serve to your advantage. A card that can't handle streaming data properly can lead to a whole project corrupting itself and you'll lose many hours of work.
2. BACK UP YOUR STUFF
It's incredible how many musicians don't back up their music project data. They just let data sit there on one hard drive, don't back it up, then cry when that hard drive breaks later. And yes, it will break.
Back up your music project data. I don't care how you back it up. Memory card, internet cloud storage, DVD, whatever. Back that stuff up. Don't think about it. Just do it.
3. Use RAR or FreeArc with recovery record for an extra layer of data protection
The WinRAR way
Buy a copy of WinRAR. When you go to create the RAR archive of your music project, do this:
...and then do this:
What this does is make your RAR archive 2% larger with a recovery record.
That 2% extra is a "backup for your backup," so to speak. And all it takes is checking a box when you go to create the archive. If when extracting the archive later it fails due to corruption of the file, you can click the big "Repair" button within WinRAR that will most likely be able to reconstruct most if not all of the data as long as most of the archive is in tact.
The FreeArc way
If you don't feel like paying for WinRAR, FreeArc is the next best choice because 7-Zip does not have any recovery record option.
Warning: At the time I write this, FreeArc is old, with its last stable release in 2010. However, version 0.70 is supposed to be released soon, so it might be worth using.
Warning again: FreeArc uses .arc files that neither WinRAR nor 7-Zip can open. That's bad. Even though FreeArc is free, it's not good that the archive format is pretty much exclusive to FreeArc and nothing else. You can open .7z with RAR and .rar with 7-Zip. But the .arc format is only for FreeArc.
My suggestion is that if you use FreeArc, download a backup copy of the installer file just in case their web site ever goes offline. You're going to eventually switch computers and will need that installer, so put a copy of it somewhere.
This is what to do when making an .arc with FreeArc:
"Protection" is the data recovery record, and the autosize between 1% to 4% is fine for this purpose. There are other options for 5% and above, but you don't need any more than 2% at most unless the project is absolutely gigantic in size.
Why go through all this crap?
Believe me when I say that one of the worst feelings is having a music project disappear due to data hardware failure.
However, the worst of the worst is when you can only recover some but not all of a music project's files. You'll have bits and pieces of it, but that one part that made the whole song work is corrupt and you'll never get it back. It's a huge insult. The data is there, right in your face, it doesn't work, and there's not a damned thing you can do about it.
That one time you need it...
As long as you back up your projects routinely, use media that can take a beating and use a backup method that offers some kind of recovery record option, you'll be in good shape.
The recovery record is the most important thing on the list above. You may never need it, but if in the event you do and your data is recovered, you'll thank your lucky stars you were smart enough to use it.