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How to preserve your recordings for musical history
Comment from a Audio Masterclass visitor on Apple's very recent acceptance of the Windows operating system, and its implications for the future of OS X...
As someone who deals daily with archival problems, I think it's a VERY big deal whether Apple scraps OS/X in favor of Windows. Besides the obvious audio tools like Pro Tools which are available on both platforms, there are other tools favored by some Mac users that have proprietary formats. Work saved in those formats will become inaccessible when those systems go away. Of course the "gotta be a Mac and nothing else will ever do and don't even try to convince me otherwise" people will arrogantly point out that even if Apple stops using and supporting OS/X (or any of it's earlier versions) THEY will personally continue to use OS/X and will always have a working Mac that they can access their files with.
Well, bully for them, but don't believe it. Things will fade away in years to come. This has been proven throughout history starting with the first wax cylinders up through the glorious (yeah right) days of the 8-track cartridge. There are now fewer and fewer working 24-track 2 inch tape machines out there, and there are now fewer and fewer working 16-track 2 inch tape machines out there, and there are now fewer and fewer 8-track 1 inch tape machines out there, and there are now fewer and fewer 4-track 1 inch tape machines out there. Need I go on? I could probably site dozens of formats that are no longer in use commercially and for which you'll only find a few companies with working equipment to play back the recordings any more.
And those companies are getting fewer and fewer each day. Some have equipment that finally dies and they can't find (or can't afford) replacement parts. Some have done custom work to fabricate their own replacement parts, but eventually formats die. I have no doubt that some of the Mac file formats will go the way of physical recording formats. I also have no doubt that some of the Windows file formats will go the way of physical recording formats.
So when people say that all this discussion is a useless waste of time and pointless Apple bashing, they're ignorant of the big picture. That big picture includes preserving the recordings made today in a way that they can be accessed tomorrow. If the last working Mac died tomorrow and no replacement parts could be found, and no working CPUs could be hobbled together from the skeletons of other machines, how many people would even TRY to access the now inaccessible files on their hard drives?
How many people are even aware that the file format for the Mac OS stores data in 2 forks whereas the PC formats only store data in one "fork"? Do they realize they can't just drop their hard drive into a PC and read the files? Do they care? Heck, if they have backed up those Mac files to a CD-R, or a (heaven forbid) DVD-R (and I say that because files burned this week on a DVD-R are quickly found to not be readable next week, and I'm not exaggerating - it's a VERY unstable optical medium) that the Mac format discs wouldn't be readable on a PC? Have they saved the files in ISO formats to make sure that they're readable by other operating systems? Hopefully. But considering their Mac is God attitude, I wouldn't count on it.
With analog formats, you could hope to stumble onto a playback method. Heck, you could even put a thumbtack through the eraser of a pencil, hold the other end of the pencil in your teeth and "play" a record with the thumbtack acting like a needle. The digital equivalent to that would be to try using a flashlight to "read" a CD-R..... nothing so low tech works. AND, even if you DO manage to read the data, do you have an algorithm that will let you actually USE that data or will it simply be a bunch of 1s and 0s in a proprietary data format that no one remembers how to decode and therefore still doesn't reveal the audio recording it holds even if you've found a way to read the data from the disc?
It matters if the Mac OS will go away. It matters if the Windows OS goes away. It matters if Windows can still read old diskettes with FAT 12 directory structures, let alone FAT 16, FAT 32 and NTFS. How many data files now reside only on 8" floppies somewhere that no one can read any longer? What if the computers back then had been capable of audio recording and those recordings were now only stored on 8" floppies? They wouldn't be readable today.
When people get caught up in the "My OS is better than your OS" argument, often times it's with the arrogance of someone being true to their high school and not looking at the big picture. That argument is an important one for archival reasons, though, and unless people realize that "just go make some music" is a dangerous attitude that may result in masterpieces being lost to time and technological advances, the future doesn't look good. Of course, if these people really ARE that ignorant of the problems using today's technology can cause tomorrow, maybe it's better that their recordings do become inaccessible in the future so we can all forget them and their music as well.
Even in today's high tech world, my data and your data may not be interchangeable. Let's not lose site of the fact that my 24-bit file format may not be the same as your 24-bit file format (mine is stored with leading 0s in 4 byte chunks, yours is stored with trailing 0s in 4 byte chunks, and a third person's is stored in packed format). There's so much to keep track of and to make sure gets "converted" and preserved when formats change. Should people who don't care about making a recording that can be played in the future even be allowed to make recordings?
Well, yes, of course they should, but SOMEONE will need to make sure that recording remains usable if they don't care about that themselves. To suggest that we all forget about arguing and just go make some music is to be truly ignorant of the issues that technological advancements have caused and will continue to cause, and it worries me when I see people attacking you for dealing with those issues. Will the future be spent trying to undo the damage done by people like that?
Well, gotta run, but it's nice to know there's someone out there that actually thinks about things like this and isn't afraid to stand up and state the importance of things that others don't realize or don't care about.
President, Diamond Productions