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Creating an Organised Audio Library

One aspect of beat making that often gets overlooked by producers is the efficient management of their projects and ever-growing sound library. Without some sensible and coherent system in place you’ll soon find yourself losing beats, mislaying sounds and generally spending more time trudging through folders than actual beat making!

Step 1: Choose a Primary Storage Disk

To make our lives nice and easy we first need to set up a primary disk to handle our audio library (or libraries). You could also use this drive as your scratch disk for your DAW to which you record all your audio tracks to, although as we’ll see, this will impact the specifications required of the drive.

As we’ll be storing large amounts of data, I’d say you’ll definitely need at least 1TB of storage, probably more. The obvious choice is to go for a standard mechanical SATA drive here as it’s much more cost effective compared to an SSD. If you are using this drive purely for storage purposes, then a 5400 RPM SATA drive should be absolutely fine for your needs.

However if you also intend using the drive to record audio then you’ll need to get the fastest drive you can afford – at least 7200 RPM.  SSD drives will certainly give you the fastest read and write speeds, but jury is still out over whether SSD drives should be used for long term storage. That said, if our system utilises multiple backup archives (as covered in my next article), this probably won't be too much of a concern. In that case, if you can afford it, an SSD would be great for recording audio to, but overkill for a ‘storage-only’ system. IMO a 7200 RPM mechanical drive is the best compromise.

So how do we connect our drive to our computer? Most modern computers will at least have the option for USB 3.0 and that’s certainly fast enough for our needs. Other ‘external’ options include firewire (found on older Mac systems), thunderbolt (expensive and limited choice) and eSATA, as well as the older USB 2.0 system. Or if you have a spare SATA port inside your computer you could attach the drive to this and get excellent transfer speeds.

Finally there’s also the option of using network attached storage (NAS), where your drive is connected to your network router. This is not going to be suitable for audio recording but should be fine for pure storage purposes and has many other benefits, but I’ll look at NAS options in my next article

For most people, the external USB 3.0 option will be the easiest route, especially if you just purchase a ‘portable desktop drive’ from your favourite online retailer (avoid ‘portable’ USB drives as they require much more system power). This is basically a SATA drive in a factory sealed USB 3.0 enclosure, ready to plug and play. However, be aware that the off-the-shelf option will usually come with a basic 5400 RPM drive inside it. If you want a 7200 RPM drive, either look for a desktop drive that states it has a 7200 RPM drive inside, or simply purchase an internal 7200 RPM SATA drive and an empty USB 3.0 enclosure separately.

Aim for drives made by reliable manufacturers such as Western Digital, Seagate and Hitachi.

Step 2: Set up your disk

Next step is to transfer all your files to this disk. You should organise your disk based on the type of files being stored. For example, a folder for your ‘Sound Library’, a folder for your own ‘Beat Projects’, and if you are a sound designer perhaps a folder for your own ‘commercial kits’. You could use folders or hard disk partitions.

Each primary folder can then be organised into subfolders – for example, your ‘Sound Library’ opens up to sub folders including ‘Drum Kits’, ‘Instrument Kits’, ‘Drum Loops’, ‘Sound FX’, etc, or perhaps you could organise via manufacturer or genre.

Under ‘Beat Projects’, create sub folders for your different types of projects – for example, there could be a folder for projects made on the MPC, a folder for commercial projects, a folder for personal projects, a folder for ‘draft’ projects/ideas etc. Then inside each of these sub folders, you can place each project in its own unique folder along with all the required source files needed for that project.

Categorise your disk in a way that makes sense for you and your needs. The key is to ensure everything is placed in a logical place so it is easy to find when you need it.

Step 3: Move all your existing files over

Now is the time to gather up every old hard drive, zip disk, CF card and to scour through all those scattered folders on your computer to find every single audio sample, kit, library, project file, MIDI sequence and every other scrap of data that you’ll need for your organised library. Transfer everything to your new audio disk and place it in the most appropriate location.

If you use software like NI Maschine, remember to transfer all its sample libraries to your new audio drive (e.g. the Maschine Library, Kontakt Library etc) and then once moved, point Maschine to the new library location and re-index.

Step 4: Formulate Your Working Plan

In order to use your audio drive efficiently, you need to ensure you decide on a logical workflow around it. If you work exclusively in your computer, e.g. using DAWs, the MPC Software, VSTs etc, then simply create each new project directly in your ‘Beat Projects’ folder category and source all your samples directly from the organised ‘Sound Library’ folder.

Each time you create, download or purchase a new kit or sound library, always store it in the most appropriate sub folder within your ‘Sound Library’ folder.

If you work with a standalone MPC (or any other sampler that uses it’s own self-contained disk system) then it’s important that you regularly transfer all the projects and kits you’ve been working on to your centralised audio disk. Don’t rely purely on your MPC’s internal hard drive or removable CF card/zip/floppy as the single source of storage for all your hard work!

Unfortunately there is no way to automate this process, so the more often you backup your projects, the less data you will lose should your MPC disk ever fail. I suggest you try to get into the habit of doing this daily, at the end of each working session.

If you have an MPC1000/2500/5000/500, then you can simply attach the MPC to your computer via USB and drag & drop your MPC projects over to your audio drive. If your MPC doesn’t have USB syncing then you’ll need to directly connect your MPC disk to your computer via a suitable drive. For example if you have an internal zip drive on an MPC2000XL then purchase a USB zip drive and use this to copy your MPC disk’s contents to your audio drive. The process is similar for MPCs with an internal floppy or CF reader, except you’ll instead require a USB floppy or USB CF card reader respectively.

Owners of the MPC3000 or MPC60 may need to use special software to mount their disks to make then readable in your computer, such as the original version of MPC Editor.

Having all your data stored in a single, efficiently organised drive is a great way to speed up your beat making workflow, but there’s one more very important step required in our audio management system – backup. I’ll take a look at this in my next article.

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