Back It Up: Audio

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Last week, I told you about our sprinkler issue. And I remembered that I wanted to write a series about backing up, preparing for the inevitable failure of something. While we don’t like to think about it, we will experience equipment failures at some point. Or a natural (or manmade) disaster will strike. When (not if) that happens, we need a plan for getting back up and running as soon as possible. So how do we do that? It starts with an honest assessment of what is likely to fail, and what we can reasonably back up.

Back Up Everything You Can

In 2013, it’s dead-simple to backup computers and hard drives. There is really no excuse for not doing that. Digital audio consoles are computers. They all have an OS, programs and files. They all run on drives, usually SSDs. And drives will crash. So we need to make sure we have a backup of as much as we can. 

At FOH, we have three Macs; a MacBook Pro for virtual soundcheck; a Mac Mini for LAMA, walk-in music, Workbench and the M-48 control software; and another Mac Mini that is BootCamped to Win7 that runs the SD8 remote software. I have full images of all three computers; so if they ever die, it’s a 20 minute process to rebuild the new computer. If the drive crashes on a weekend, I can just boot off my backup, get through the weekend and deal with it Monday. To manage these backups, I have a 1 TB drive with three partitions on it. The Macs are backed up with Carbon Copy Cloner, and I use a program called WinClone to create compressed images of the BootCamp partition. I don’t run those backups all the time, but about every month or two I’ll update them. 

Beyond the complete hard drive backup, files can also become corrupted or accidentally deleted. For that reason, it’s also good to have a running backup, and preferably one that is also off-site. We use Dropbox for all our files. Every weekend, we back up the weekend’s SD8 show file to the remote PC, and as that is in a Dropbox folder, it’s backed up as well. In my post on backing up lighting, I wrote about the little .Bat file we use to facilitate that. 

We also make heavy use of baseline show files. Every time the baseline changes, it gets sync’d to the main Dropbox folder, along with a second Dropbox folder, just in case. All of our input sheets, Wireless Workbench files, M-48 software settings and even track presets for Reaper are saved in Dropbox. Since all the computers are on line, as soon as a file gets saved on one, it’s saved on the others. It’s also really handy for looking at those files from my laptop or iPad.

Hardware, Too

No everything is software backups, however. What happens when a piece of hardware fails or gets stolen? Over the last few years, I’ve built a great little portable sound system—16 channel mixer, 4 channels of comps, an SPX990, two channels of wireless, two mains and subs— and we can easily cover a 500-600 seat room with that rig. It’s what we used last weekend when we had to meet in a gym. Sure, we grabbed a few things from our main room (and I brought in my X32), but otherwise, that was it. 

Now, it’s probably not cost-effective—or even wise stewardship—to buy two FOH consoles (unless they’re X32s, then why not?) But it’s not a bad idea to have an extra amp or two lying around, and perhaps a plan for what to do if your system processor goes out. One reason we run the SD8 software on a computer right next to the SD8 is just in case the surface of the SD8 goes down. Now it’s only done that once in 3+ years, but it was nice to be able to finish the service on the remote. We also use it for iPad control, but that’s another post. 

And of course, it’s imperative to have extra cables for your headset mic’s—and probably an extra headset mic, extra DIs, vocal mic's and almost anything else on your stage. You may not have exact replacements for everything, but you should have enough that losing a mic won’t kill you. 

Several years ago at another church, we lost our FOH console on Friday night. It was a long night trying to get it back up and running. Turns out the power supply was dead, and it wasn’t coming back up without a trip to the service center. That Saturday, we played musical boards. I pulled a console out of the student room, and put in it’s place a board from our portable system. We ran with slightly truncated capabilities, but all the services went on, and I doubt anyone knew any different. We could do that because we had a plan.

My friend Duke said it well in an article he wrote for Sunday Mag on this topic: “After disaster strikes is not the time to come up with a plan, it’s the time to execute one.” Start planning for the day when things fail. Now is the time to think it through and figure out what you’ll do. Because you  will look like a hero when you get it back so quickly. 

Next time, we’ll talk about our plan for backing up presentation. In the meantime, check out the article I did this spring on our backup process for lighting.

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