O'Reilly Hacks
oreilly.comO'Reilly NetworkSafari BookshelfConferences Sign In/My Account | View Cart   
Book List Learning Lab PDFs O'Reilly Gear Newsletters Press Room Jobs  

Buy the book!
Mac OS X Panther Hacks
By Rael Dornfest, James Duncan Davidson
June 2004
More Info

Back Up Your Digital Music Collection
Hard drives don't last forever, so it's best to start thinking now about how you can safely back up your digital tunes
[Discuss (4) | Link to this hack]

So, you have your thousand-CD collection ripped to you computer, as well as the hundred or so songs you've purchased from the iTunes Music Store. Your CDs have now been given away or sold for a buck a piece (if you're lucky) to a second-hand music store. You're all digital, all the time—good for you!

Until that massive hard drive decides to bite the dust, that is. All that work converting your CDs and all those songs purchased are as good as gone. This hack helps you prepare for that all but inevitable day. Hard drives do crash, and when yours does, you want to be sure you have your music backed up somewhere safe.

The first decision you need to make is what media to use. Backing up to CDRs, DVDs, and a hard drive each have their advantages and disadvantages. Blank CDs are great because they are cheap (only a few cents a piece—if not free—if you bother to mail in that rebate); however, they hold only approximately 650 MB (100 or so songs). DVDs hold a lot more data (up to 4.5 GB, or around 450 songs, give or take a couple dozen) but are more expensive and burn at a much slower rate than CDs.


A typical CD burner can burn at 10-50 , whereas a DVD burner maxes out at 2 .

An external hard drive is super-fast but might be outgrown quickly unless you go all out and get a whopping great one, at which point it is much more costly. The best way to make your decision is to look at the size of your music collection you are backing up. Only have 20 GB on you computer? Then either blank CDs or DVDs are probably the way to go. If your collection is 100 GB or larger, you might consider purchasing an external FireWire (faster) or USB 2.0 (slower) hard drive. The time you save should more than make up for the cost of the hard drive over that of a pile of cheap CDs.

Regardless of which media you choose, you have to figure out a way to transfer all of your music. If you purchase a hard drive, this is just a matter of plugging it in and drag-and-dropping your music folder onto the new hard drive. Wait for the files to copy over, and you're done! You might want to consider keeping the hard drive at a location different than your computer (at work is good, since you can listen to your tunes there too), just in case physical damage happens to your computer (as a result of fire, flood, child pouring juice over computer, etc.).

If you choose to back up to CDs or DVDs, it helps to use some kind of backup software that automates some of the job for you. Yes, you can back up to CDs using iTunes, but the task is an arduous one at best. You have to create a playlist, drag the songs to that playlist, and then hit burn for each and every CD. But what if you want to back up a serious amount of music?

Backup Applications

If you don't have an iPod but still have music to back up, there are a few backup solutions available to you. Good backup software does something called disk spanning. This means that if you have 10 GB of music to back up to a handful of CDs, the software automatically figures out how many CDs you need and prompts you to feed each in turn throughout the burning process.

One such application is Apple's Backup (http://www.apple.com/support/downloads/backup.html), included with .Mac membership or Dantz's Retrospect (http://www.dantz.com).

Apple's Backup, while downloadable even without a .Mac account, unfortunately doesn't allow you to back up to CD, DVD, or another drive without a .Mac account. If you have a .Mac account, though, it's a rather friendly app with some nice features. You'll find a tour of Backup (and the rest of .Mac) at http://www.mac.com/1/iTour/tour_backup.html.

For the non-.Mac folk out there, let's take a look at backing up with Dantz Retrospect. When you launch the app, the main window pops up, as shown in . You have four main options: Backup, Restore, Duplicate, and Archive. To back up to a series of CDs or DVDs select Backup.

Figure 3. The main window in Retrospect

Here, you name your backup project and select a type. Since in this case we are doing a straightforward backup, click the Backup button. The Backup Set Creation dialog pops up, as shown in . Choose to back up to a hard drive or CD/DVD. If you select CD/DVD, Retrospect figures out the number of CDs or DVDs you need, based on the amount of data (in this case, music) you have to back up.

Figure 4. The Backup Set Creation dialog

Retrospect then prompts you to select a source folder (the folder from which it should copy files). By default, iTunes keeps its music in an iTunes Music folder within the Music folder in your home directory. Even though you are backing up to CDs or DVDs, Retrospect needs to create a document in which to keep data about your backup—not your backup itself. Hit Save to let it save this backup set.

Click the Start button to get things rolling. Retrospect prompts you to insert a disc, spends a few minutes burning and verifying the disc, and then ejects the disc and asks for another. Shampoo, rinse, and repeat until all your music is backed up.

While feeding Backup or Retrospect CD after CD or DVD after DVD (you should be cursed with so much music!) might seem rather tedious, at least the program takes care of all the rest for you.

Whether you use CDs, DVDs, or another hard drive, make sure you back up. Those iTunes music purchases will be worthless if anything should happen to your one and only copy.

Hadley Stern

O'Reilly Home | Privacy Policy

© 2007 O'Reilly Media, Inc.
Website: | Customer Service: | Book issues:

All trademarks and registered trademarks appearing on oreilly.com are the property of their respective owners.