Updated: Nov 21, 2020
First of all, have a file archive!
Have an archive, in which you save all your projects, exported mixes & masters.
At least always have a copy of your exported final mix in your archive. That should go without saying! You probably already have old DAW projects, which you won't be able to open up anymore, due to updated operating systems, missing DAWs or missing plugins/missing samples etc. I can't tell you how many times I receive a mastering project and it goes like "Hey we can't open the project anymore and this is what we have. 16bit and no headroom, hope you can work with it". Not ideal but not that hard to avoid.
LISTEN! If you don't even have a structured archive for your exported mixes and possibly your projects or even the stems, how could you guarantee that you would not lose your master as well? You couldn't. And losing your music is not great.
Have a cloud solution or a drive that's up to modern standards and archive your precious music creations. I don't think that a lot of artists spend much time planning ahead or thinking about the future, but if we don't have a place to store our own music, we have to question if our music is even valuable to ourselves.
Let me give you something else to think about: How could we be concerned with sales numbers, streaming numbers, growing our fan base and people paying attention to our music, if we don't even deem it valuable to ourselves?
Backup as much as you can!
Should go without saying, that you keep your projects and finished files in an archive. Keep copies of your DAW projects, maybe even export and keep the multi tracks for potential remixes, keep your mastering-ready mix/pre-masters (in respective bit depth) and keep your masters safe. Make sure you have access to that stuff in 10 years and in 20 years time because you might find use for these core files in coming years. Remastering, use in video content, new streaming/playback technologies.
But equally important, keep your files from today future proof!
I said you can't guarantee that you will always be able to open up an old project and very likely you have already been in that situation. But what if you would like to re-master your songs for a "Best-Off" or a remastered album? Or even less cheesy and far more practical, be prepared for future hi-res playback technologies or video/audio platforms?
For that I recommend this:
Export your mixes/pre-masters as floating point wave files, for example 32bit floating point. I'm convinced in any modern professional DAW, you will have the option to export files like these. The floating point architecture makes sense because it stays true to how your DAW-internal audio signal paths/processing is working. Regardless of audio-woohoo, this is not my personal opinion, this is a fact and therefore not up for debate.
This is future proof why?
Fixed point exports, like 16bit, 24bit and 32bit fixed point can get dithered, in fact should be dithered to avoid truncation errors. To an extent, this is my personal opinion and you can disagree with it and debate it, if you want. In all honesty though, I don't think that would be very clever. But still, you will find people who say so-and-so. But(!) floating point exports don't have to get dithered. In fact, in many DAWs, the dithering options for exports will be deactivated when you select a floating point export. This is not my opinion, this is a fact.
It is going to become a standard to deliver floating point audio files to post-production (like in mastering or in a video post-production). That is why I believe you are better off to stay as true to your DAW internal processing as you can and spare the dithering and hand over a "pristine" file to your mastering/video engineer.
(At the end of the chain, your mastering engineer will apply dithering to export a final, consumer friendly, standard fixed point audio file)
Without going too deep into detail (which I will do in another article), multiple dithering could alter the audio. But multiple noise-shaping algorithms (which are part of some dithering processes) will definitely alter the audio.
Don't take my word for it:
Page 78 of Ableton Live's manual: This is showing export options in Ableton Live. They don't call the 32bit option 32bit floating point specifically, but it is exactly that. Bear in mind that 32bit can also be floating point or fixed point so refer to your manual if you're not sure what to select. Let me know and I'll be happy to help you find out more about export options in your DAW.
Two key factors for being future proof:
Try to ensure your own access to your intellectual property (music, files, mixes, masters) in the coming decades.
Have files in your archive that are as ready as can be for future standards and future technologies in the music industry.
Right now, with the playback systems and the listening devices that the majority of people are using, it might not be the time to ask for specific formats like floating point files for mastering (although I do) or as a consumer format. I know that the subtlest differences are very often not even audible to our human hearing apparatus. But it can come to that in the future. So why not try to have something appropriate in your archive for future technology? Right! There is no reason not to.
Let me know if you have trouble making sense of this or if you would like me to check out how you could export specific files in your DAW.
Until next time
Author: Robert Hundt // Date: June 22nd, 2020