Sure, streaming music services like Spotify and Google Music are popular, and likely the future of music consumption. But many of us still have a sizable music collection stored on a computer somewhere. It could be on iTunes, or a digitized CD or vinyl collection.
If you have music files stored on your hard drive but have never taken steps to back those files up, you’re playing a dangerous game. At any moment, a wayward power surge or freak drive malfunction could render your entire music collection kaput. Considering the average album costs about $10 to download, you could easily be looking at thousands of dollars in losses, or hundreds of hours spent digitizing. Whatever the case, it\’s not tough to back things up these days, and there are many options and methods. If you want to boil things down to the absolute fundamentals, you’ll discover that you have two main options for backing up your music files:
- Local storage: As in keeping a backup copy of your files on a separate device in case the one you use regularly decides to quit on you. This give you total control of your files, and you can even toss your local storage device in a safe for extra security.
- Cloud storage: As in storing it all online, or on some remote server operated by a third party. If you opt for this method, you can access your music anywhere, at any time – just so long as you have an internet connection.
Some people do both – you can never be too safe, after all – but as long as you pick one or the other, you won’t find yourself having to buy the same albums over again, or pilfering your friends’ song collections in an effort to recoup your losses.
Just a Few Tunes and Albums
You can get away relatively cheap (and in some cases, completely free) if the size of your music library is relatively small. Not everyone is into digital, after all. There are some people out there who actually still enjoy vinyl, CD and even tape. If this sounds like you, and you’ve only got a few GBs of music you want to hold on to, try any of the following cheapie methods to backup your music files.
- A thumb drive. These are also commonly referred to as flash drives and they’re ridiculously cheap (anywhere from $8 for 8GB to $25 for 32GB). They’re also easy to use and fit straight into your computer’s USB port. The trick to being a thumb drive aficionado is to keep track of where you put it – these suckers are so small that they can be easily lost if you don’t keep them attached to a keychain or store them in a place you won’t forget. They are also tough, and can survive in a junk drawer or the occasional drop. Just don\’t confuse tough with indestructible, because they can become corrupted.
- MP3 player or iPod. The capacity of most low- to mid-range MP3 players and iPods are more than enough to handle a modest digital music collection. And the best part about this is that they’re ready to play.
- Smartphone or iPhone. Today’s smartphones (both Android and iOS) come with enough memory to adequately house a small MP3 collection and still have room for more. Without many apps or pictures, a standard smartphone will have at least 6 to 12GB of space. This is also a good use for an old smartphone you may have rattling around in a junk drawer.
A very broad and general rule of thumb claims that one can fit approximately 200 to 250 songs per GB of free space. That number can vary greatly depending on the song length, sound quality, and sampling rate, but most casual music fans can use the figure as a general guideline.
- Free cloud storage services like Google Drive and Dropbox abound. They offer limited space. Google Drive maxes out at 15GB, and that includes however much space your email takes up. Dropbox free tops out at 2GB, but you can get incremental bumps of 500MB with each successful referral you send to others. Free referral bumps stop at the 18GB limit.
A Respectable Collection
Most people have more than just a few dozen albums of music in digital format, but not everyone owns every single album that was ever recorded. If you fall into this category, you’re in the majority. In which case, your options for backing up your music files can still be relatively inexpensive.
- Bigger flash drives: Moving into the upper echelon of flash drives costs you a bit more money ($30-$40 for 64GB and $60-$80 for 128GB) but the convenience factor of being able to put your whole music collection into your pocket, or onto the end of a keychain, makes the extra cost a lot easier to swallow.
- DVD data storage is another method people use to back up their music collections, and you can get stacks of blank DVDs for a song. Most standard DVDs can store up to 4.7GB of data. Dual-layer DVDs offer little less than twice that amount, around 8.5GB.
- Dropbox and Google Drive are currently the two “big names” in free cloud storage, but there are also a handful of others, like SugarSync and Microsoft’s SkyDrive. All offer additional and affordable pricing plans that give you room to grow if you find your collection of digital music beginning to balloon.
iCloud and iTunes Match
- iCloud is a unique service, and as the name suggests, iCloud is Apple\’s proprietary cloud offering. Apple gives away the first 5GB of cloud storage for free, but it\’s limited to documents, mail, and general backup, not music. In fact, Apple iCloud offers unlimited storage for iTunes content. The catch is that Apple iCloud only backs up iTunes music and will NOT back up any music purchased from rival services like Amazon or Google, unless you subscribe to iTunes Match (more on that below). Also, in the event you lose your music collection and need to restore it, iCloud will not restore any iTunes content Apple no longer offers, even if you previously purchased it from the service.
- Not everyone buys their music from iTunes, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still use Apple’s services as affordable cloud storage. If you own a good bit of music that you’ve ripped from CDs or purchased elsewhere, you can use iTunes Match. The service costs $24.99 per year and allows you to access your stored music from any iTunes-enabled device. It works by automatically “matching” music you own that’s already offered on iTunes, and uploading anything else for which it can’t find a match. One of the perks of using iTunes Match is that playback comes through at a high quality 256-Kbps – even if the quality of your original rip is lower. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, there are limits. While users have unlimited storage for iTunes content, iTunes Match is limited to 25,000 songs that you didn\’t buy from iTunes.
Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player
- Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player work together and offer a similar service as iCloud. Amazon automatically stores any music files you buy through Amazon to the cloud. Amazon also offers MP3s of all physical music you buy from the retailer, as well as all CDs you\’ve purchased since 1998, with some limitations based on licensing and digital music rights. Amazon provides limitless storage for all music purchased through Amazon, and allows for room 250 imported songs from external sources and services. Users can upgrade to Cloud Player Premium for $24.99 a year, which then allows for 250,000 songs.
This is the point where mere thumb drives and free cloud storage just won’t cut the mustard. It’s not only impractical, but it can also take up a lot of physical space. Imagine drawers upon drawers stuffed with random thumb drives, or having to delete an album from Dropbox to make room for a new favorite. Yeah, no. If you’ve got a digital music collection that’d make a record industry exec blush, here’s what you’ll need.
- A monster external hard drive. Anywhere from 2TB to 5TB ought to do it, but if you’re an audiophile who thinks 320Kbps MP3 files sound bad and you prefer to rip your music to WAV or FLAC format, you may need even more room than that. Luckily, prices for external hard drives are dropping fast, and as of the time of this writing, 2TB external hard disk drives are available for a little less than $100.
- A service like Dropbox is great if you’re using it for temporary storage or for smaller chunks of digital data, but if you’re looking at paying for expanded space, it might be a good idea to check elsewhere. For example, Dropbox Pro offers monthly rates of $8.25 for 100GB, $16.60 for 200GB, and $41.60 for 500GB. It costs even more if you want to expand into the territory of terabytes. This will require you to branch out into their Business plan, which can be quite cost prohibitive. With that in mind, Amazon\’s Cloud Player Premium plan might be the best option.
Cloud Storage for the Lazy
On the other hand, there are services like CrashPlan and Carbonite that’ll charge you a lot less. The only drawback is that upload times to the remote servers can take an eternity.
Not everyone likes the idea of manually uploading music to a cloud drive. Depending on your level of proficiency with software programs, beginners could find some programs difficult to figure out (e.g., Dropbox and Google Drive). Fortunately, there is an entire industry of cloud storage providers, like aforementioned CrashPlan and Carbonite, that do the all of the hard work for you and even scour your computer and connected hard drives for data to upload to the cloud automatically. These include the following:
- SOS Online Backup
According to online surveys where ease of use, cost effectiveness, and storage availability are compared, CrashPlan is the cloud storage service that is frequently voted the most popular. However, TechnologyGuide took a closer look at those cloud services, to help you decide which is the best for your money.