Backing Up Your Digital DJ Data

As DJs and producers, the amount of time that we put into finding, organizing, and preparing tracks is often drastically higher than the amount of time we actually spend DJing. Ever considered what it could be like to lose all of that hard work? Today we’ve put together a guide of some of the best ways to back up your DJ and live performance data so that you’re always ready to play a gig.

As a digital DJ, the proper alignment of your digital world is integral to a smooth set. Let’s imagine for a minute that your computer is gone – whether it’s stolen, or your hard drive has completely crashed, or perhaps even just that you left it at home by mistake (seen it happen!). Using this hypothetical situtation for this article, let’s first discuss what you should have backed up and then in the second half of the article, how to back up that data.

WHAT YOU SHOULD BE BACKING UP:

As an absurdly frequent computer user, I recommend creating a regular backup system to protect all of your digital data, especially if you do a lot of content creation like a lot of our producing readers do. That being said, we’ll only focus on the files you’ll want to have to recreate your DJ or performance setup in a breeze. When thinking about what you want to keep safe, consider:

  • Software/Hardware settings (Preferences, history, MIDI mappings, waveforms, cue points)
  • Music libraries (critical playlists, your most used crates, or even an entire collection)
  • Project files (for producers, all of your hard work!)
  • Dependencies (VSTs, Plugins, Drivers)

SAVE THE SETTINGS

Backing up software and hardware settings will be different for each software. You don’t have to do this very often, but make sure to update your backups when you do alter your workflows – like moving to four decks instead of two, altering or adding a new controller.

In Traktor, saving your preferences is simple – just open the Preferences Window, click the big export button at the bottom, and select every important checkbox, and you’ll be able to choose a location to store your preferences. You’ll want to make regular backups of your Traktor “User Data” folder, as noted by Native Instruments forum member exokinetic in his Ultimate Traktor Backup thread (see links at the end of the article).

“This is where all your history, traktor .tsi settings files, and other specific information for YOUR Traktor install is located. You want to back up everything in this directory to your backup location(s) as frequently as possible, as it contains your history. This also contains a file called “collection.nml” that is important for importing your music collection to a new computer. **very important** wherever you import these files onto the new computer, you must go into Traktors settings and set that import location as Traktor’s root directory in the traktor settings “data location” tab.”

Of course, if you want to back up your entire Traktor collection (or individual playlists) and the associated audio files, one of the fastest ways to do this is by right-clicking on the Track Collection in your browser and selecting the “Copy Tracks To Destination” option.

In Serato software (Scratch Live, ITCH, DJ Intro, and soon, DJ), preferences and your library data are saved into two folders locally on your computer – “_Serato_” and “_Serato_Backup”. The first is constantly updated with changes you make everytime you open your software. The latter is a user-prompted backup – when you close the program, it will check to see if your data has been recently saved in the backup folder, and will prompt you to let it do so if necessary.

Nevertheless, those folders are both in the same location – so you’ll want to make sure that you have one or both of them set to copy to your master backup solution regularly. Also, there’s no equivalent method as in Traktor to copy all of your collection and music data concurrently to one location – so you’ll just want to consider how to best backup your music in other ways:

BACK UP YOUR LIBRARY

When it comes to backing up your tracks and library, it’s often helpful to take two different approaches – the complete library backup and the gig-on-the-fly backup.

The complete library backup is just that – a master copy of your entire music collection. This should be regularly updated, especially after going on a big music discovery spree. Make sure that the folders that you back up in this process include any playlist or organizational that’s a part of the collection. For many, simply making a regular copy of the iTunes folder will be sufficient.

The gig-on-the-fly backup should be the backup that you have with you almost all of the time, and ideally should be in the form of a USB key drive. Let’s say you’re headed to an event where one of the scheduled DJs backs out – if you’ve made one of these backups ready and left it on your keychain, the gig could very easily be yours. Plug into a computer or a set of CDJs and go! If you’ve got great playlists for different types of gigs and sets that you play often, be sure to turn them into folders on this drive so you can find the tracks you want quickly. It might be tempting to load your entire library onto these drives, but carefully curated and reliable songs and playlists will make many ad-hoc sets significantly easier.

Related: Check out a great guide we wrote earlier this year about building a digital DJ emergency kit on a USB drive!

While you’re figuring out exactly what or how much of your data you need to be carrying with you or sending into the cloud for your emergency DJ set, consider all of the backup solutions options available. With the help of some of our community on Twitter, we’ve compiled the top three most common methods for digital DJs to keep their sets ready to go should disaster strike.

DJ BACKUP 1: THE USB KEYCHAIN DRIVE

Cost: Varies widely, increasingly affordable
Recommended: SanDisk 64GB, $37 on Amazon
Advantages: Extremely portable. Supported in multiple CDJ models.
Disadvantages: Need to remember to plug in + update regularly.

The USB drive seems to now be the most ubiquitous DJ backup device, having rapidly taken over that role from burnt CDs and DVDs as reusable flash storage dropped dramatically in price over the last five years and USB-ready CDJs have become commonplace in club installs.

Many DJs will store their entire collections on these drives – like San Francisco’s own Claude VonStroke (pictured to the right) and replace a massive physical amount of CDs or vinyl to lug around.

We recommend having at least two of these that are exact copies of each other – if only because they’re small and easy to misplace, take advantage of the cheap cost and add another redundancy to your backup plan.  

DJ BACKUP 2: THE CLOUD (DROPBOX / ICLOUD / BOX.NET / ETC)

Cost: Free for limited storage, subscriptions available.
Recommended: iCloud or Dropbox
Advantages: Cloud-based – can’t forget it at home. Can automatically update when files change, can sync with mobile devices.
Disadvantages: Requires occasional internet to load files back to loaned computer. Not realistic or economical for full/larger libraries.

Online backup storage has become a cheap solution for hosting a large amount of data in the cloud  – with Dropbox and Box.net leading the way in automated local synchronization. One of the best parts about using these solutions is that changes can be automatically synchronized no matter where you are – so set your Traktor collection folder to be synced, import and prepare a bunch of new tracks, and close Traktor, and your changes will all automatically upload to your backup.

The cloud is great simply because it’s an off-site backup – if your house burns down and both of your backups with it, the files you’ve uploaded are ready and waiting. The biggest drawback is that you’ll always need an internet connection to get those tracks playing again – but the peace of mind of knowing your tracks and hard work are in a secure data center is incredible.

Industry giants like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google have jumped on the bandwagon as well with iCloud, Amazon Cloud Drive, SkyDrive and Google Drive respectively all offering very similar solutions. In these cases, it’s best to think about what type of devices you’re trying to sync to and choose an according service. For instance, if you want your files to be synced from your Macbook Pro across to your iPad and your iPhone, iCloud is probably the easiest solution to set up.

DJ BACKUP 3: BOOTABLE BACKUP

Cost: Software needed is cheap/free
Advantages: Have everything you need exactly how you left it. Boot from any computer with the same OS. Probably the best type of backup you can have.
Difficulty: Takes time and remembering to plug drive in for regular re-syncing to be really ideal.

Creating a bootable backup is one of the more advanced techniques for backups. With a bootable drive, your complete workstation can be lost and assuming you’ve had a recent backup, you’ll be able to use any computer with hardware compatible with your operating system and boot right back into where you left off – even if the main hard drive in the computer is completely dead!

A lot of our readers mentioned using a program called Super Duper (OSX , $27.95) to create bootable drive backups – especially good because it only copied the data that has changed since the last backup, making it way more efficient than starting from scratch each time. Windows users, the only imaging software with a similar differential and incremental backup feature that we know of is Macrium Reflect (Windows, $44.99) – know of anything better?

A MULTI-TIERED APPROACH

Of course, there are plenty of other backup solutions for DJs – from iOS apps, to CDs, to simple MP3 players – but not any one of these by themselves is a complete answer. It’s not dangerous to be redundant when it comes to data. You won’t always have internet to get to your cloud backup, or be carrying your bootable backup drive with you to that rave in the middle of the woods you’re DJing at.

Take a few minutes right now and think about what kind of sets you’re playing and where – and how you’d survive if you get to the venue and have nothing. It can happen to you, and the more steps you take now to prepare, the less stress you’ll feel when you have equipment die on you.

What other considerations are important when planning for the worst? We want to hear from you, and how you keep your data safe! Either comment below or tweet @djtechtools with the hashtag #djbackups and we’ll post the best of your replies here!

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  • jmrami

    Hi, I have a question… every time i create hot cues, loops etc in Traktor Pro 2 I need After that backup the songs where i made those changes?? The loops and hot cue aren’t save in the root file of Traktor???
    I ask this, because i usually bought the songs and saved in a external hard drive (backup) and keep it also in my pc… but when i work with Traktor, i work with the finles in my pc. A few weeks ago i have a problem with my computer and i saved the root file of Traktor (i thought that file keep the loops, hots cues , grid etc), but when i reset the computer and install traktor and the files… i found my playlist… but the songs doesn’t have the loops, hot cue etc…. i couldn’t find any of my loops and hot cues….
    It’s any way to get again my loops, hot cues and grid??
    Thank you for your help.

  • Irvin Cee

    Use the free Sync Toy (Microsoft) to sync (use Echo sync type) your music and other files to 1 or more external drives /NAS..
    Goes very fast after the first sync because syncs only changed files.

  • textur

    Oops, sorry for reposting.. Last time there was an “There was internal server error while processing your request”, so I tried again..

  • Max Yankov

    I’m really surprised that this whole article doesn’t have two simple words: Time Machine. Majority of Djs and music producers use OS X, which has a great built-in backup tool. Or may be it has some flaws that I don’t know about yet?

  • Google Play…upload/backup 20,000 songs for freeeeee…problem solved

  • roadieflip

    This has got me thinking… I think I’m going to a fresh install of windows and get my system set up as I want it, (including all my drivers) then back that all up to a recovery partition, so if it all goes tits up, I have a quick way of restoring my system. I’m also going to duplicate that hard drive ontoan identical hard drive, so if I have a massive hard drive failure, I can just swap it out for the good one.

    Great article. Certainly made me think about what could happen…

  • Armando

    What about carbon copy cloner?

  • The Witch Dr.

    Listen to this post! Just this past weekend I had the power supply go out on my External Drive. I have learned to invest in another hard drive. I bought a 1TB passport and made an exact copy of my music folder. So the 20 Mins. I had left before the show started, I tried troubleshooting. When all failed I pluged in my passport and was ready to go. Good thing I updated the spare a week earlier, or I would have been missing some newer tracks. You should always have a spare drive (even if your broke, make an exception and find a way to afford it. I did). For major events it’s best to have a spare laptop also. I have my MacBook Pro as my main laptop, and a stripped down toshiba which just runs the OS and Traktor (Got that laptop for super cheap 395.99). I would hate to refund someone $1000.00+ because My gear failed and I could fulfill my contract. This is something I always worry about, So I try to make sure I have a way out for almost any situation.

  • Josef

    Thanks for the article by the way. I reminded me that a new backup is due 😉

  • Josef

    I do a backup of my complete hd on a regular basis and save it an a external hd (I use Acronis). Additionally, I copy all my precious data, settings et cetera on the same external hd.

    I also use USB flash drive, whereon my best tracks and current mixes are saved, just in case. On my smart phone I save the very same data like on the USB flash drive.

  • I use a multi-tier/multi-vendor approach:

    1. Music Only backup to external drive which I try to sync on a weekly basis. Many tools can be used from RSYNC and SyncToy on the PC side to CCC and others on Mac.

    2. iTunes Match. I subscribed to this to (a) update my old library of 128k ripped songs and (b) provide a way not only to have music “in the cloud” but also to free up disk space of nearly-never-used songs.

    3. Crash Plan. I subscribe to Crash Plan to make a complete replica of my laptop in case of theft or cataclysmic failure. All my music, settings, etc. are synced.

    Future: Right now I use a Traktor Kontrol S2, but I am considering switching over to Denon SC3900s so I have a more modular approach to playback and “Disaster Recovery” scenarios. Say if my laptop dies mid-gig, I pop in a thumb drive and can keep the night going. If I lose a deck, I can play hybrid laptop/1 deck.

  • René H

    I’m on Mac and use Timemachine for backup at home and I have my iTunes library in a Google Drive folder, so it’s backed up to Google Drive Cloud.

  • I just back up to flash drive and a second hard drive with my OS installed on it so I can just pop it into the laptop if the main one goes bad.

  • I was setting up some cloud storage and I accidentally deleted the My Documents folder where traktor and ableton’s settings are saved. it’s not in the recycle bin, how do I get it back? am I going to have to reinstall the programs?

  • My Traktor folder (which contains all the Traktor data) is sitting inside my Dropbox folder.
    This way, every time I make a change – it’s being saved automatically.
    I addition, my entire music collection is also sitted within Dropbox – so everything is backed up – and synced with my other “work” Macbook Pro’s.
    It’s the only way to fly 🙂

  • Is it possible to permanently put Serato folders in a custom directory? (In Dropbox for instance)

  • DJ Ataru

    I have a big problem in that I use iTunes as my Library for the obvious reasons and move the music to my laptop as gigs warrant. But on my laptop, I add all the Cue points, Loops, etc. Now I have a source file in my iTunes’ library that is out of sync with my Traktor use of it. And refreshing the playlists removes the Traktor changes.

    Anyone have a good way to use iTunes far superior song management capabilities and still have a flexible gig setup? I am thinking of moving the iTunes lib to an external drive and using it as my source. Any other ideas.

  • Philip

    I really can recommend iTunes Match! It’s something like 20 bucks a year, it backs up everything from your iTunes Library automatically. Only issue is, that tracks you bought for example in 320kbit at Beatport, get converted to a 256kbit track. But this happens only, if the track is available via iTunes. Otherwise everything gets uploaded into the iCloud, but there is no limit of space!

  • Dan

    All my tunes are stored on a 500gb external hard drive, i use ‘Carbon Copy Cloner’ on my macbook pro to clone that drive to a 500gb partition on a 1TB external hard drive – the other 500gb partition is a clone of my internal hard drive. I keep the 1TB hard drive at my day job office so if my house burnt down i’m covered.

    I also carry an iPad with Algoriddim’s Djay app installed and the Griffin DJ cable – There’s about 6 hours of decent tunes on there that’ll get me through the night.

    I also carry a loaded old skool iPod and my iPhone has Djay installed with a tonne of tunes.

    All this came in handy last weekend when some idiot thought it’d be cool to throw pints of water at me and my gear mid set. Soaked my S4 and Mackbook so i ended up finishing the night on the iPad.

    TIP: you can never have too many backups.

    • I would have literally murdered that dip-shit!

    • cosmodrome

      Yes. That’s my words. Use one of the bazillions of etablished or at least trustworthy backup solutions out there. The problem is not exactly new and there’s no need to hand-roll some special “DJ-backup” plan.

  • Backblaze.com. Nuff said.

  • foos

    The article needs to separated into OS backup and data backup. Ghosting and OS imaging vs simple folder updating is really comparing apples and oranges in terms of what knowledge is needed and what works.

    [WIndows:] MS Sync Toy (google it) is a great free sync software. Reminder that Traktor updates an mp3 each time you load/reload/edit cues in your ‘main’ DJ computer. Keep that computer as the source and mirror it to at least one redundant backup, and update it each time you play or perform.

  • I run a dual boot PC/Ubuntu & Mac a OS on two computers. Then use an RSYNC batch I wrote to both upload my shit to a server and then to clone the harddrives onto a RAID. I’m a programming nerd. This is probably not the solution most of you would want to use. This way I can rate and grid tracks at work on my Mac and then sync it to my PC waiting for me back at home. Both operating systems use a different folder structure which is why I had to write a script to handle it. Otherwise if my DJ comp was a Mac I would use Timemachine or something. But who wants to spend $3k on something some asshole will spill beer over?

    • DJ Ataru

      If you see my question above, I thought of Rsync as a possible way to merge the two libraries. But I like being able to move just playlists using TuneRanger for particular gigs..something Rsync cannot do (without parsing the XML for locations and building an Rsync include file…).

      Anyway, I love Rsync either way!

  • I’ve been keeping my iTunes and Traktor libs on a thumb drive and then using the free crashplan (crashplan.com) to backup the drive to my laptop and desktop. The nice thing is it automatically backups thumb drives when you plug them in, and you can remove them at any time and it will continue where it left off. Since I’m backing up to my other computers, which also have time machine, I even have versioned backups of my backups. If you upgrade to their online backup they support versioning and you can listen to your tracks from the mobile app.

  • apcut

    i use a cheap synology diskstation which makes automatic back-up everyday and allows you to acces your data anywhere over the internet as you have a tiny server of your own.

  • T’CharleS

    Am I the only one to version my files (GIT-based) besides having an incremental save ready all the time ? Data loss is the worst but sometimes just not being able to go back to a previous state of your configuration/library/project files/etc. is a huge loss…

    • I used SparkleShare, which is a networked backup app based on GIT. Git doesn’t handle binary files well though and the library quickly got extremely bloated.

  • Eddie

    Yeah, I didn’t lose my library but lost all my Traktor data for my tracks. So many hours… days of work lost. Backing up is a good thing 😉

  • Wookie

    Currently I just use Time Machine to backup my music (itunes library). When it comes to gigs, my “First Aid Kit” is 8GB USB with the hottest track – so I can use them with CD-players/other laptop. Sometimes also few cds in backpack.
    Next move will be probably to move all music to external HD and play with it tho.

  • Nitin Malhotra

    Backup is a must for ones important data………
    online data storage

  • For Windows i’ve been using Acronis in the past years and it saved my ass a couple of times. Great piece of software worth every cent.

  • Nitin Malhotra

    wonderful article… very interesting and useful
    online data storage

  • Very Nice!!