Is Your Music Safe? Five Tips on Preserving Your Digital Collection

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PHOTO: Joe McNally/Getty

1. Back it up, Stupid
It's common sense: Hard drives fail, so keep everything backed up on an external hard drive. In addition, keep the support drive away from your main computer. "If there's a fire in the room where you keep your computer," says music archivist Paul West, "you've lost it all."

2. Future-Proof Your Tunes
With a terabyte of storage available for under $75, there's no reason to compress files to low-quality MP3s anymore. Future-generation iPods will have plenty of room for audiophile-quality files, such as Apple Lossless.

3. CD-Rs Aren't Safe
Avoid burning your music onto data CD-Rs or DVD-Rs. "They can last as little as three to five years if they're left in the sunlight and if it wasn't good quality to begin with," says former Library of Congress archivist Brylawski. Also: Not all CD-Rs are manufactured alike, and some deteriorate faster than others.

4. Save Your CDs
Don't toss your CD collection yet, as experts agree that most discs in your collection should last another 30 to 40 years. (Reports of "CD rot" haven't proved to be widespread.) "No panic is called for," says Jerry Hartke of Media Sciences, a data-storage consulting company. "We're not driving toward the edge of a cliff."

5. Aim For the Cloud
Consider backing up your music with a remote online "cloud" system. One service, Carbonite, offers unlimited backup for less than $5 a month.

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