If You Don’t Have A System of Organization Now, You May Regret It Later
You would think, knowing me as you do, that even at 19 or 20 I was very meticulously organized. You would be wrong if you thought this.
I cannot begin to explain how annoying it is that I was not.
As part of my “New Year, New Me” initiative, (which is actually “New Year, Same Me, But With Better Hats”), I got out my old collection of master sessions from the Neon Apocalypse recordings, which were saved on CDs back in the time period of 1999 to 2002. The sessions were done on a program called Cool Edit (which Adobe eventually bought and turned into Audition, which sucks), so while any session file that I recorded would be easy to spot, the actual sound clips that attach to them are separate files from the session itself. In essence, only the session file knows the proper placement of the sounds, etc. This isn’t entirely atypical for a multi-track digital audio workstation – I use Apple Logic now religiously, and it stores files in a similar manner – albeit much more organized. For, you see, sometimes when you let the program organize things for you, it means that you don’t potentially have an idiot handling the process instead.
In any event, the potential chaos that this sort of file-association scheme opens the door to is nothing short of [ahem] apocalyptic. At 20 years old, I had no idea how apt “Neon Apocalypse” would one day be. At least in this sense. Obviously, there will one day be an actual Apocalypse and we’ll all laugh at how silly I thought this dinky little “Apocalypse” was. And we’ll still say “oh how apt” about that, too.
Come to think of it… what would an Apocalypse of the neon persuasion be? Perhaps a nuclear bomb going off in Las Vegas? Mind you, I’m not suggesting such a thing. In fact, I’m suggesting to absolutely not do that – after all, we’re going to need Vegas to escape to when we know the world’s ending and we have a lot of backlogged sinning to do!
So keep your hands off Vegas, Apocalypse Bringers!
Anyway, back in the old days, when I was recording the album in college, as an employee of the Information Technology department, and at one time both a Music Teacher’s Assistant and Music Lab head technician, I had access to nearly every computer lab on campus, including – as I’m sure you’ve already gathered – the Music Lab. The joy of having this access was that I could go in at ten o’clock at night – when the lab was technically closed and I wasn’t quite as drunk – bring in some of my gear, fire up a machine, and lay down some tracks. I’d be doing this sometimes until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, or until I was entirely sober and bored. No one had a problem with it. But perhaps that was because they knew, in the end, the joke would be on me.
You might be thinking, “if you’re recording those tracks in a music lab, where are you storing those sound files? Surely, you can’t be saving them on a lab computer for fear you might lose them.” Note that I said you might be thinking this. Not that you are. I doubt that you are. Well… actually, to be fair, I bet you are now. You’d better be now. But that’s a technicality.
Anyway, no, it wouldn’t be intelligent of me to store these sound files on any random computer – not just because it was possible that something could happen to them but because there was no telling which computer I might be able to get my hands on at any given time. I could have files all over the place. So I did the only other logical thing I could do: I stored the files on my private network directory (the “P Drive”). The problem with this, however, was that the P Drive only had so much space – it was intended for student documents and the like. So when I ran out of space there, I persuaded the Music Department to give me my own space on the “T Drive”, which was typically reserved for professors and other faculty. The T Drive had near-unlimited space.
I ran out of that, too. Not only that, but I had pretty much used up all the space that the department had dedicated to it, so no one else could save anything either. Needless to say, the department heads weren’t happy, and they politely insisted that I remove my files from the directory ASAP, or they would have them removed (ie: deleted) almost as ASAP. (Yes, I know I technically just said “almost as as soon as possible” but it just sounded better this way).
So not only was I spreading files out around two different network drives, but now I had run out of space on both of them, and was forced – ahem… asked politely – to store these files somewhere else. The only real option I had was to store them onto CDs (this was 1999-2001 or so – DVD burners were not very typical, especially for where I was going to school, and I don’t think portable drives were the most dependable things either). The problem with this was a trillion fold, but I’ll settle for two: 1. Once files are on CDs they cannot be rewritten (yes, I know there are/were CD-RWs, but because they were very difficult to trust, I stayed away from them – I didn’t want to lose all that work); 2. In some cases I had multiple sessions for any given song.
That second one was a real killer. Essentially, what had happened was that if I didn’t think a particular session sounded the greatest – like maybe it needed a different guitar or bass recorded, or ultimately needed a different kind of mix – I would essentially do a “Save As…” with that session, name it something else, make those changes and go from there so that I wouldn’t ruin what I had already done. That way if what I changed was worse, I still had the previous session. If I were to do something like that on Logic, the whole session, including the sound files that were associated with it, would get “copied” over to that new “Save As…” session, so that the sound files were always associated with their own session. With Cool Edit, however, the files did not get duplicated and packaged elsewhere. As a result, I would sometimes have multiple sessions, each pointing to many of the same files, and some different ones, each of them sometimes spread out on multiple CDs so that I could fit everything where they needed to go.
You know, the more I think about this while writing… it makes sense that the program I use now is called “Logic” – clearly, I was no good using my own.
But it gets worse.
Because files had to come off of the P and T Drives as soon as possible, some of those sessions were not done. But, as I noted above, the files on the CDs were read-only, not changeable. I could copy those files off to a computer every time I wanted to work with them and burn new CDs for the updated work (and I did), but over time, I had duplicates of some sound clips, some with minor changes, several versions of one session that each had subtle differences, and – still – sessions that were comprised of sound files that existed on multiple CDs. Joy of joys!
I don’t think I have to tell you that for someone who – at least currently – considers himself to be meticulously organized, this is torture. When I opened my booklet of CDs this past week and looked through the mess of what I had, I was aghast. I genuinely have no idea whether or not most of the CDs I’ve looked at are relevant to the songs that the album ended up being, and even if they are, I have no clue where I’m going to find the proper clips to match up into each session. I may be able to get by comparing creation and modification dates and putting those up to the sessions that they are supposed to go with but not every file would have been modified or created when the associated session was.
If I can figure this out, I think I can be a passable dad.
I do have one saving grace: in 2002, after I’d released Neon Apocalypse, I went through and made some more changes to some of the songs as I was unhappy with how they sounded even then. For instance, I completely changed some guitars on “Torture” and played around with the mix; I remixed the intro to “Lemon Tea” and dropped the “Lemon” chants from it (someday I’ll actually release this version); and I completely re-recorded “ElevenThree“. In some of these cases I had entirely new sessions created for them, and the CDs they ended up on comprised of everything I needed to open up the session and work with an entire song’s mix. So I actually do have one CD of “ElevenThree”, one of “Torture”, and two of “Julia” (for example) that I can just throw in, get the session and sound files from, and be confident I have what I need. But the rest… that’s going to take time.
My goal with this is essentially to convert these Cool Edit sessions to Logic sessions, and store them away for future remixing and remastering at a future date. For one, Cool Edit/Audition is not really a usable system anymore – I don’t know if they still make it, and even if they did, I’ve been using Logic for almost 5 years and love it. To do the conversion, I have to open a Cool Edit session of, say, “Julia”, remove all effects, volume changes and panning so that the whole thing is mono and bare-bones, and “mix down” (or bounce) each track one at a time (essentially soloing track 1, mixing that down, then doing the same with track 2 and so on). By doing this, what I’m really attempting is to “export” each track from the same reference point – 00:00:00 – so that when I pull them into Logic, they all line up with each other properly. This does mean I’ll have bigger files, many with lots of silent spaces, but I’ll have everything properly organized and usable at a later date, regardless what version of Logic I’m on.
Did you follow that? I just re-read it and can’t believe how complicated I’ve made this for myself.
The above is the process I used when taking 2005’s Lemonymous and remixing and remastering it for the 2009 re-release. In doing so, I have all-new, well-organized DVDs of those songs. Thankfully, I appear to have learned from the catastrophe that was Neon Apocalypse‘s messy organization, as the followup EP Redux and 2003’s album Scarlet Dawn are both properly cataloged and organized. I’ll just have to do the same track by track mix down of them that I have done with Lemonymous.
So the moral of the story – if there is one – is no matter what you do with any form your media might take – be it video, music, cartoons or even writing – make sure that you have everything properly organized, cataloged and referenced. Otherwise, you’ll have a heck of a lot of nonsense to wade through if you ever hope to make any sense of what you’ve got somewhere down the line.
Or, I suppose you can just do it however you want and pay someone else to sort it out later. But I wouldn’t recommend that.