Cloud File Exchange | Share and Share Alike

May 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Mike Levine



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Ever since broadband made it possible to send audio files at a reasonable speed over the Internet, musicians, engineers and producers have taken advantage of this capability to adopt decentralized workflows. In the early days of remote sessions, files were often exchanged by dropping them into Apple iChat or AOL Instant Messenger on the home end, or using satellite or T1-based services like EDNet on the ultra-high end. But in the past few years, the increased data transfer and storage capabilities that have allowed for the development of cloud computing have spawned a bevy of remote file-sharing services that make sending session files or stems to a collaborator across the country or the world almost as easy as “sneaker-net” to the engineer in the next studio.

What are engineers, producers and musicians using for their file exchange? Well, the answer is many different things and often combinations of services. The price of entry for file-sharing services is so minimal that it’s possible to use a variety of them without spending a lot of money.

Another wrinkle to this whole issue is the imminent end of DigiDelivery, Avid’s file-transfer system, which has been used by many studios and producers to send large session files. DigiDelivery works with any data, not just Pro Tools files. It combines dedicated servers and software, and requires a fairly substantial investment but allows for sending of very large files, securely, including complete sessions. It was bought by Aspera in 2007, and will be discontinued in favor of Aspera’s own system. “Aspera will stop providing support, maintenance and extended warranty services on DigiDelivery products on December 31, 2011,” says a message on that company’s Website. Aspera will be offering upgrades to DigiDelivery owners.

A small sampling of engineers I spoke with reflected the “still-in-progress” nature of today’s music-file sharing in pro audio. “I actually use YouSendIt and [Apple’s Mobile Me] iDisk to send and receive,” says engineer/producer Jimmy Douglass, adding that he does take precautions. “I hide all labels inside folders so the messages and top folders never read WAV, AIFF or MP3. So if you happen to be surfing, you probably won’t stop there.” However, he says, some clients insist that he use their private FTP sites for security reasons.

Also taking a mix-and-match approach is Nashville engineer Chuck Ainlay, who won Engineer of the Year honors at last month’s Academy of Country Music Awards. “I’m using DigiDelivery, YouSendIt and sometimes [sending] through a client’s FTP site,” he says. “DigiDelivery requires the recipient to download the client software to use it, but otherwise can handle large-sized file transfers. YouSendIt and Dropbox are great for no hassle, small-sized file transfers.”

Producer/engineer/mixer Dave O’Donnell says he’s been using YouSendIt. “It’s fast and I’ve had no problems,” he says. “You can upload files or a folder of up to 2 Gigs at a time, and you can give your client the Web address to your ‘drop box’ so they can upload files right to that. I’ve also used iDisk and always had problems; I guess Apple doesn’t care about it. I’ve used my own FTP site, but clients who don’t use a program like Fetch or aren’t very Web savvy are a little unsure of it.”

Producer/engineer/mixer Bob Power has found the same thing regarding FTP. “The biggest problem with it is that many folks don’t know how to use FTP-access software,” says Power, who, in addition to FTP, also sends files with YouSendIt.

Woodstock, New York–based engineer D. James Goodwin has found a solution for file sharing that allows him to host the files rather than sending to the cloud. “In my place,” Goodwin says, “I have a dedicated server set up for my clients. I use a software called Rumpus [from Maxum Development,], and I run it on a dedicated Mac Mini with FireWire 800. It’s been really great as I can set up client accounts and they can upload, download, et cetera. I’ve used other file-sharing things in the past like YouSendIt or my iDisk, but my primary concern was security and not allowing other clients to see each other’s files. Rumpus allows me to have discrete, separate accounts for all my clients, with full sharing ability, over a Web-based protocol.”

There are a number of different ways to go, so how do you decide what’s best for the way you work? Are you sending complete sessions or stems, or just mixes and reference tracks? Will your clients allow you to use a file-sharing service (most send their files using robust encryption methods, but many are still concerned about how secure they are), or require that you use a private system like an FTP site or DigiDelivery? Some large facilities have their own proprietary file-sharing systems that use custom software to securely send and receive folders from clients.

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