June 02, 2010
Learn how a fast Internet connection and the right software lets you get your music to fans and clients from anywhere.
By RICH TOZZOLI
With more and more producers, musicians and songwriters working from the comforts of their home studios, the need to transfer files across the Internet has grown exponentially. Luckily for us, the increasing speed offered by Internet service providers has made such operations quicker and easier than ever. The days of rushing to Fed Ex with that CD or DVD are quickly fading into the night! In this article, we'll examine some of the most common file sharing methods, and talk with a few pros to see how they use the Net to get their daily work done.
The simplest way to send a file of your music is as an e-mail attachment. But that can only work for relatively small files—for example America Online users are limited to sending and receiving 16-megabyte files, which includes the message text, headers and the attachment itself. That restricted size quickly becomes a problem, even if you compress the file into a format like .zip. That's simply not going to cut it if you need to send a client full resolution mixes (unless they're shorter than a minute), video files, or entire sessions. E-mailing files also means that they are stored on someone's e-mail server, which may make them available to unwanted eyes (and ears).
Web-based upload services, such as YouSendIt.com, are a popular alternative. With a fee structure they call "freemium," users can send files of up to 100MB for free with YouSendIt Lite, simply by logging on, subscribing, choosing the file and hitting 'send.' For $9.99 a month, users can send files up to 2GB in size, as well as folders of data (great for sending a lot of mixes at once). I often use their YouSendIt Express utility to save time. By launching the widget that resides in my Mac's dock, I can log into my account in seconds, enter the recipient's name in the "To" box (directly from my database), hit "Add Files," and then click "Send It". I can literally have a mix on the way to the client less than one minute after I've bounced it to disc.
This service is also great for remote collaboration with co-writers, session players, etc. I'll sometimes send complete Pro Tools session folders to drummers and other musicians so that they can lay parts down in their home studios. They simply download the file, open it on their system, cut the tracks, then upload the full file back to me. I then import their newly recorded tracks into my master session and continue working.
Another method for file sharing is iDisk. Available for Mac OS X, Windows and iPhone/Pad/Touch users, is a very useful file hosting service for MobileMe (formerly .mac) subscribers. Subscription-based, the individual plan ($99/year) offers up to 20GB of storage and 200 GB of monthly data transfer. Often, when I'm composing music for TV producers, they'll tell me to just drop the mixes on their iDisk account—usually in a folder already set up with my name on it. They can log on form wherever they happen to be and quickly download the file for review.
Perhaps the easiest of all is File Dropper (filedropper.com), which lets users send 5GB of data, —and you don't need to sign up for anything. Using a browser such as Safari or Firefox, just go to filedropper.com and hit the large Upload button. Navigate to the file you'd like to send, and press Select. It will show upload progress and then provide you with a URL, which you can copy, and paste into an email. The receiver of your e-mail then selects the URL address and downloads the file. This is useful for larger file sizes, but again, you're trusting the security of a remote server over which you have no control.
Utilities like File Dropper
YouSendIt make it easy to transfer large files to clients and collaborators
If you want more control and security, you can exchange data using File Transfer Protocol (FTP) over a TCP/IP-based network. Often referred to as a "client-server program," FTP file sharing requires more technical resources to set up than the Internet-based services described above. You'll need an FTP server to store the files, and FTP client software to transfer them to and from your computer. However, a growing number of professionals now use their own FTP sites because they're password protected and—once they're set up—can be as easy to use as dragging and dropping files between hard disks.
This is the method I prefer because it offers both speed and control. I can share a project by dragging an entire session folder to my FTP server, and then providing my clients or co-writers an address and password that lets them access that data directly. I can also use the FTP to receive files from my collaborators. This is especially valuable when scoring to picture, which requires the frequent exchange large video files.
Once my file is uploaded, the other party can use an FTP client software application such as FileZilla (free; filezilla-project.org), enter in the provided FTP address, FTP username and password, and then access the file or folder and drag it from my FTP server directly to their desktop.
Binfer (binfer.com) is another interesting tool. Instead of using a server, this private file-sharing application lets users transfer data across their own networks, which can include computers in the same building or across the globe. Instead of actually uploading the files to a server, users can transfer files directly between computers any time both sender and receiver are online and have the Binfer application open. This simple, secure method is limited only by the available hard drive space. You can send up to 4GB for free, and receive and unlimited about of data. If your upload or download is interrupted, the program automatically resumes the transfer when you reconnect.
For those who think social networking is just to find out who's watching TV or what their cousin ate for breakfast, take note: They can actually help you get work done. Ning.com is an online platform that lets users create their own social networks for particular topics (there are both free and fee-based options). Several composers I know use Ning to upload music in progress to share with clients and collaborators. Ning users can restrict access to specific individuals, who must log in with a password in order to see or hear the site's content etc. Once logged in, the member can audition tracks immediately—there is no need to download files—leave comments, and even exchange instant messages with any group members who happen to be logged in at the same time.
Not all file transfers go through the Internet. Dave Immer, owner of DigiFoN Live Audio Networking, has performed long-distance phone network delivery of voice, audio and data over ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) for over 20 years. Made popular in audio by Phil Ramone during the making of Frank Sinatra's Duets album, ISDN has expanded far beyond its beginnings into records, television and post production. "In the realm of real-time high quality audio feed, we have the ISDN CODECs," he notes. "But also growing in popularity and use are the IP, or broadband Internet, audio feeds. The main advantage with these approaches is the instantaneous nature of the connections, allowing for interactive mix approval, live collaboration on ideas, and tracking."
"Time is efficiency," says guitarist, composer and television producer Scott E. Moore who regularly uses FTP and YouSendIt. "This business in built on deadlines, and it always comes down to a crunch, no matter how well you prepare. File sharing allows the creative conversation to really flow, without the two creative parties being in the same room—which unfortunately is often a luxury these days. Seeing or hearing something speaks volumes and sparks a specific conversation. That leads to experimenting and fine-tuning, which—after inspiration—are two of the most essential parts of the creative process."
Mixer, engineer, and producer Roy Hendrickson (Wilco, Miles Davis, Cheap Trick) also uses several different methods to work online with his clients. " I use my own FTP site a lot because it's easy for me to upload and download files," he explains. "Also, when I deliver mixes, my web site is coded so that it automatically provides the flexibility for the client to listen to a streaming MP3 before downloading the file. I also use YouSendIt.com because clients seem to like the interface, and some clients don't want to learn to use n FTP. Dropbox. com is really great when the client is changing their material or making frequent revisions because it's really easy to use. Another thing I use is iChat, for communicating with the client while I am streaming the mix to them. This lets them so they can hear changes right away and ask for adjustments."
As online connections get faster, remote collaboration will become more of the norm. So even if you distrust technology, it pays to get comfortable with file sharing. Working online doesn't mean you have lose all personal contact with your colleagues. "It does make life easier," Hendrickson says of sharing and instant messaging, "but it's also great to get comments the old way."