How to Produce an Interviews Podcast: Backup, Backup, Backup!

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 7, 2010 in How-To

studio interviewsMany, many people have asked how I produce my podcast of interviews with philosophers, scientists, and others: Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot. This series reveals those details. See here for all posts in the series.

cloud_breakBacking up your data is one of the most important things you can do when embarking on a large project like producing a podcast. As such, I will devote an entire post to it.

Backup your fucking data

No, seriously. You’ll thank me later. I know it’s tempting to save the money and the time and worry about backup later. And then you’ll put it off, and you’ll put it off, and then one day you’ll be fucked. Trust me. I work as an IT consultant, I see it hundreds of times a year. Countless hours of people’s lives down the drain, because they didn’t spend a few bucks and a few minutes on backup.

First, you’ll want an automatic internet backup of your smaller files: interview questions, invitation email template, small bits of recorded audio (“Welcome to the podcast!”), and so on. There are many programs that will backup a certain folder (where you store all such data) to the internet. Whenever you change a file, the changes will automatically be sent to their internet server. Thus, even if your whole house goes up in flames, you’ll still have all the data in that folder.

Check here for a comparison of online backup services. Many of them offer a few gigabytes of storage for free, like Live Mesh and Mozy and Dropbox. I’ve used all three; they’re good.

If you want to pay about $55 per year to backup a larger amount of data, get SafeCopy or SugarSync or Carbonite or a similar paid service.

Okay, that’s step one.

But you’re going to be working with lots of data. Many audio files, and perhaps video as well, for every single episode. That adds up quickly, and it will be hard for your internet to keep up with all those big files. Besides, the hard drive in your computer probably won’t have space for them. So you need a big storage dump.

An external hard drive is a cheap solution, but it has two major drawbacks:

  1. If that hard drive crashes, you lose all your data.
  2. You have to physically plug it into your computer. If you’re on a laptop, that’s annoying as hell.1

A much better solution is Network Attached Storage (NAS). This is a hard drive you plug into your wireless router, and then any computer on the network can send and receive files from it wirelessly. Also, you’ll want one with RAID, which just means every file actually exists on two hard drives even though you only see it as one. So if one hard drive crashes, that’s okay. All your data is still on the other hard drive, and you have time to get another backup drive and move your data to it.

The one I own and love is the Western Digital My Book World Edition II. Once you get it, follow the easy instructions to configure it for RAID.2 (This will cut your storage capacity in half but give you the life-saving redundancy I spoke of in the previous paragraph.)

All these NAS devices also come with cool features like an iTunes server, remote access to all your files over the internet, and so on.

Once you’ve got the space, you might as well download Macrium Reflect Free and install it on all your home computers. This is the only free program that will take an exact image of your entire computer and put it on external storage. If the hard drive in your computer dies, you literally (1) pop in a new hard drive, (2) pop in the Macrium Rescue CD, (3) use the CD to restore the backup image of your computer. When you’re done, your computer will be exactly as it was before, with no need to reconfigure it or reinstall all your programs. (Use Carbon Copy Cloner on Mac.)

So, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve got three backup solutions in place:

  1. Automatic online backup for some files.
  2. Wireless, RAID-enabled NAS backup for all your bigger files.
  3. Complete image backup of your computer with Macrium Reflect Free or Carbon Copy Cloner.

If you’re on Windows, you should make sure you have good antivirus, too. You don’t even have to pay for it. My antivirus advice is here.

What should you back up?

Here’s what I do. I have one subfolder in my ‘Documents’ folder that I set Dropbox to backup automatically online. That’s where I keep everything I’m working on: the images for this website, the documents I use to organize my ideas, and the audio files I use to create my podcast episodes.

I move the files for all completed episodes to a folder on my Western Digital NAS, to conserve space on my local hard drive, and in my online storage share.

I also take image backups of my computer with Carbon Copy Pro, once per week at 1am, and send that backup image to an external drive.

It’s important to remember to backup every version of your files along the way to making a podcast episode. That means:

  1. Always keep the original, unedited recording of the interview.
  2. Always keep the project files for your audio editor, which combines all the tracks on your episode in a timeline (interview, intro music, outtro music, welcome audio, etc.).
  3. Always keep the finished podcast audio.
  4. Always keep the produced video version of your podcast audio (optional for YouTube; to be covered later).

You never know when you’ll want or need to go back to one of these stages of the podcasting process, so always keep the files from each stage. For example, don’t edit your original recording of the interview. Import that audio into a project and edit that, but leave the original recording untouched.

Remember: Backup, backup, backup!

  1. You could plug it into a stationary desktop computer and share it out over the network, but then the desktop computer has to always be on, and of course you’re taxing the desktop computer just to work with files on the external drive. []
  2. Technically, there are many kinds of RAID. For your purposes, RAID-1, which is called a “mirror,” will be fine. []

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

James Thompson August 7, 2010 at 4:55 am

Carbonite rocks.

But it looks like you need more than that.


lukeprog August 7, 2010 at 5:58 am


What don’t you like about Carbonite?


hewhocutsdown August 7, 2010 at 6:20 am

Crucially, RAID does *not* provide true backup. True, if one drive goes you’re still live, but if you don’t need things 24/7, I would say save the money and buy two separate devices.

Personally, I have an external drive that I keep at home, and one that’s at a friend’s house. Once a month I use the script below to sync ‘em.

Backup Utility
rsync -Pav –delete –exclude ‘lost+found’ /media/source/ /media/destination/
cd /media/source
tree >> ~/YYYY-MM-DD.txt

This utility assumes that you’re running Linux and working with ext3 or ext4 file systems, but it can be tweaked easily for other sorts of Linux setups.

I did not understand the bit about RAID before; I had a striped RAID setup go down, both drives dead. At that point you have to determine whether you’re willing to shell out significant cash on data recovery ( or just suck it up and start over from scratch.

Additionally, I make scans of important documents (legal stuff, passports, SSN cards, wallet contents, etc), encrypt them, and save them in multiple locations – if you’re using strong crypto you can use Dropbox or something even for that sort of stuff, although I keep ‘em on the local drive and on a thumb drive.

As Luke said; back up your fucking data.


Hendy August 7, 2010 at 6:43 am

Backups are key! I can’t bring myself to pay for online storage… I’ve thought about keeping a backup drive at work or something and doing backups on it — that way things are in two different locations. I’ve also burned pics and other media to DVDs so that my data is in three different locations and formats (HD, backup drive, DVDs).

Carbon Copy Cloner is freaking amazing. I use it all the time and the bonus is that if you even need to do any partition work (resizing, creating new ones), you can just boot up while holding Option, boot into the external hard drive and run completely from within your image to manipulate your actual hard drive. I find that super helpful.

Thanks for the suggestion about NAS. That’s pretty cool… I have been thinking about a new external HD considering 4 years ago my 120GB was like $80 and now you can get a freaking half-gig for $50! Nuts. I’ve also been looking into RAID and may very well go that route.

Confused on NAS/RAID, though… do you need > 2 of the drives or is it partitioning and using partitions to mirror/stripe your data?


Hendy August 7, 2010 at 6:53 am

Oh yeah. Another set of tools I’ve looked into is using git. If someone had access to two different computers or drives (say, home & work), you could use git + dropbox or something to conduct backups across the internet. I haven’t figured out how to ssh out of my company at this point… they seem to not want that happening so it might not work for me.

Git hasn’t been uber friendly for me when it comes to trying to untangle and merge pushes from multiple sources, but perhaps if every push was one-way it could work great as a version-controlled (i.e. incremental) backup system?

Anyway, just mentioning other solutions for those tech-inclined who don’t want to pay any money for online backups. Though they do seem darn convenient…


lukeprog August 7, 2010 at 8:00 am

hewhocutsdown brings up an important point. Raid-O aka “striped”, and also JBOD, do NOT provide any redundancy or backup. For that, use a Raid-1, raid-5, or raid-6 configuration.


Charles August 7, 2010 at 8:56 am

Anyone have experience with the new Drobo FS?


hewhocutsdown August 7, 2010 at 9:02 am

Drobo’s really great if your needs are relatively vanilla, and as long as you heed the “RAID is not backup” rule. Sleek, simple to use, a pain in the ass if you try to do anything bizarre with it (as I did).


Hermes August 7, 2010 at 9:52 am

Drobo looks like it is similar to a PogoPlug (or similar device) with an integrated drive. It might even be exactly that.


Hermes August 7, 2010 at 9:56 am

Nope. I take it back. It has the ability to run apps and servers like the PogoPlug, but it’s tweaked for seamless data.


Charles August 7, 2010 at 11:40 am

“RAID is not backup”

I’ve heard that before.

What do you recommend for someone who wants to backup multiple computers over a wireless network via Time Machine?


Hendy August 7, 2010 at 3:22 pm


Googling “backup over network time machine” yields:

- iTimeMachine which looks like it does just what you’re looking for?
- THIS, which seems to be targeted at those with two Macs but might be applicable?
- HERE is another walkthrough of Time Machine to an NAS drive

Luke might be using a Mac since he referenced Carbon Copy Cloner and thus may have better suggestions but since I have one and was curious myself I thought I’d post what I found…


Hendy August 7, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Oh… re-read your post and noticed the focus on multiple computers… THIS might be of interest as well. Time Machine will make a separate folder for each computer so it seems that as long as your drive is big enough ((HD1 + HD2 + … + HDN)*1.2 per the article), then you should be just fine.


Pedro Amaral Couto August 7, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Hi. This is my first comment to leave a link: International Backup Awareness Day. UNIX family users (Linux, BSD, Mac, …) may use rsync and cron command for backups with an external hard driver. Regards.


lukeprog August 7, 2010 at 9:13 pm


In my experience, Time Machine over wireless is a massive pain. I tried it, almost kills my brand new power Mac every time.


JS Allen August 7, 2010 at 10:17 pm

This is very good advice, and it applies far beyond podcasts — for example, in marriage. When you get married, make sure to buy (at least) one duplicate of your wedding ring. Then, when you lose one, you can switch to the backup while you locate the original.

I’ve been giving this advice for years, yet I constantly see people who ignored my advice who are suffering. Just today, a co-worker revealed that he’ll be spending $900 on underwater divers with metal detectors to relocate a “lost” wedding ring. Yeah, I bet his wife totally believes him! Don’t be “that guy”!


Dan August 8, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Any online backup can rock depending on a person’s choice.Thanks for the advice i think making backups are so vital because it does not only secure data but serves time,money.Am currently using safecopy online backup.And am only paying $50 for 200GB of space and with a free unlimited trial version of 5GB.This has not only secured my data but saved me from spending tons of money.


lukeprog August 9, 2010 at 12:06 am


Thanks. I’ve added your recommendation to the OP.


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