Music collection disasters

Disaster! A lovingly curated music library, comprising meaningful and affirming music, lost!

If you own an asset, you need to protect it. In other parts of our lives we attempt to minimise the likelihood of loss and its impacts. We have buildings regulations, for example, to lower the chances of a structural defect, and insurance to lower the impact if the worst does happen.

So what sort of disasters can occur to a music library, and how can we mitigate the impact?


Theft of a music library does happen, whether the library is in physical form or stored on a hard drive. The downside of storing a collection on a hard drive is that theft is far easier because there's less to carry!

I blogged before about how my grandparents' classical library was burgled; it does happen. In their case their music was stored in plain sight and accessible in their living area. How could it have been prevented?

Your susceptibility to burglary is not a binary thing; some people are not magically immune. It's all about increasing the friction to the perpertrator. That goes for lessening the chance that you will be attacked in the first place, and then making sure if your building is accessed that you increase the friction of taking your high value assets.

Although storing a digital library on a hard drive can make theft easier if the storage device is accessed you also have more options for security, because it could be stored anywhere in your home and within a lockable cabinet. You don't have so many options for physical collections because the inconvenience of storing music in less accessible locations and under lock and key can be too great.


Another source of malicious damage to your collection is from software built to destroy without the user's consent: software-based computer viruses.

One of the most damaging aspects of viruses is that it's not always immediately obvious you have a problem. If your collection gets stolen it's obvious. But with a virus, only certain music files may be affected. If you don't notice this, and continue to add and change your library over time, when you do notice it recovery might be more difficult because of the other changes in your library in the meantime.

How to protect yourself? It's not too dissimilar to avoiding burglary: prevent entry and then prevent damage (if entry prevention doesn't work out).

Entry prevention means not getting infected by viruses in the first place. Infection only occurs when a virus is passed into a computer; this might be from Internet access, an infected USB key or some other data transfer. The usual precautions, such as anti-virus software, can help with this.

If a virus is passed into your network, it's important that the damage it does is minimised. Approaches to this include restricting write access to files so that if viruses run on one of your computers without write access to your library they are prevented from doing so.

Computer with stethoscope

Errant software or hardware

But not all damage is caused by malicious means. Sometimes, well meaning software or hardware can malfunction.

Software can have bugs, and if the software attempts to edit your library in some way, such as deleting files, editing audio or metadata, it might cause large scale problems if it's done incorrectly.

A mitigation to this is to ensure write access is only granted to software that really needs it.

Hardware failures, particularly those related to storage, can also occur. These can sometimes be less obvious, where bad disk sectors occur over time.

For these it's best to heed warnings from hard disk controllers about the health of your disks, or run frequent scans for damage. If damage does occur it's best to move to a new disk as soon as possible.

User error

Sometimes, even if the equipment is sound and there's no malicious intent we can still cause damage to a music library. There's an acronym for this in software support: PEBKAC.

The causes are many-fold: clicking the wrong button, typing the wrong keyboard shortcut, leaving the computer unattended while your cat walks across the keyboard, simply not reading or understanding the user interface (for which the blame lies with the software). But many of us, even the most skilled, have at some time deleted files we shouldn't have or copy and pasted the wrong text.

We can follow similar solutions to reducing the likelihood of errant software/hardware error. Generally, what helps there can assist us with avoiding user error, because by controlling access to files and systems we can reduce the chances of an error. Ultimately, if a user is disallowed from editing or deleting files, they can't make those mistakes. (Of course, they might disable these checks out of other frustrations!)

Your backstop: backups

There's one mitigation strategy that can be used to treat all of these issues: backups.

I've written about backups before but they are so important as to deserve constant reminders of their usefulness! They can be done well and done poorly, but even if you have the poorest of backups you do at least have a fallback which can be of some value.

If you don't have some form of backup regime, I'd advise you implement one as soon as possible; it will be the most important thing you do for your music collection this year.

Thanks to unsplash-logoDawn Armfield and unsplash-logorawpixel for the images above.
tags: security
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The Music Library Management blog

Dan Gravell

I'm Dan, the founder and programmer of bliss. I write bliss to solve my own problems with my digital music collection.