Backing Up MP3 to DVD

Michael writes, “I had a quick question about backing up my mp3s. I have about 30GB of music on my computer that I’ve spent A LOT of time searching for and downloading and I am in search of finding a reasonable way to back it all up. I dont really want to buy an external drive because I can’t really afford it and they usually have a lot more memory than I need. I was thinking of using DVDs to back up my music which I think when used as a data disc can hold up to 4GB and everything would fit on 7 or 8 DVDs. Do you think that’s a good idea? Also, I have the intention to have access to this music until the day I die, haha! So I was also wondering if the stability of DVDs last over the years. I greatly appreciate your advice in the matter.”
Archiving is one of the primary reasons I still have boxes of original music CDs stashed in my closet. It’s also a big reason I’m interested in services like Yahoo Music Engine – for a few bucks a month I can listen to all the songs my ears can stand without the hassle of archiving. If I lose the files, I can download them from Yahoo again. Of course for songs I already ripped, having a backup strategy saves me from re-ripping my hundreds of CDs another time.
You are absolutely correct in comparing the cost of an external hard drive to DVD blanks. Spending money on an external drive will cost more than backing up your tracks to a few DVDs. You could re-burn your collection many times over before spending the same money you might invest in a drive. If you keep the disks in a safe, low-humidity location they should be usable for several decades, in theory. At 4.7 GB of data per disk, you can likely fit all of the songs on 7 disks max. Using an app like SizeMe, you might make it 6.
As for whether those backup DVDs will still play until the day you die, it’s a little harder to guess. I’m sure a few people with 8-track tape collections who still playback their favorite J. Geils Band hits with a matchbook wedged between the tape cartridge and the play slot, some twenty-plus years after the format’s demise, in all the hissing glory of tape. DVD-R and DVD+R media should last longer than 8-track by a decade or two, but we really don’t know how long this stuff is good for beyond some laboratory tests simulating media lifespan.
I doubt DVD will still be a viable format in my lifetime simply because technology will shift to something different. Future shiny disk format media will not remain backward compatible with current CD and DVD media with every new product evolution. And if we switch to an affordable solid state media format, like a disposable CompactFlash card for instance, the format won’t be compatible at all.
There’s a good chance MP3 won’t work in the future. Of course, we should see it coming in plenty of time to convert the files to some other format or acquire different versions of the songs. With all the open source MP3 software available, it might be a matter of people creating new versions of old software compatible with whatever the playback medium of the day happens to be.
My recommendation is to backup your MP3 collection to DVD for now and plan on backing it up to some other disposable media format in the future. Based on bulk pricing, DVD media is approximately $0.50 per disk. Backing up the entire collection at that price is under $4.00 plus the time spent burning. Make two copies to be safe. When a new storage format comes along, burn the songs to that format.