For years I’ve been a Back Up Nazi. I let people know how important it is not just to back up the data that is valuable to you – photos, videos, music, important text documents – but to have more than one backup copy. One copy around the house. Then an extra hard drive at a neighbor’s home or bank safe deposit box and collect it every few months to update it. Or sign up for Crashplan or Backblaze and keep a continuously updated backup in the cloud.

And, I always lived by my suggestions. Two backup drives in the house, one on the other side of the neighborhood at my sister- and brother-in-law’s. For several years I ran Backblaze, too, just for an extra measure, although I ditched that last year when Amazon allowed Prime members unlimited storage for photos.

Two paragraphs outlining my backup system. Can you guess what’s coming next? Allow me to spell it out with an equation:

System adjustment + Drive Failure * Hubris = Catastrophic Data Loss

Long story short, as I was moving a bunch of my data around to a new local storage system, I briefly had only a single copy of my latest, most important version of my iTunes library. And, naturally, while I was running one more backup and went to grab my extra drive from around the corner, the drive holding that single copy of my iTunes library died. Died to the point I can’t access the data at all.


Now, this isn’t a total loss. I have a copy of most of my music that is only 3–4 months old. Anything I’ve purchased since then can be re-downloaded.

The big loss is all the metadata that died with that master library. Nine years of play counts, play lists, notes typed into the comments fields, all gone.

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a huge loss. As I said, I have most of the music files on one of my backup drives. And having used the Rdio streaming service as much as iTunes over the past three years, it’s not like all that iTunes metadata was the only record of my listening habits.

But, still, in the digital music age, where we can’t touch and feel and smell our music, they way we did in the vinyl, cassette, and CD eras, that metadata is one of the few ways available to have a relationship with our music beyond just listening to it. We can sort it, pull out the songs we haven’t heard in ages, track what we’ve listened to the most, and otherwise sort and sift through the bits and bytes to make it more personal.

For an hour or so after I realized I could not pull the data back, I literally felt sick to my stomach. That passed. Eventually. Sort of.

In a way, this comes at the perfect time. Perhaps, rather that start over with that slightly stale iTunes library, I should go all-in with streaming. Apple Music launches in just a few days. Between either that or my existing Rdio subscription, isn’t that enough to both keep up with each week’s new releases and access a deep collection of catalog cuts? I guess this is as good of a time as any to experiment a little.

So, use this as another reminder to back up your computers. And then back them up again. And when a hard drive gets over two years old, you should be prepared for it to fail at any point.