Those who know me well know that I really, really hate to throw away data. I have all kinds of stuff sitting around on my home server, some of it dating all the way back to middle school, and most of it of very little interest to anyone today (even me). Well, the other day I stumbled across something that was sort of interesting: trombone practice recordings I'd made early on in college.

For as long as I've been a musician, my teachers have told me that one of the best ways to discover where you need to improve is to record yourself playing; for some reason, however, I've rarely bothered.

It's partly a discipline problem—I've never been as consistent a practicer as I should be—but I think it may also have something to do with my data obsession. When I make a recording, I don't just listen to it a few times, note the things I need to fix, and then throw it away. No, I think to myself, "what if I want to listen back to this five years from now and hear if I've improved?" And so I keep it, and not just as an MP3…no, I keep the original, huge, lossless WAV file. For-ev-er.

Now, this used to take up one heck of a lot of space, and a lot of manual backup effort too. As a result, I would rarely do it …too much effort to archive a daily audio practice session when I've got other things I need to store in that precious space.

These days I don't worry about that, for two reasons:

  1. Storage is cheap. I have a 500GB RAID-1 network attached storage device in my living room. If it fills up (which won't be happening soon), I'll just get bigger drives; they don't cost that much in the long run.
  2. Not all compression is lossy. If I re-encode my original WAVs to lossless FLACs via some automated process, I can store them in half the space and still play them back without uncompressing …no data loss, and very little loss of convenience.

As a result, I've started recording my practice sessions again. This has had a few important benefits:

  1. I can listen to my playing after the fact, discovering issues I didn't notice the first time around.
  2. I actually practice regularly, since I don't want my archives to be missing a day when (if?) I look back into them five years from now.
  3. Also, I've found it a lot easier to notice the negative effects of skipping a day of practicing.

But at the end of the day, the best benefit is that I'm starting to recover some of my old improv chops. I've still got a long ways to go, but it's really encouraging to feel somewhat skilled at the trombone again.