Hard Drive Set-Up for Media Composers

Alright composers, let's talk about hard drives and data management, yay! This might sound boring, or unnecesarry, but trust me, this is important. This information is crucial for optimizing your system, organization, and loss prevention (backup). I have a total of 6 hard drives in my studio:

  1. System Drive

  2. Audio Projects

  3. Sample Libraries

  4. System Clone

  5. Audio Projects Backup

  6. Sample Libraries Clone

Let's start with the main 3: System Drive, Audio Projects, and Sample Libraries.

System Drive:

Your system drive is the internal drive that comes with your computer. It is the default start-up disk. This is where your operating system (ie. OS X or Windows) is installed. This system drive should primarily be used for the operating system and applications ONLY. It's ok to have basic documents on there too. Therefore, this drive does not need to be very large. 256 GB will suffice in most cases. I also recommend a solid-state drive; you'll really notice the speed increase in boot time, and application start-up time. 

Audio Projects:

On a separate drive, this is where you will save your project folders, whether that be Logic, Cubase, Pro Tools, or whatever. A project folder saved out of Logic will typically include the Logic file, an Audio Files folder, Movie Files folder, Bounces, Fade Files, and even sampler instruments. 

Sample Libraries:

On another drive, you will store all of your sample libraries. So for example, when you buy Cinematic Strings 2, you will be installing it and storing all the files on the Sample Library drive. It's not necessary, but I would also recommend a solid-state drive here, because it speeds up the time taken to load the samples. 

So why these 3 main drives? Why not just have it all on a large system drive? 

The reason you want to split this information into 3 separate drives is for efficiency and power. The main thing to remember is that these 3 drives are performing very distinct tasks. Let me briefly explain how a traditional hard drive works:

Data is stored on a magnetic platter. Data is read from, and written to the drive with a magnetic head, attached to an arm. It actually looks very similar to a record player. Any time you need to read or write to the drive, that arm comes down, and makes contact with the platter. Just like the needle comes down on the vinyl on a record player. Now here's the important part: 

Hard drives traditionally read and write in small bursts. 

Think about that for a second. The arm usually goes down for about a second to save a word document. Or a second to open up a folder.

Now let's say you're recording a 3 minute guitar track. This means that the drive is in write mode for 3 minutes straight. 

Now imagine that while your hard drive is writing audio data over those 3 minutes, that it's also streaming some samples, AND acccessing data to run your DAW (ie. Logic, Cubase, etc). I don't know about you, but that sounds like a lot of work for one hard drive. 

By using a 3 drive system, you are decreasing the wear of your drives, and increasing performance for audio tasks. 

Not only that, but everything will be more organized, and organization is incredibly important for any audio professional. And realistically, you're going to run out of room on your system drive at some point anyways. Sample libraries take hundreds and hundreds of GB. 

So what are the other 3 drives for then? 

The other 3 drives are for crisis management. One important thing to always remember:


It's not a matter of IF. Every single hard drive will fail on you eventually, it is only a matter of time. So there are certain precautions that you can take to save yourself and your work. 

System Clone:

A system clone is an exact copy of your internal system drive. That means that it is identical, containing every single file (even hidden files) of your system drive. Thus, this clone will also have your operating system and will be bootable. What this means is that you can plug in your clone, restart your computer, and right after you hear that cute Apple dinger, you hold down the option key, and you can choose to boot your computer from the clone. 

What does this mean practically? This means that when your system drive fails you, you boot from the clone, and resume work as usual. It's like having an identical backup computer. I shouldn't really have to explain why this is useful, especially if you're in the middle of a big project with a deadline. 

The drive you choose for your system clone has to be the same size or bigger than your system drive. That should be obvious, but I'm saying it just in case. 

Your clone should be an external drive, kept hidden somewhere safe. Now keep in mind that while booting from an external drive, everything will run slower because of the connection (USB 3.0 in my case). It is intended as a temporary work solution until you fix or replace the main system drive. If you wanted to make this clone as fast as possible, clone your system onto a solid-state thunderbolt drive. 

*Important Note: not all external hard drives are bootable! Make sure to research this before hand. I personally use a WD My Passport Ultra for my clone, and it is indeed bootable. 

Audio Projects Backup:

This is simply a backup of your audio project folders. It doesn't have to be a bootable clone. If you're in the middle of a project, and your audio drive fails, then you have a backup and can resume like nothing happened. 

Sample Libraries Clone:

This is just a clone of your sample library drive. Obviously not a bootable clone, cause there's no operating system on it, nor should there be. If something weird happens to your samples, then you plug in your sample library clone, and you open your Logic project, and look at that: all your kontakt instruments load no problem. (you might have to point kontakt to the new drive, but that takes 1 second) 

So how do I clone or backup a drive?

There are many software solutions that will do this for you. I personally use software called Carbon Copy Cloner:


Carbon Copy Cloner is very simple to use, beautiful interface, and offers a 25% academic discount. 

Super Duper is also widely used, but I personally prefer Carbon Copy Cloner. 

So there you have it! I don't take credit for this information: this has all been passed to me through professors, mentors, and audio professionals. Most succesful composers for media operate in this fashion. 

If you have any questions, feel free to drop a comment below, and I'll try to anwer it the best I can. 

*Note: Consider keeping your drives no larger than 1 TB. It's simply much easier to manage 1 TB at a time. And if your drive fails, losing 1 TB is not the end of the world (losing 4 TB might be). But of course, if you followed the set-up in this blog, you'd have that big 4 TB drive backed up anyways.

John Hagley