Do you even archive? Boiler Room

Welcome to the new era of our Do You Even Archive? Series. Over the next several weeks we will be talking to some of the world’s most prolific, influential and visible online radio stations to learn about how they manage and preserve their ever-growing archives of DJ mixes, live sets, and interviews.

These stations are giving underrepresented artists and DJs a platform to share their music and ideas and are documenting tidal shifts in the global cultural and societal landscape; keeping a daily record of the underground movements existing outside the lines. We think that’s something worth saving so let’s find out how they’re doing it. Part 1 (Radar Radio), Part 2 (Dublab), Part 3 (Red Light Radio)

Part 4: Boiler Room

Talk about defining a scene; where would the global music ecosystem be without the static Boiler Room camera? 8 years in Boiler Room remain relevant, defining, controversial and celebrated. With their international relevance and overall awareness of what’s happening in nearly every scene in little pockets around the globe, the web streaming, party throwing, media Goliath has managed to make a record of dance music’s dynamic evolution over the past 8 years. And what an 8 years it’s been. From its humble literal boiler room roots, Boiler Room has captured music’s response to a hyperactive reality whose political and cultural ecosystems have teetered between chaos and celebration. The music and cultures arising from this daily tension have nearly all found themselves in front of the Boiler Room camera as well as -and for some, more importantly- the audiences drawn to them.

The Boiler Room archive is nearing 690,000,000,000,000 TB estimates Gabriel Szatan, the platform’s universal hype-man. So we asked him and “Cool Guy Content Protector (his official Boiler Room job title)”, Mickey Portlock how they manage their party archive.

Do you make a focused and consolidated effort to keep an archive of all your shows and preserve them for the long term?

That’s the name of the game, yep.


If you do, why do you archive and preserve your history of broadcasts?

Our archive is by far the most valuable part of BR. We’re known for throwing events in unusual locations, but an accessible log of 10,000s of hours of amazing music worldwide across eight years of existence far outstrips the momentary fun of a memorable show in the long run. Just by trawling through the archives you can track evolution of genres, breakout hits, dance culture, fashion, and even DJ’s entire careers, if you care to.

It can be quite tedious to get everything correctly presented and uploaded in the aftermath of a blow-out party, but it would be an enormous waste to the artists who give us their time, to the audience that tune in, and really to our own team for all the effort, to not proper catalogue what we do for posterity.

What type of content do you broadcast and what from this content do you archive?

We broadcast video and, unless specifically requested not to, archive both video and audio. We tweak the material in post-production to make for a better VOD: adding title cards, improving quality, and sometimes fixing technical flaws with audio remastering or back-up camera angles. Given the internet is written in ink, it feels like a waste to hoof up an imperfect recording. This is why there’s often a few weeks gap when flipping the live broadcasts onto Soundcloud/Youtube – something I wish our audience were a little more cognizant of when hammering us on delays (sorry!).

What platforms and methods do you use to broadcast?

We stream live through Youtube and Facebook for every show; sometimes, when partnering with record labels or festivals or even alternate platforms, we’ll route it through additional pages and players too. We’ve tried Periscope and Dailymotion in the past, but for various reasons have stripped back to the essentials.

Do you migrate this material to other platforms for storage and web presentation

Everything is available on multiple hard-drives and a cloud storage system in our back-end; for public view, we put the final materials on Youtube, Soundcloud, our website, and, on the rare occasions it’s paid proper attention and given support, our mobile app.

What kind of schema do you use for the content’s metadata? What metadata do you always need to have and what is extra? Do you have a fixed vocabulary for genre tags or do you use others’ vocabularies?

In the early days of BR we manually added metadata once the recording was ready for archive, such as genre tags and date. This was often pretty poorly done, especially when uploading to Youtube. We also used to tag videos in the early days with every relevant tag imaginable; this has made looking for old master files / recordings an incredibly arduous effort. Now we have moved to MediaSilo, metadata is easier to keep on top of. On top of this we now limit each recordings to only 2 genres tag out of 60 that we strictly adhere to.

Do you use any forms of encoding or compression to store your content?

For us it is incredibly important that we always keep and store the RAW files from every show to ensure we have the best quality format possible to work from when creating mixdowns and edits, although to keep this manageable this is always kept in physical storage mediums. Only the final encoded edits of shows get upped to cloud storage, ready for public facing archiving.

Do you have any long-term preservation or storage plans that you haven’t achieved / want to achieve?

We spent a heavy amount of 2017 pursuing a long term storage plan, migrating our physical storage over to cloud servers through MediaSilo / Amazon S3, whilst also ensuring we had master video files and audio files for every one of the 4000+ recordings we’ve archived since 2011. Whilst a monumental effort, we hope that it has future-proofed ourselves whilst simplifying our pre- and post-production workflows. Lets hope it was worth it.

Have you ever lost material that you were not able to retrieve? Any big lessons learned?

There are sessions from the white-hot early days where our capacity to actually keep intact our material was outstripped by the whirlwind rush of being everywhere and filming everything at once, let alone catalogue it in a tidy way. We got demonstrably better at taking care of our own stock as BR grew. But a good handful of shows both home and abroad from 2010-12 are ghosts in the machines, drifting around with only low-res announcement flyers and tall tales to prove they were there at all. Some in more recent memory, though, have also been “mysteriously” lost.

On an unrelated note, really looking forward to the new Grimes album this year.