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Losing the beat: what happens if your digital music disappears

We all know the pain of deleting or losing a computer file we really wanted to save. Whether it’s a document you've been working on for hours or a valued photograph, it is one of the most annoying and painful little tricks technology plays on us.

So imagine, then, that the file which has just gone kaput is part of your prized music collection – or even worse, it's your entire music collection. Sounds unlikely? Not a bit of it. The web is full of stories of smashed iPods and PCs throwing in the towel while taking your treasured music collection with them.

Space saving

Back in the 1960s and 70s, music collections were big physical things: with 12-inch vinyl albums dominating – and maybe the odd cassette tape – collections needed specially-designed shelving or took up large chunks of floorspace. Great for staring at album designs when listening to a track, not so good for arranging your furniture.

In the 80s and 90s, it was the era of the CD: collections reduced in size and started stacking vertically in IKEA-built units, but you still usually needed a few drawers or the middle shelf of a bookcase. Finally, come the noughties, digital technology arrived and the physical space problem was pretty much over.

A lifetime's music could be condensed onto a single hard drive. But then a new question popped into music lovers' minds: how can I protect my music from accidental deletion or some type of computer failure?

Safeguarding your digital music

Dave Simms works for specialist insurer Ecclesiastical and is an expert in home insurance – the type of insurance that usually covers personal music collections.

He's seen many claims which include loss of music through things like fires, flooding and theft. "Digital music is a tricky one for insurers," Dave said.

"If you lose your music, we can't replace the files, but we can compensate you with up to £1,000 to replace them but – and here's the big but – they must be legally downloaded files in the first place. No insurer will pay to replace pirated music."

"So when you buy and download files, make sure you store your receipts somewhere safe. You can print them off, or you can file them away electronically – maybe in a cloud-based account like Gmail or Hotmail that won't be susceptible to a problem with your home computer. This way you'll be able to prove to your insurer what you bought."

To ensure your much loved music collection stays safe, Dave recommends using a range of storage methods including regular back-ups, burning CDs and cloud options. “It really is better to be safe than sorry,” Dave said.

Back-ups

The very simplest way to protect your music collection is to back up your PC, laptop or Mac regularly. This will not only keep your music safe but also everything else on your machine.

Attach an external hard drive or use an online back-up service like Mozy. iTunes also offers you the option to back-up your collection by burning it onto CDs.

Replacement downloads

Different download providers have different policies about whether you can re-download your music if you've lost files. The market leader, iTunes, keeps a record of your purchases and gives you permanent access to these.

Another well-known site play.com also lets you come back to replace music. But be wary: some major players including Amazon only allow one-time downloads, so when you buy, it's important to check your online retailer's terms and conditions.

Into the cloud

Recently both Amazon and iTunes have announced plans to enable you to store your purchased music in the cloud to allow streaming from any internet-connected device like a smartphone. The Amazon Cloud Drive service is already up and running; Apple has now launched its iCloud.

One useful aspect of the iCloud service is that, for a small fee, you'll be able to store music purchased from other retailers, not just Apple. That gives the potential to host your entire music collection in the cloud as well as your home computer.

Spotify and the digital jukeboxes

The web is also now providing the option to rent a music collection rather than owning one. Services like Spotify and Grooveshark are on-demand digital jukeboxes that give you access to a colossal music library either for free on a limited basis or unlimited for a monthly fee.

The question now in many users' minds is: why buy music at all? They certainly remove the problem of having to store and protect a music library - are some services are now offering an offline service too. Google has also launched a cloud-based music streaming service but this is currently only available in the US.

Remember, as with all household insurance policies, terms and conditions and minimum premiums apply. Please note we may not be able to quote in all circumstances

Ecclesiastical Insurance Group plc (EIG) Reg No 1718196. Ecclesiastical Insurance Office plc (EIO) Reg No 24869. Ecclesiastical Life Ltd (ELL) Reg No 243111. Ecclesiastical Financial Advisory Services Ltd (EFAS) Reg No 2046087. Ecclesiastical Underwriting Management Ltd (EUML) Reg No 2368571. E.I.O. Trustees Ltd Reg No 941199. EdenTree Investment Management Ltd (EIM) Reg No 2519319. All companies are registered in England at Beaufort House, Brunswick Road, Gloucester GL1 1JZ. EIO and ELL are authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 113848 (EIO) and 110318 (ELL). EFAS and EIM are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Firm Reference Number 126123 (EFAS) and 527473 (EIM). EUML is an appointed representative of EIO who is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 402228.