What happens when you’ve got to get your sessions somewhere, somehow, soon? EQ’s Salvatore Russo jumps feet first into the wilds of delivery—digital and overnight—and, in a crazy cannonball run, tries to find out: who sucks the least?

And…they’re off!

Over land, over wire, over where? When it absolutely positively has to get there at some point in the conceivable, and financially lucrative, future: EQ’s Shipping Shootout…ladies and gentlemen (all two of you), wherein we compare shipping methods and then sit around the office glaring at one another.

And so with the able assistance of the very, very, very patient producers/studio engineers extraordinaire Monte Vallier in San Francisco at Function 8 studios and Rock Garden Music’s Dean Bohana in New York City, this year’s Shipping Shootout damned near seemed easy…except, of course, for the actual work involved, which was as time consuming as it was punishing.

The concept: Compare the best way to ship a Pro Tools session, whether it be conventional Express Mail shipping service or one of them there new-fangled computer doodads electronically hooked up to that there email thingy…or something to that effect. Probably Digidesign’s DigiDelivery.

The reality: Arriving at Monte Vallier’s Function 8 (www.func in-home studio, which is incidentally located in a neighborhood-bar-turned-live-work space in San Francisco’s Mission district, 4 p.m. on the eve of a holiday weekend; I couldn’t have picked a more difficult challenge for the overland portion of this competition. I mean I knew that whomever it was that won this portion of the competition had their work cut out for them and would have to overcome insurmountable odds, especially if by insurmountable odds you mean a three-day weekend. But I digress. Upon arriving at the studio, I was given four CDs containing identical sessions of DJ ViceGrip b/w DJ WD-40’s (not their real names) new record MUSIC FOR SUCKERS (not its real name, either). Those same Pro Tools sessions that would soon be racing their way cross-country to the studio of Brooklynite Dean Bohana. But “soon” is more of a state of mind…isn’t it?

“Well, I’ve been using FedEx to ship my files and sessions for years,” says Vallier. “Though I’ve recently started using FTP sites to upload and download files. When the files are a manageable size (less than a couple hundred megabytes) I like using the electronic shipping—especially for mixes to be approved, or for clients to hear ideas—but when I get into large sessions that are complex I’ll use FedEx.”

And Bohana? “For absolute safety I would prefer ground shipping, and, to play it really safe, I’d use two different couriers, UPS and FedEx delivering exact duplicates.”

The surreal life: The first realization that this was going very, very badly was the fact that the demo we were given access to of a Digidesign DigiDelivery set up was nothing short of a supercharged FTP with a desktop interface. Not what we wanted to be using. After this realization I decided that for one to test the DigiDelivery equipment, one would have to test the DigiDelivery equipment.

Second realization that the gods, as well as technology, my parents, friends, and everyone in my life was conspiring against me, was the fact that FedEx, DHL, and UPS all, strangely enough, were unable to pick up the package on Saturday morning. They rescheduled for Monday, which worked out fine as I was home and eager to get the proverbial “ball in play.” So, no delivery on Friday, Digi or otherwise. No ground delivery on Saturday, this brings us to Monday.

Monday, Monday, can’t stand that day: UPS, DHL, and FedEx all manage to screw up my pick-up so that the “super productive” holiday I imagined was not all that productive at all and pretty much consisted of me, a community college grad, sitting around in my pajamas ranting on and on about “This is not what my parents spent $6,000.00 for!”

Fast-forward to Tuesday and me still smarting from having each and every one of my attempts to complete this piece frustrated in every imaginable way. I went to my local MailBoxes Whatever joint and mailed out via UPS, DHL, and FedEx three CDs to Dean Bohana in Brooklyn. The time was 1 p.m., my pockets were $67 lighter, and I was late for my appointment at Digidesign.

Life was good.

My deadline loomed over me like an impending doom and I could almost see the light at the end of the tunnel, as I got my ducks in a row, and the pieces fell into place, as well as a bunch of other clichés that I just can’t put my finger on. Oooo! That was one more. But arriving at approximately 3:30 p.m., the first thing I noticed was the impressive array of awards that were sitting in their lobby, which incidentally included an Oscar, which I assume they won for something or other.

Shortly thereafter I met Gordon Lyon and was introduced to the business end of the Serv GT, which incidentally looks a lot like the Atari 2600, remember that? Man, I would just sit in my room playing Asteroids…

Where was I going with this, Atari? No, that’s not it….Oh yes, Digi-delivery Serv GT, the Serv GT is the first product design based on the 2003 acquisition of Rocket Network, what does this all mean? Haven’t a clue, but what I do know is that the DigiDelivery fired off a 109 megabyte Pro Tools session across country in less than then five minutes, three minutes and ten seconds to be exact, from the workstation at Digidesign to a workstation at Studio One in New York City.

Noticing the shock and awe on my face, my Digidesign liaison Gordon Lyon explained to me how efficient the DigiDelivery system was in comparison to Express Mail as it relates to digital documents. Lyon even mentioned that many of the major studios in Hollywood had taken to using DigiDelivery in lieu of Express Mail when shipping movies to far flung continents for foreign language dubbing. “Movie studios are not shipping reels anymore,” says Lyon. “They send it out DigiDelivery for dubbing and then get back the audio dub by DigiDelivery. It’s a lot more efficient that way.”

Efficient indeed. And pricey (a wincingly bracing $9995 for the GT version and $3295 for the LT). Even though this race was almost literally finished before it even started, just judging by the elapsed time. I mean before 4 p.m. on a Tuesday the other sessions were at San Francisco Airport, best-case scenario, no more then 10 miles from where I was standing, waiting to be loaded unto cross-country flights to New York. The scenario closest to reality, though, would however be that the packages were still on the trucks having just been picked up from the Mailboxes Whatever joint: cheaper but not so efficient.

The reality as it relates to all things real as they relate to UPS, FedEx, and DHL. Relationally speaking:
The poor excuses abounded for our three shipping giants. All of the shippers, with the exception of FedEx, who joined the race on Tuesday, failed to make their holiday pickups. Logging on to their Websites I sent the following emails to their Customer Service Departments:

– – – Original Message – – –
From: Salvatore Russo (
Date: Monday, February 21, 2005 06:30 PM
To: customerservice@DHL.Com (customerservice@DHL.Com)
Subject: Missed pickup


You are not making a good first impression. Not even a mediocre first impression. This is absolutely a BAD first impression. Your driver drops off an envelope that says “For 101” on it, does not ring the bell, no attempt short of leaving the envelope. Make any sense to you? No, me neither.

Here is the response from the good folks at DHL. (Please replace “serve” and “assist” with “frustrate” and “annoy”.)

– – – Original Message – – –

From: customerservice@DHL.Com (customerservice@DHL.Com)
Date: Tuesday, February 22, 2005 10:28 AM
To: Salvatore Russo (
Subject: Missed pickup

Dear Salvatore,

Thank you for contacting DHL. Please accept our apology for any inconvenience this has caused you. So that I can further assist you, please advise the tracking number. We appreciate the opportunity to serve you.

DHL Customer Service

That’s funny. Their computer-generated apology did nothing to make me feel any better about spending a full day waiting for a delivery person who slips an envelope and empty packing sheet under the door without ringing the bell, immediately prior to fleeing. I guess it was his last run and the thought of me having to fill out the packing sheet was all too much for him. It was a holiday and all.

– – – Original Message – – –

From: “”
Sent: Feb 21, 2005 7:36:11 PM MST

Comments: Your driver leaves a slip but doesn’t ring the bell. Doesn’t make sense does it? No, I didn’t think so either. This is a very bad first impression, very bad. What do we do next? Maybe I take another full day off to wait for him again? Catch-ing the sarcasm? I hope so.

– – – Original Message – – –

Date: Tuesday 22 Feb 2005 07:14:52
Subject: NT20050221_0000019488 Shipping

Please include the following line in all replies.

Email Reference Number: NT20050221_0000019488

Dear Salvatore Russo:

Thank you for your inquiry. We apologize for the inconvenience caused in this matter. Please provide the tracking number for your shipment so that we may address this matter with your local UPS Delivery Center.

Thank you for using UPS Internet Services.


It seems as if both DHL and UPS use the same computer to feign their grossly insincere apologies.

The Fog of War: OK, let’s cut to the chase: DigiDelivery, price aside, wins! Upon giving Gordon Lyon at Digidesign the good news I asked him about one of my chief concerns as they relate to shipping sessions electronically: safety. Is DigiDelivery safer than FTP and if so, why?

“Digi-Delivery is more secure than FTP in two ways: Encryption and Access Control,” says Lyon. “Administrators can add SSL certificates to FTP servers so that they use HTTPS (instead of HTTP) for data transfers. HTTPS provides a secure connection between the client and the server so that the data cannot be ‘sniffed’ in transmission. Even without an SSL certificate, all deliveries are actually protected with 128-bit encryption before the delivery leaves the sender’s computer, and they are not decrypted until they have been completely downloaded to the recipient’s computer. So not only is the delivery safe in transmission, it cannot be hacked on the server. Even if the DigiDelivery server itself were stolen, the deliveries could not be accessed.”

“But with an FTP site, you need to give recipients a password to access the site, then set up which folders you want to let them into,” continues Lyon. “But that recipient can give that password to anyone else, and they can continue to access any files in those folders until the administrator manually closes their account. DigiDelivery recipients just click on a link in their email, so there is no need to give them a password and they can’t see any of the other files or folders on your server.”

But for the budgetarily challenged it may be a toss up even after the days and business lost are factored in. Coming in a close second and arriving the next day, UPS dropped off Monte’s Pro Tools session at 9:54 a.m. Arriving just over a half hour later at 10:29 a.m. FedEx makes a third place appearance, and shamefully at 4 p.m. …DHL brings up the rear with a pitiful fourth place finish. Fourth place.

Here is the first line of the first email I got from DHL upon starting an account with them: “Salvatore Russo, thank you for choosing DHL. As the ‘new kid in town’, we recognize that we have to earn your business – and your trust. And that’s exactly what we intend to do.” Well let me take the time to respond to that in this forum: being the “new kid in town” and all, you’re still doing a horrible job. And as far as “earning my business,” heretofore you have only succeeded in earning my ire. You lost. Or rather you got beaten. By EVERYONE. Excepting the US Post Office whose inclusion here was contemplated and then subsequently rejected for reasons in large part having to do with sanity.

Did I mention DigiDelivery won? Oh good…