The Reality Of File Sharing

Many years ago, I had to take my analog tape reels to other studios and hope they would play and sound as good as on my machines. Then when ADATs arrived, compatibility took a major step forward as any ADAT could, at least in theory, play a tape from any other ADAT. Today, the common WAV and AIFF file formats are readable by almost all current DAWs; however, transferring a full project from one DAW to another can get very tricky without similar, if not identical, systems.

If both systems have the same software, make sure the machine importing the session has at least the same version (or higher) of software, and hopefully, the same set of plug-ins. All your automation information should be recognized flawlessly, and you’ll be good to go — unless the computer itself has less power than yours, and can’t play back your project without problems.


If the DAWs aren’t the same, you have several different options — some more painful than others.

If your DAW doesn’t have advanced export options and you do not want (and believe me, you really don’t want!) to find, drag, drop, and adjust every single piece of audio manually and deal with automation, you’ll need to do some major rendering (bouncing). Render every track, including any edits, automation, and processing, into a new track that goes from the beginning to the end of the project. All of the rendered tracks should share a start point of 00:00:00. Export the rendered tracks, save them in a folder, transport the folder to the target DAW, and then import each file into a new project. (If the other studio has the same set of plug-ins, then you needn’t render a track with processing; but do provide detailed notes on the plug-ins used, and include any plug-in presets in the folder. To be safe, also render a track with processing.)

As this method does not include MIDI info, either render the soft synth tracks into audio tracks, or export the MIDI file separately as a Standard MIDI File, import it into the target DAW, and hope that it has suitable soft synths.

This brute force method works pretty well, especially when transferring a small number of audio tracks. However, huge projects are a different matter.


Currently, the most common file transfer tool for DAWs is OMF (Open Media Format), the de facto standard created by Avid Technology, Inc. It is a binary format, offering a cross-platform, extensible, and “rich” container capable of holding complex composition information and media data. Most current DAWs support OMF import/export.

However, as OMF deals only with audio, you will need to render all virtual synth tracks as audio prior to exporting, or export any MIDI info to a separate file. Another OMF limitation is that it does not recognize plug-ins, so the usual option is to first render the track with any processing before exporting as an OMF file. Another possibility is to export just the raw tracks, and save any plug-in settings as presets — assuming the other studio has the same plug-ins. If the plug-ins differ, you’ll need to write out a text file with all the settings for EQ, compression, delay, etc. for every plug-in/track, and try to translate those settings at the other end.


Given the difficulties encountered in standardizing OMF — mostly because it was a protocol defined by a manufacturer, so other companies and standards associations were sometimes reluctant to adopt it — Advanced Authoring Format (AAF) and Material eXchange Format (MXF) were born.

According to Pro-MEG, “MXF is an open file format targeted at the interchange of audio-visual material with associated data and metadata, with the aim of improving file-based interoperability between servers, workstations, and other content creation devices.”

MXF is a specification for providing media playback interoperability. It’s closely associated with AAF and the two can be used together, with AAF holding complex composition data and MXF serving as a media container (or “wrapper”). They can both operate independently, as both share a similar internal object design to enhance their compatibility.

AAF and MXF are OMF’s successors, and inherit much from it. While OMF is branded by Avid, AAF and MXF are controlled by the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA, formerly AAF Association). As a result, the industry can adopt it without concern for business or legal complications, and all interested manufacturers that embrace this technology can provide feedback to move the spec forward.

These new specifications promise to fulfill the dream of being able to, one day, take your rich media projects from any DAW to another. Sounds good, right? Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

For more information about AAF and MXF, visit the AMWA at