Transferring Converted Music to an iPad using Dropbox

by airturn

When I first started using computers to store and read all my music, my biggest fear was tripping on stage, smashing my computer, and losing my entire digital library in one fell swoop (this actually happened to me once right in the middle of a major concert! I left my slate Tablet PC on the piano during intermission.  One of the stage hands closed the music rack without realizing my computer was still perched on it, and it flew off with a thunderous crash and a deafening collective gasp from the audience.  Miraculously, the computer – screen and all – remained perfectly intact, but that was enough to give me a mild heart attack!) I used USB thumb drives and portable hard drives of all shapes and sizes to carry and back up my library, but being the absent-minded musician that I am, I found myself constantly misplacing and losing them.

One of the most amazing bits of technology in recent years has been the development of the “cloud”.  Thanks to greater availability and increasing speeds of Internet connectivity, you no longer need to depend on the fickle nature of your own physical hard drives or worry about your own butterfingers to keep a steady grip on your precious data.  Online web-based storage solutions have been around for a good while, but one particular service – Dropbox – revolutionized the ease and convenience of keeping your files in the cloud.  Founded in 2007 and officially launched in 2008, Dropbox can be installed on virtually any computer device and automatically synchronizes your files between your machines. Best of all, Dropbox is free for the first 5 Gigs of storage space – throw those thumb drives away!  Of course, you can pay for more space if you really like the service, but you can also grow your storage capacity if you refer others to join (500 MB per friend, Baby!)

Dropbox is a popular feature with several iPad apps, giving you the ability to store, download, share and sync your sheet music files right from inside the app.  Each app handles Dropbox connectivity differently, so you’ll have to take some time to explore each app’s idiosyncrasies.  Nevertheless, this is a great way to transfer and manage relatively large digital sheet music libraries between multiple computers, from the ones that are used to scan and create the PDF files, to the devices used to receive and work with them.

When you sign up for Dropbox, you’ll be given the opportunity to install the free application on your computers.  Once installed, you will see Dropbox as a folder in your computer’s navigation bar, just like the all-important Documents, Desktop, and other top level folders that are the default options.

Here’s the Dropbox folder on my MacBook (with my Sheet Music subfolder open):

And here’s what it looks like on my Windows 7 computer:

Once I scan my paper music into PDF files on my “scanning computer”, I just save them within my computer’s Dropbox folder (you can create subfolders within Dropbox just as easily as you would with a regular folder on your hard drive).  Depending on your Internet connection speed, your files will automatically be uploaded and synchronized within your Dropbox account without any further intervention on your part.  Once your files are uploaded, you can then use your iPad to browse to your online Dropbox account, download the file, and select which app you want to open it with (see the previous post on opening email file attachments within your iPad’s mail app – it’s a similar process, but you need to make sure you are using the iPad’s default Safari browser to be able to assign apps to open the file with).

Some iPad apps down’t need to use Safari as an intermediary to your Dropbox files.  Here are some examples of apps that can import PDF files directly from Dropbox – some have Dropbox connectivity built in, while others have their own built-in mini browsers from which you can access the web version of Dropbox:

1. forScore (Dropbox)

2. MusicPodium (Web browser)

3. MusicReader PDF (Web browser)

4. OnSong (works mostly with text files, but also can work with PDFs – Dropbox)

As with any wildly popular technology, imitators aren’t too far behind.  Google has launched Google Drive, and Microsoft has its own SkyDrive.  I haven’t had a chance to play around with these newer services, but it might be worth adding a note of caution: any online storage service that can’t pay its own bills in the long term runs the risk of suddenly disappearing one day, so be sure that you don’t leave anything completely irreplaceable in the cloud.  I would advise that you stick with a time-proven performer like Dropbox for the time being until these other services prove their mettle.