Universal Music Masters Fire: What You Need To Know

Lawrence Kim
June 15, 2019

Universal Music Group, now owned by French media conglomerate Vivendi, said the fire "never affected the availability of the commercially released music nor impacted artists' compensation".

Just before 5 am on June 1, 2008, while maintenance workers were using blowtorches to fix the roof of a building at Universal Studios Hollywood.

At the time, Universal downplayed the fire, likely trying to reduce public embarrassment and avoid angering artists or fans.

The master recordings belonging to some of the greatest musicians in American history were destroyed in a fire that tore through Universal Studios Hollywood in 2008, it was revealed on Tuesday. The vault contained analog tape masters - "the irreplaceable primary source of a piece of recorded music" - as well as more recent digital recordings of dozens of artists including Buddy Holly, Etta James, and Chuck Berry, the Times Magazine reports. The report, titled "The Day Music Burned", details the possible extent of damage caused by the flames, including the loss of an estimated 500,000 song titles, some dating as far back as the 1940s.

The full report in the New York Times Magazine is worth a look - it's not only an exhaustive report of what happened, but also a musing on the importance of history, and what can happen when it isn't properly safeguarded.

One of the affected artists, R.E.M., tweeted, "REMHQ is receiving inquiries from many people concerned about the New York Times article on the Universal Music fire 11 years ago". Maybe they burned up in the big fire.

It gets worse. Material from the following was lost: Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Snoop Dogg, REM, Police and Sting, No Doubt, Eminem, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, Eagles, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Beck-the list goes on and on. Masters of some of Aretha Franklin's first recordings were lost, along with nearly all of Buddy Holly's and John Coltrane's masters, and countless hit singles such as Etta James's "At Last", The Kinsmen's "Louie Louie", and Bill Haley and His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock".

The Times clearly put a lot of effort into recovering this information but a rep for UMG told Variety that the publication's report has "numerous inaccuracies, misleading statements, contradictions and fundamental misunderstandings of the scope of the incident and affected assets".

"Music preservation is of the highest priority for us and we are proud of our track record", UMG stated. "Working without the master tapes would be like a chef having to use precooked food" says Giles Martin, Beatles re-issue producer in the Times article.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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