Universal fire destroyed masters of more than 500K titles

Universal Studios fire

Universal Studios fire

At the time, media outlets reported on the damage to the King Kong theme park attraction and warehouse's "video vault", but not to the sound-recordings library, a real treasure trove that was nearly entirely destroyed. "In fact, it conveniently ignores the tens of thousands of back catalog recordings that we have already issued in recent years - including master-quality, high-resolution, audiophile versions of many recordings that the story claims were 'destroyed.' And it even goes so far as to praise some of our initiatives but does not attribute them to us". Master music recordings are the original recordings from which all subsequent copies are derived.

A New York Times report published on Tuesday reveals that a 2008 fire at Universal Studios Hollywood destroyed master recordings by artists spanning multiple genres and decades.

The list of artists affected includes recordings by Ray Charles, B.B. King, Joan Baez, Duke Ellington, Neil Diamond, Bing Crosby, Joni Mitchell, Judy Garland, Cat Stevens, Al Green, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Aerosmith, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Barry White, Patti LaBelle, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Police, R.E.M., Janet Jackson, Guns N' Roses, Nirvana, Sheryl Crow, Tupac Shakur and many more.

The Times report claims that an internal memo reported that 500,000 master recordings were lost in the fire.

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Universal Studios officials reportedly kept the damage hush-hush at the time, saying that nothing that had been lost was the sole copy of a work.

Internally, UMG acknowledged how catastrophic the fire had been: "Lost in the fire was, undoubtedly, a huge musical heritage", reads a company document cited in Rosen's article. Former UMG employee Randy Aronson, who was UMG's senior director of vault operations in 2008, tells Rosen, "The company knew that there would be shock and outrage if people found out the real story..."

Universal Music Group would not confirm the number of actual losses due to the fire, nor would it confirm the status of masters for specific artists.

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