The Day The Music Burned, NY Times article

Fascinating in depth article in the NY Times Sunday Supplement last weekend about the fire at the storage lot at UMG 15 years or so ago.
It’s also quite depressing about what was lost unfortunately, but very well written.
Allow yourself some time and get a big cup of coffee for the read.
I’m not sure if I’m allowed to post the link but available via search engines I guess.

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Thanks for posting about this Chris. A fascinating read, and one that leaves me a bit depressed too. Only glimmer was the bit about the Steely Dan masters having been moved prior to the fire. But even that’s a bit misleading, it seems.

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Very interesting read and the record company stance of don,t worry its all digitised is not very reassuring. I hope others have learnt a lesson and have fire and water proof storage.

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Would be nice to think so @Gazza however nothing would surprise me unfortunately.

Our master tapes and the lacquer are in a fireproof box in a safe place @Gazza :sunglasses:

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It’s a great piece, and a sad one. That so much of our musical history is the hands of so few companies, who seem to care not a fig for this priceless heritage, is deeply depressing.

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I wasn’t aware of this until I stumbled on the article today and unknowingly started a thread on it.
This just makes me feel so sick and angry. The statement by UMG that, don’t worry it’s all fine cause most of the material has now been digitised, just sums up the attitude of these dumb fekkers!

I’m including the link for ease of reference if that’s not permitted @Richard.Dane will kindly moderate but this is so important

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2019/06/11/magazine/universal-fire-master-recordings.amp.html

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The author is spot on to point out that if this had happened in one of the world’s gallery’s holding precious works of art that there would be outrage and accountability. To think that the masters of some of the greatest works of musical art are held in such disregard has left me speechless.
:rage:

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I’ve had a consideration at the back of my mind for a while to invest in an RCM, but as I obsessively look after my records and mainly buy new ones I haven’t really felt the need.
However in light of this revelation, I think an RCM and seeking out decent condition original pressings is now essential. However, I can see profiteers now commanding even more eye watering prices. As for so called “Audiophile pressings” claiming to be transferred direct from the original masters, hmmmm!

If I was paranoid and a conspiracy theorist, I think it wouldnt be to big a leap to believe that all this destruction of analogue archives is part of a hidden agenda to dumb down and digitise everything. With the analogue source masters destroyed, gone is the evidence of their sonic superiority leaving the corporation’s bean counters to force us into a digital streamed world.

The lie that it doesn’t really matter as most of the material has been digitised is just so stupid. As we all know digital audio (admittedly is advancing but in audiophile and archivist terms is still in its infancy) didn’t and hasn’t yet delivered “perfect sound forever” therefore the digitisation of destroyed masters is simply a snapshot of where digital audio is currently at in terms of sonic performance and any advances in digital audio standards are pointless without being able to return to the source to digitise at any advanced standards.

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This subject is also featured in a Times’ article today (p9), having also appeared in other UK papers a few weeks ago. This seems to colour-in a few more details.

It seems UMG sub-contracted the storage and received a confidential settlement from Vivendi (ultimate parent of NBCUniversal) in 2013 - and UMG claim the severity of the event has been mis-reported by many in the media. Of course, due to the highly layered rights ownership structure in the music industry, I wonder who the actual losers from this episode are? - as, one would have thought, any ‘loss’ to parties would have had to have been addressed in 2013?

Forgive the pun but there’s obviously a lot of media smoke (generated by the lawyers?) around this, perhaps quite rightly. It would be fascinating to understand the details of the case.

Thinking of the thousands of hours of previously unheard session tapes from some of the most iconic recordings of our lifetimes is really upsetting and also those one and two hit Blues, Soul, R&B and Jazz artists who lay forgotten in those vaults waiting to be rediscovered are now gone forever.
Original and early copies of these lost masters will now rocket in price putting them out of reach of most of us and into the hands of those strange people who buy, catalogue and vault (but never play) very precious records as investments.
The only very meagre consolation is the incalculable financial loss to UMG that will hopefully push them and the other custodians of these precious works of art to store them safely.

There was a piece about this on Radio 4 yesterday. Rather chillingly, the music being played at the intro of the pice was by Steely Dan… :cold_sweat:

Sheryl Crow in the news today having only just discovered that all her masters burned in the fire. I wonder if we’ll ever get a full picture of just what was lost.

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Have seen the story on the BBC over the last few days, and Sheryl Crow’s news today.

It seems unbelievable that not only did they keep the masters at the facility but also the backup copies of the masters! Probably a lesson for all of us who keep domestic backups of media, photos etc that a backup is only part of the story and copies need to be in different locations.

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Indeed. Quite apart from the fact that with analogue masters, as you can’t clone them in the same way as digital tapes or files, once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.

Hadn’t spotted this in the news about Sheryl Crow @Richard.Dane . Guess as artists find out and publicise it, it will make others think they should check too. We might see several more of these high profile cases popping up now - watch this space I guess.

This happened over 11 years ago and we only just get news of it!

I’m speechless! : (

What was lost?

Almost all of the master recordings stored in the vault were destroyed in the fire, including those produced by some of the most famous musicians since the 1940s.

In a confidential report in 2009, Universal Music Group estimated the loss at about 500,000 song titles.

The lost works most likely included masters in the Decca Records collection by Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland. The fire probably also claimed some of Chuck Berry’s greatest recordings, produced for Chess Records, as well as the masters of some of Aretha Franklin’s first appearances on record.
Almost of all of Buddy Holly’s masters were lost, as were most of John Coltrane’s masters in the Impulse Records collection. The fire also claimed numerous hit singles, likely including Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” Etta James’s “At Last” and the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie.”

The list of artists affected spans decades of popular music. It includes recordings by Ray Charles, B.B. King, the Four Tops, Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, Sonny and Cher, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Al Green, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Aerosmith, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Barry White, Patti LaBelle, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Police, Sting, Steve Earle, R.E.M., Janet Jackson, Guns N’ Roses, Mary J. Blige, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, Snoop Dogg, Nirvana, Beck, Sheryl Crow, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, 50 Cent and the Roots.

Almost of all of Buddy Holly’s masters were lost, as were most of John Coltrane’s masters in the Impulse Records collection. The fire also claimed numerous hit singles, likely including Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” Etta James’s “At Last” and the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie.”

The list of artists affected spans decades of popular music. It includes recordings by Ray Charles, B.B. King, the Four Tops, Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, Sonny and Cher, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Al Green, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Aerosmith, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Barry White, Patti LaBelle, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Police, Sting, Steve Earle, R.E.M., Janet Jackson, Guns N’ Roses, Mary J. Blige, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, Snoop Dogg, Nirvana, Beck, Sheryl Crow, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, 50 Cent and the Roots.

What are master recordings, and why do they matter?

A master recording is the one-of-a-kind original recording of a piece of music. It’s the source from which other vinyl records, CDs, MP3s and all other recordings are made.

According to the article, documents show that the vault contained masters dating back decades, including multitrack recordings on which individual instruments remained isolated from one another. There were also session masters, including recordings that had never been commercially released. The recordings within the vault came from to some of the most important record labels of all time.

Audiophiles and audio professionals view such recordings with special regard.

“A master is the truest capture of a piece of recorded music,” Adam Block, the former president of Legacy Recordings, Sony Music Entertainment’s catalog arm, told the magazine. “Sonically, masters can be stunning in their capturing of an event in time. Every copy thereafter is a sonic step away.”

They did a good hush job on it didnt they @Debs

Some care may be warranted here around what was actually lost, not only in terms of the actual content (which UMG appear to dispute) but also what condition it was in. There was a BBC article moons back which highlighted their digitisation programme and how much of the legacy content was in very poor nick and the old film was, of course, a fire risk in itself – hence the imperative to digitise. The cost of keeping AC-controlled environments for film and alike is enormous (and ultimately to what end?).

And then there’s the question of who has a fiduciary interest in whatever has been lost - it may not be the named artist/their estate. Indeed, UMG may argue that recent releases are founded from digitised sources and, ergo, the master tapes don’t have material value. Who knows, until the detail of the case is open to the public.

I note the words ‘most likely to have been lost’.

Smacks of a deliberate plot to scuffer the storage costs, and instead; make a quick buck out of the insurance pay-out, and done suspiciously at a time when the financial crisis was gathering momentum…

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