'The Day The Music Burned' - The story behind the 2008 Universal Fire [NYTM]

wenis

Member
Oct 25, 2017
7,291
This is the full story here:

The Day The Music Burned [NYTM]



Shortly after the fire broke out, a 50-year-old man named Randy Aronson was awakened by a ringing phone at his home in Canyon Country, Calif., about 30 miles north of Universal City, the unincorporated area of the San Fernando Valley where the studio sits. Aronson had worked on the Universal lot for 25 years. His title was senior director of vault operations at Universal Music Group (UMG). In practice, this meant he spent his days overseeing an archive housed in the video vault. The term “video vault” was in fact a misnomer, or a partial misnomer. About two-thirds of the building was used to store videotapes and film reels, a library controlled by Universal Studios’s parent company, NBCUniversal. But Aronson’s domain was a separate space, a fenced-off area of 2,400 square feet in the southwest corner of the building, lined with 18-foot-high storage shelves. It was a sound-recordings library, the repository of some of the most historically significant material owned by UMG, the world’s largest record company.

Aronson let the phone call go to voice mail, but when he listened to the message, he heard sirens screaming in the background and the frantic voice of a colleague: “The vault is on fire.”
The Times’s report was typical in another way: It contained no mention of a music archive in the devastated warehouse. The confusion was understandable. Universal Studios Hollywood was a movie backlot, not a record-company headquarters. What’s more, a series of mergers and acquisitions had largely severed the ties between Universal’s film and music businesses. In 2004, Universal Studios was purchased by General Electric and merged with G.E.’s television property, NBC, to become NBCUniversal; UMG was cast under separate management, and in 2006 fell wholly under the ownership of Vivendi, the French media conglomerate. When the fire struck in June 2008, UMG was a rent-paying tenant on NBC Universal’s lot.
One of the few journalists to note the existence of the UMG archive was Nikki Finke, the entertainment-industry blogger and gadfly. In a Deadline.com post on the day of the fire, Finke wrote that “1,000’s of original ... recording masters” might have been destroyed in the warehouse, citing an anonymous source. The next day Finke published a “clarification,” quoting an unnamed representative from the record company: “Thankfully, there was little lost from UMG’s vault. A majority of what was formerly stored there was moved earlier this year to our other facilities. Of the small amount that was still there and waiting to be moved, it had already been digitized so the music will still be around for many years to come.” The same day, in the music trade publication Billboard, a UMG spokesperson again pushed back against the idea that thousands of masters were destroyed with a more definitive denial: “We had no loss.”

These reassuring pronouncements concealed a catastrophe. When Randy Aronson stood outside the burning warehouse on June 1, he knew he was witnessing a historic event. “It was like those end-of-the-world-type movies,” Aronson says. “I felt like my planet had been destroyed.”
and then a shortened form of the story here



Recordings by Elton John, Nirvana and Thousands More Lost in Fire [NYT]

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.
a truly substantial loss to the music world. unfathomable.
 
OP
OP
wenis

wenis

Member
Oct 25, 2017
7,291
a small bump because this story deserves traction and some anger

"That same June 3 Daily News article included a direct quotation from LoFrumento: “In one sense it was a loss. In another, we were covered,” he said. “It had already been digitized, so the music will still be around for many years.” The claim about digital backups, which was reported by other news outlets, also seems to have been misleading. It is true that UMG’s vault-operations department had begun a digitization initiative, known as the Preservation Project, in late 2004. But company documents, and testimony given by UMG officials in legal proceedings, make clear that the project was modest; records show that at the time of the fire approximately 12,000 tapes, mostly analog multitracks visibly at risk of deterioration, had been transferred to digital storage formats. All of those originals and digital copies were stored in a separate facility in Pennsylvania; they were not the items at issue in the fire. The company’s sweeping assurance that “the music” had been digitized appears to have been pure spin. “The company knew that there would be shock and outrage if people found out the real story,” Aronson says. “They did an outstanding job of keeping it quiet. It’s a secret I’m ashamed to have been a part of.”"
it was all a coverup
 

torre_avenue

Avenger
Oct 25, 2017
7,052
Behind you.
I read this earlier and its devastating.

The gall of UMG to try and hide this from estates is stunning. If I were handling the estate of anyone signed to or retroactively signed to UMG, I'd be raising hell. All that music lost...
 

Nobunny

Avenger
Oct 25, 2017
671
The amount of important music lost by this is staggering, reading down the list of artists made me feel sick.

Just the loss of the Chuck Berry masters alone is a full on tragedy, but it gets so much worse from there.
 
OP
OP
wenis

wenis

Member
Oct 25, 2017
7,291
Some interesting notes coming from this story now


I'll try and peruse for some more. R.E.M. and Hole are also trying to figure out just what was lost from their catalogue as well


It definitely throws a huge wrench into these "Mastered From The Original Tapes" vinyl sets that have been released since 2008.
 

hippopotamus

Member
Oct 25, 2017
5,138
It's insane that they thought they could cover it up, and are even now acting like it isn't a big deal because you can still buy their stupid mp3s on itunes.
 

SkyMasterson

Member
Oct 28, 2017
1,019
It’s crazy how bad that fire was. Things could have been a lot worse too since thousands of people go to Universal Studios Hollywood daily. So thankfully it happened before the park opened.

Also, it still bums me out we lost the King Kong ride. Now we have the shitty 3d screen “ride”.