A lot of priceless material from some of the most influential artists of the last decade was reportedly burned in a fire that at Universal Studios Hollywood's archive building on June 1, 2008.
Though the fire was widely reported at the time, the head of Universal Studios, Ron Meyer, said there had been no major losses.
Also lost were nearly all of Buddy Holly's masters, plus classic and/or early recordings from Etta James, Billie Holiday, Louie Armstrong, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Aretha Franklin, John Coltrane, Al Green, Ray Charles, Elton John, B.B.
But according to a new investigation by The New York Times Magazine, Universal Music Group's sound-recordings library, which held thousands of master copies of various songs, was also largely destroyed by the fire. The New York Times itself referred to the fire as "the biggest disaster in the history of the music business", citing internal reports, legal documents and the recollection of Aronson and others who were there.
Some of the artists involved include Guns N' Roses, Nine Inch Nails, No Doubt, Beck, Sheryl Crow, The Eagles, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, The Police and Aerosmith. Initially, reports shared that "a vault full of video and television images" was destroyed in the fire, and an unnamed representative for Universal quoted: "Thankfully, there was little lost from UMG's vault".
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"The incident. never affected the availability of the commercially released music nor impacted artists' compensation", it said.
Almost all of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly's masters may have been lost in the 24 hours it took the fire department to control the fire, according to the Times report, which cites litigation and company documents that contrast UMG's public statements about the extent of the damage. They say that the article contains "numerous inaccuracies, misleading statements, contradictions and fundamental misunderstandings of the scope of the incident and affected assets".
The destruction of the master tapes mean that it will be more hard to release high-quality reissues and reproductions of those recordings in the future.
But Universal maintains that nothing was lost in the fire, and claims the story failed to mention the "tens of thousands of back catalog recordings" released by Universal in recent years.