11 Years Later, Full Scope of a Music Disaster Is Revealed

NYT Magazine reports on Universal Studios fire that wiped out priceless master recordings
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 11, 2019 11:21 AM CDT
Updated Jun 15, 2019 3:00 PM CDT
Some of Music's Best Master Recordings Were Torched
In this undated file photo, American rock and roll singer Buddy Holly performs in the 1950s.   (AP Photo)

Some of history's most important music recordings were destroyed a decade ago. That's according to New York Times Magazine, which reports that a 2008 blaze at Universal Studios Hollywood was far more devastating than previously reported. Flames didn't just destroy movies and TV shows already copied to digital format, but irreplaceable master sound recordings owned by Universal Music Group, including almost all of Buddy Holly's masters, and masters of some of Aretha Franklin's first record appearances. There were also masters from Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Chuck Berry, Neil Diamond, Sonny and Cher, Cat Stevens, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Barry White, Patti LaBelle, Nirvana, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, and many more.

"Lost in the fire was, undoubtedly, a huge musical heritage," reads a UMG assessment from 2009, estimating the loss at 500,000 song titles, some of which had never been commercially released. In analyzing such documents, the writer of the magazine article, Jody Rosen, found UMG worked to "downplay the gravity of the loss," perhaps by offering up the names of only obscure artists affected. We're just learning about this now thanks to litigation playing out in the courts and documents obtained by Rosen. Masters are the originals from which other recordings (vinyl, CDs, MP3s, etc.) are made, and "the monetary value of this loss is difficult to calculate," writes Rosen. One estimate came in at $150 million. "But in historical terms, the dimension of the catastrophe is staggering." Read the full story. (More music stories.)

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