UMG Apparently Lost 500,000 Copies Of Unreleased Music In That 2008 Fire

MM Staff
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New reports contradict statements UMG made at the time about how much was lost.

The 2008 Universal Studios fire that wiped out the Back to the Future courthouse square and a mechanical King Kong also destroyed thousands of original recording masters from some of the most influential artists of the 20th century, The New York Times is reporting.

According to legal and internal documents seen by The Times, UMG put the number of music tapes destroyed when flames reached Building 6197 — home to both film reels and the sound recordings — at nearly 120,000.

Randy Aronson, who was senior director of vault operations for UMG, told the publication that the tally was more like 175,000. In all, UMG estimated internally that roughly 500,000 songs were lost.

The irreplaceable master tapes originated from several labels, including Decca, MCA, ABC and Chess, and featured songs from jazz greats Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, to rock n’ roll architect Chuck Berry to the earliest material by Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin.

According to The Times, virtually all of Buddy Holly’s masters were lost, along with most of the masters from John Coltrane’s time at the legendary Impulse imprint.

The list of destroyed works spans several genres and generations, including music by B.B. King, Joni Mitchell, Iggy Pop, Tom Petty, Sonic Youth, No Doubt, Snoop Dogg, Soundgarden and the Roots.

The destruction of master tapes contradicts official statements at the time, including from a Universal spokesperson who told MM “we had no loss,” adding that the company had recently moved “most” of the stored material on the movie lot to other facilities.

Elsewhere in its statements, the company did infer that some physical items didn’t make it, but that digital copies were already made.

“Of the small amount that was still there and awaiting to be moved, it had already been digitised so the music will still be around for many years,” the rep told MM at the time.

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