"The vault housed tape masters for Decca, the pop, jazz and classical powerhouse; it housed master tapes for the storied blues label Chess; it housed masters for Impulse, the groundbreaking jazz label". Although Universal wanted to keep all their metaphorical eggs in one basket, Martin wanted to make sure he had access to the "assorted vocals, instruments, beats and other sounds captured in isolation" for possible future projects. And recording artists and producers are challenging Universal on social media in light of the story.
A New York Times report published on Tuesday reveals that a 2008 fire at Universal Studios Hollywood destroyed master recordings by artists spanning multiple genres and decades. In taking stock of the fire's damage, Rosen notes that it wasn't just original music that burned up.
It's also reported that the blaze claimed tracks by artists including Joni Mitchell, Captain Beefheart, Cat Stevens, the Carpenters, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, the Eagles, Asia, Don Henley, Aerosmith, Steely Dan, Iggy Pop, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Police, Steve Earle, R.E.M., Guns N' Roses, Sonic Youth, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Hole.
The fire started after overnight maintenance workers used blow torches to fix the roof of a building on one of Universal Studios' many movie sets. "There were also, yes, a number of session tapes of various sorts - unreleased material, outtakes, maybe even studio chatter from various recording sessions that were here". According to a statement from the company, the article contains "numerous inaccuracies, misleading statements, contradictions and fundamental misunderstandings of the scope of the incident and affected assets".
"Fortunately, nothing irreplaceable was lost", Ron Meyer, then the chief operating officer of Universal Studios, told CNN in 2008.
After the fire, UMG started a two-year project to try to replicate its library, which resulted in about a fifth of the lost music being "recovered" by obtaining sonically inferior copies, according to Aronson's estimate.
Following the article's publication, REM said they were "trying to get good information to find out what happened and the effect on the band's music, if any".
In its statement, UMG said it was proud of its efforts in music preservation and listed various initiatives it had spearheaded or supported.