A 2008 fire on the Universal Studios backlot has done far more damage than originally divulged.
In statements made public for the first time, more than 100,000 master recordings owned by Universal Music Group were lost in the blaze, including works by Elton John, the Eagles, the Police, Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana and Tom Petty.
The new information comes courtesy of The New York Times Magazine, which cites internal company documents and interviews with UMG employees among their sources. One document, used in a 2009 company meeting, declares that “lost in the fire was, undoubtedly, a huge musical heritage.”
UMG is the world’s largest recording company, boasting a catalog that spans the history of recorded music. Over the course of the company’s existence, it has acquired a long list of labels, including Capitol, Decca, Chess, Interscope, Island, Def Jam and more.
When word of a fire on the Universal backlot originally broke in 2008, very little was said regarding damage to the archival warehouse. The structure was referred to as a “video vault,” while much of the focus was placed on the famous studio sound stages and filming facades that were scorched by the flames.
A 2008 Deadline report suggesting the fire had burned irreplaceable master tapes was rebuffed by UMG. Soon afterward, a Universal spokesperson denied claims that master tapes had been destroyed, telling Billboard that UMG “had no loss.” Now, it appears, those comments were inaccurate.
In a confidential report, issued in 2009, UMG estimated that “500K song titles” were lost. In a conversation with The New York Times Magazine, Randy Aronson, UMG’s former director of vault operations, admitted his employer tried to downplay the loss for fear of backlash from the public.
“The company knew that there would be shock and outrage if people found out the real story,” Aronson stated. “They did an outstanding job of keeping it quiet. It’s a secret I’m ashamed to have been a part of.”
While details on exactly which recordings were lost has not been revealed, master tapes from the following artists are believed to be among those destroyed:
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Guns N’ Roses
Nine Inch Nails
Sammy Davis Jr.
Sonny and Cher
The Mamas and the Papas
Mary J. Blige