REPORT: Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses & More Master Recordings Lost in 2008 Fire
It made headlines back in 2008. A major fire swept through part of the Universal Studios lot in Hollywood. But while the headlines focused on parts of the theme park being damaged and some of the video vaults suffering exposure, what was mostly overlooked was the damage caused to an archive housing some of music's most iconic recordings.
The New York Times has posted an extensive article chronicling the 2008 fire and what it meant to the music industry, as it was revealed that approximately 500,000 song titles were lost. In the new report, the list of artists who lost works in the fire include such heavy hitters as Nirvana, Guns N' Roses, Nine Inch Nails, Aerosmith, Iggy Pop, Soundgarden, Hole, Sonic Youth and many more.
Also included were recordings from old time acts such as Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Les Paul, Fats Domino, Burl Ives, B.B. King, Loretta Lynn, George Jones and plenty of other major artists from throughout the rock era.
Writer Jody Rosen suggests the news of the lost recordings only now coming to light was likely due to the confusion over the archive's inclusion in Universal's holdings at the time. He explains, "The confusion was understandable. Universal Studios Hollywood was a movie backlot, not a record-company headquarters. What’s more, a series of mergers and acquisitions had largely severed the ties between Universal’s film and music businesses. In 2004, Universal Studios was purchased by General Electric and merged with G.E.’s television property, NBC, to become NBCUniversal; UMG was cast under separate management, and in 2006 fell wholly under the ownership of Vivendi, the French media conglomerate. When the fire struck in June 2008, UMG was a rent-paying tenant on NBC Universal’s lot."
When the archive's Senior Director of Vault Operations Randy Aronson first came upon the scene, he realized he was witnessing something of major proportions. "It was like those end-of-the-world-type movies,” Aronson says. “I felt like my planet had been destroyed.”
In a March 2009 document, it was reported that the "assets destroyed" were 118,230, while Aronson says he felt the total was a little low, estimating it in the 175,000 range. Another confidential report obtained for the New York Times story suggested that an "estimated 500,000 song titles" were lost. Aronson recalled hearing that the company priced the combined total of lost tape and “loss of artistry” at $150 million.
The loss gets even greater when you consider the possibility of unreleased music potentially gone for reissue purposes, which have become such a major deal for artists in the last couple of decades. While the New York Times report did not single out individual recordings, the impact of the 2008 fire definitely hit a wealth of recording artists in many different genres.
Dig deeper into the overwhelming loss of music in the full New York Times article here.
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