News is just coming out that a 2008 fire on the Universal Studios backlot, the extent of the damage previously unreported, was more devastating than originally stated.
The new information comes from 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.”
According to 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
When the fire occurred in 2008, information about the nature of the damage in the warehouse was not revealed. The structure was referred to as a “video vault.” When a 2008 Deadline report suggested that the fire had burned irreplaceable master tapes, this was rejected by UMG officials. Soon afterward, a Universal spokesperson denied claims that master tapes had been destroyed, telling Billboard that UMG “had no loss.”
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 have been 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
UMG is the world’s largest recording company, boasting a catalog that spans the history of recorded music.