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Thousands Of Master Recordings Have Been Lost In Universal Universal Studios Fire

elizabethdspina 12 Jun 2019

Thousands of master recordings were destroyed in a fire that blazed through Universal Studios in June, 11 years ago

So, the burning question on everyone's minds is "why are we just finding out about this now?"

Almost exactly 11 years ago, Universal Studios was hit with a blaze that wiped out thousands of master recordings by artists like, Elton John, Nirvana, and many others.

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At the time, however, Universal was able to sugar-coat the situation, limiting the public's grasp on the severity of the situation.

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As far as we knew at the time, the blaze tore through theme park’s “King Kong” attraction and a vault that contained only copies of old works.

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But as we're finding out now, there was a bit more to the story.

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The New York Times Magazine is now describing the event as “the biggest disaster in the history of the music business.”

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They managed to keep it under wraps, but the fire destroyed a lot more than the "King Kong" exhibit.

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Here's exactly what went down on June 1st, 2008:

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It was a day like any other.

But after Universal Studios locked up for the day, the overnight maintenance staff used blowtorches to repair the roof.

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The workers reportedly followed protocol by waiting for the shingles to cool off before they clocked out.

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But the fire ignited shortly after they left, around 5 am.

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The blaze spread, and eventually met Building 6197 — AKA the video vault.

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The video vault contained treasured video tapes, film reels, and most importantly, a library of master sound recordings by famous musicians dating back to the 1940s, owned by Universal Music Group.

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So, what exactly is a master recording and why is it so special?

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A master audio recording is essentially the official recording of a song. It's the only one of its kind, and is considered to be extremely valuable — especially amongst famous artists.

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A "master" is the original source — where CDs, vinyl records, and MP3s get their content from.

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And before the digital era took hold, masters were considered to be an even bigger deal.

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A confidential report from 2009 estimated that approximately 500,000 song titles were lost in the fire.

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Cherished works by Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, were presumed to be destroyed.

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Nearly all of Buddy Holly’s masters were lost, as well as most of John Coltrane’s.

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But it wasn't just older classics that were turned to ash — masters from famous artists from all decades leading up to 2008 were burned as well.

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Masters by well-known artists like, Janet Jackson, Guns N’ Roses, Mary J. Blige, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, Snoop Dogg, Nirvana, Beck, Sheryl Crow, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, and 50 Cent were lost.

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The list goes on: Neil Diamond, Sonny and Cher, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Aerosmith, Patti LaBelle, Tom Petty, and more.

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So, why is this news suddenly resurfacing now, 11 years later?

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Great question.

The fire itself made worldwide news at the time. But Universal's publicists were able to perform major damage control — downplaying the severity of the incident and avoiding public embarrassment.

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News outlets described the disaster as "a crisis averted" at the time — leading outsiders to believe that they were out of the woods.

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But the actual story has recently come to light, and we're finding out that the loss Universal faced is considered to be "historic".

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“Lost in the fire was, undoubtedly, a huge musical heritage,” read the official 2009 assessment.

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This wasn't the first time in history, however, that record companies had lost masters — it was just the largest and most significant loss.

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Nowadays, master recordings are controlled by the big three widely recognized record companies Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, and Universal Music Group.

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Accidents do happen, but hopefully, they never experience one of this caliber again!

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