Thousands of master recordings lost in historic fire

Burning CDs always sounded like a much more violent ordeal than it actually was. In this case, it’s exactly as bad as it sounds: in a story broken by The New York Times, thousands of master tapes were reportedly lost in a fire at Universal Studios Hollywood in 2008 – and no one knew until today.

It is being described as “the biggest disaster in the history of music business.” Almost all of the master recordings stored in the vault were destroyed in the fire, including some produced as far back as the 1940s and shows as far back as the 1920s.

The fire began in the early hours of June 1, 2008. The fire decimated the backlot’s New York City streetscape and burned two sides of Courthouse Square before reaching the vault housing 70 years of music history. Though the fire received international coverage, Universal Studios officials assured that anything destroyed had been a copy, according to The New York Times.

A studio set burns at Universal Studios in Los Angeles on June 1, 2008. A large fire tore through a back lot at Universal Studios early Sunday morning, destroying a set from “Back to the Future,” the King Kong exhibit, and thousands of videos and reels in a vault. (AP Photo/Mike Meadows)

An estimated 500,000 song titles were lost in the blaze according to a confidential report made in 2009 by Universal Music Group. Artists affected include Neil Diamond, Aretha Franklin, Sonny and Cher, Joni Mitchell, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, R.E.M., Tupac, and many more.

Hole was one of the artists affected by the fire. A representative for the band confirmed that the Hole was never made aware that their tapes were destroyed, according to Pitchfork. Like members of the public, they were “not aware until this morning,” states the rep.

R.E.M. was also affected by the fire and are currently trying to asses the damage.

Though Eminem managed to digitally back up the masters to “most, if not all” of his work, it’s difficult to say how much priceless music artifacts are gone forever.

Though the fire occurred 11 years ago, it was kept quiet by UMG likely due to fear of public embarrassment and possible lawsuits by artists’ estates, according to The New York Times.

For many artists, recordings that were never commercially released were also lost in the fire.

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Lauren Zaknoun

Lauren Zaknoun is an artist, photographer, music enthusiast, and founder of BANSHEE ZINE. With no musical talent to speak of, she supports her local scene by going to shows, shooting bands, and loudly reminding everyone that Paramore is the best band in the world.

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