The Day the Music Burned

This is just stunning - and sad:

It was the biggest disaster in the history of the music business — and almost nobody knew. This is the story of the 2008 Universal fire.


Yeh, Mark… I just read that this morning in the NYT. Stunning…and sad.

Just discovered this, too. So sad. What a loss.

Just read it this morning. What a shame. Makes me wonder just what we were buying after 2008, when the reissues wer labeled from the original masters. Hmm…
No wonder UMG tried to keep a lid on it.

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This is the money quote for me, “Some of the sharpest pangs come when Aronson’s thoughts drift to lesser-known records. A loss that hits him hard, he says, are the tapes of Moms Mabley, the pioneering black female comedian who released 16 LPs for Chess in the 1960s. “It’s not like Moms was selling in huge numbers,” he says. “I doubt there’s many copies out there.””

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The thing it reminds me of on a personal level is my attempts at “archiving” vinyl over the years. That favorite album isn’t getting any better, there may never be a better reissue…but the tools for doing a better rip just keep improving, either through new formats, new tech or simply by getting better quality reproduction and recording gear.

Seems like we are just getting to the point where the labels/owners can do a digital “rip” of an analog master that sounds pretty close. But in the case of all of those lost Masters, whatever versions remain - is now and forever what it is.

Funny but maybe vinyl will remain as one of the best archival mediums. The Centennial Collection of Robert Johnson shows how much information can be extracted from 78s.

That night, maintenance workers had repaired the roof of a building on the set, using blowtorches to heat asphalt shingles. They finished the job at 3 a.m. and, following protocol, kept watch over the site for another hour to ensure that the shingles had cooled. But the roof remained hot, and some 40 minutes after the workers left, one of the hot spots flared up.”

I am not a roofer or a fire safety expert, but blowtorches on a roof at 3 AM sounds like a crazy idea to me. What a tragic loss, and to make matters worse, it seems like it was completely avoidable.

I saw the story and was horrified too. It also goes into the sorry state or master tape preservation in general. That’s not a pretty picture either. Even when the tapes are relatively safe they are not well indexed and the chances of accidental discoveries of lost gems is declining.

For those that don’t or won’t subscribe to the NYTimes.

Just saw and read this as well. Looks like NYT exposed this story Universal has tried to hide for years! Fellow audiophiles, does this mean we have been HAD with any audiophile label LP’s, CDs, and SACD’s released POST 2008 claiming it was sourced from the master tapes? The artist list in this article is staggering and I know many have been released on SACD (Duke Ellington, Ella, Steely Dan, for example).

I don’t know about being HAD. Things are what they are. It’s super sad that this music isn’t available but music is infinity. Enjoy the abundance you have!

Variety has published an internal memo from Universal Music about the fire and damage. This part of the memo may be of interest to people on this forum:

  1. If a master is lost or destroyed, is it still possible to reissue high-quality recordings of that music?

Absolutely. Some recent media reports have created a significant amount of confusion about the role masters play in reissue work. In many cases, even when the original master is available, we often work from duplicates or digitized versions because the fidelity of the original master has deteriorated from overuse or from chemical interactions over time or for other technical reasons. We reissue thousands of recordings a year, and each project presents a unique set of challenges to overcome. In each case, our team of experts works hard to locate, restore, preserve and make available the highest fidelity recordings possible. For those masters that were lost in the fire, we explore various alternatives that may exist to make up for the loss.

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Pretty much what I would say in his position, assuming I was getting paid well ; )