In 2008, a fire caused major damage to parts of Universal Studios in Hollywood. At the time, headlines focused on the theme park and some 'video vaults' that were burned, but a newly released report by The New York Times has shed light on damage caused to an archive house some of the studio's most iconic recordings.
The report reveals that an "estimated 500,000 song titles" were lost in the fire. Back in 2009, it was reported "assets destroyed" numbered 118,230. The report also lists artists who lost works including the likes of Elton John, Yoko Ono, Sting, Sheryl Crow, The Eagles and many more.
Journalist Jody Rosen suggests the news of the lost recordings was overlooked due to confusion over the archive's inclusion in Universal's holdings at the time. He writes: "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."
Senior Director of Vault Operations Randy Aronson said he realised he was witnessing something of major proportions when he arrived at the scene in 2008. "It was like those end-of-the-world-type movies,” he said. “I felt like my planet had been destroyed.”
Aronson recalled hearing that the company priced the combined total of lost tape and “loss of artistry” at US$150 million when the number of "assets distroyed" was 118,230. If the New York Times report is correct, that figure could be north of US$600 million.
The New York Times report did not name individual recordings or any unreleased recordings, the impact of the 2008 fire definitely hit a wealth of recording artists in many different genres.
Read the full report here.
List of artists believed to have lost master tape recordings in 2008 fire:
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Guns N’ Roses
Nine Inch Nails
Sammy Davis Jr.
Sonny and Cher
The Mamas and the Papas
Mary J. Blige