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Universal Music disputes NY Times’ story on 2008 vault fire

Footage of the 2008 Universal Studios fire (via YouTube)
Footage of the 2008 Universal Studios fire (via YouTube)

The New York Times story, published on Tuesday about the 2008 Universal Studios fire where, according to the story, some 175,000 album and single master recordings were lost in the blaze, sent shockwaves throughout the music industry and beyond. Universal Music Group have now released a statement disputing some of the story’s claims. Sort of. “Music preservation is of the highest priority for us and we are proud of our track record,” reads the statement in part, “While there are constraints preventing us from publicly addressing some of the details of the fire that occurred at NBCUniversal Studios facility more than a decade ago, the incident – while deeply unfortunate – never affected the availability of the commercially released music nor impacted artists’ compensation.”

UMG’s statement also says that the Times article “conveniently ignores the tens of thousands of back catalog recordings that we have already issued in recent years – including master-quality, high-resolution, audiophile versions of many recordings that the story claims were ‘destroyed,’” and also says, “UMG invests more in music preservation and development of hi-resolution audio products than anyone else in music.” It doesn’t say, however, that those original master recordings — physical, analogue audio tapes in many cases — were or were not destroyed.

Among the artist masters the Times story says were lost were ones by John Coltrane, Tom Petty, Nirvana, Aretha Franklin, Buddy Holly, Hole, The Roots, R.E.M., Chuck Berry, and more. Some of the artists first learned of this from the article and have weighed in. Hole told Pitchfork yesterday they were “not aware until this morning,”  and R.E.M. wrote that they “are trying to get good information to find out what happened and the effect on the band’s music, if any.”  Questlove, meanwhile, tweeted implying that Do You Want More and Illadelph Halflife may have been lost in the fire. And music mogul Irving Azoff, who manages Steely Dan and others, said “We have been aware of ‘missing’ original Steely Dan tapes for a long time now. We’ve never been given a plausible explanation. Maybe they burned up in the big fire. In any case, it’s certainly a lost treasure.”

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