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Scope of 2008 MCA Vault Fire

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https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/11/magazine/universal-fire-master-recordings.html?te=1&nl=morning-briefing&emc=edit_NN_p_20190611&section=longRead?campaign_id=9&instance_id=10110&segment_id=14169&user_id=5a3d2ee897e9d31c2d8dfdd61f34d12a&regi_id=74746241ion=longRead

Linked from the New York Times morning briefing.  Haven't had chance to read through the article (12,000 words),but the vault fire was massive, including basically all of the Chess Records masters, Coltrane Impulse masters, etc.  I had heard of the fire, but apparently the scope was really played down.  Did we realize how big this thing was>

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Among the incinerated Decca masters were recordings by titanic figures in American music: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland. The tape masters for Billie Holiday’s Decca catalog were most likely lost in total. The Decca masters also included recordings by such greats as Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five and Patsy Cline.

The fire most likely claimed most of Chuck Berry’s Chess masters and multitrack masters, a body of work that constitutes Berry’s greatest recordings. The destroyed Chess masters encompassed nearly everything else recorded for the label and its subsidiaries, including most of the Chess output of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and Little Walter. Also very likely lost were master tapes of the first commercially released material by Aretha Franklin, recorded when she was a young teenager performing in the church services of her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, who made dozens of albums for Chess and its sublabels.

Virtually all of Buddy Holly’s masters were lost in the fire. Most of John Coltrane’s Impulse masters were lost, as were masters for treasured Impulse releases by Ellington, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and other jazz greats. Also apparently destroyed were the masters for dozens of canonical hit singles, including Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats’ “Rocket 88,” Bo Diddley’s “Bo Diddley/I’m A Man,” Etta James’s “At Last,” the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” and the Impressions’ “People Get Ready.”

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Appalling, isn't it?  It confirms many of the rumors that have been circulating for years.  What a loss!

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I was just about to share this news - WOW! It would be interesting to look at any reissues from the last 10 years from these labels to see of they say they were sourced from the original master tapes...

 

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This is a devastating read! 

One of the very worst event in music history! 

 

 

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So glad that BN wasn’t owned by Universal at the time.

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More for those who can't access the NY Times:

"One insider said, “Most senior executives in the record business have no understanding of what masters are, why you need to store them, what the point of them is.” Crucially, masters were not seen as capable of generating revenue. On the contrary: They were expensive to warehouse and therefore a drain on resources. To record-company accountants, a tape vault was inherently a cost center, not a profit center.

These attitudes prevailed even at visionary labels like Atlantic Records, which released hundreds of recordings by black artists beginning in the late 1940s. In his Billboard exposé, Holland mentioned a 1978 fire in an “Atlantic Records storage facility in Long Branch, N.J.” Holland did not reveal that the “facility” was the former home of Vogel’s Department Store, owned by the family of Sheldon Vogel, Atlantic’s chief financial officer. Late in the 1970s, Vogel told me, Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic’s president, complained about tapes cramming the label’s Manhattan office. Vogel suggested moving the material to the empty Long Branch building.

Vogel was on vacation on Feb. 8, 1978, when he learned the building had burned down. The 5,000-plus lost tapes comprised nearly all of the session reels, alternate takes and unreleased masters recorded for Atlantic and its sublabels between 1949 and 1969, a period when its roster featured R.&B., soul and jazz luminaries, including Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. Today the importance of those tapes is self-evident: thousands of hours of unheard music by some of history’s greatest recording artists. But to Atlantic in 1978, the tapes were a nuisance. According to Vogel, Atlantic collected “maybe a couple of million dollars” in insurance on the destroyed masters. It seemed like a good deal.

“We thought, Boy, what a windfall,” Vogel says. “We thought the insurance was worth far more than the recordings. Eventually, the true value of those recordings became apparent.”

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I just wanted to quote that exact passage. Money kills cultural heritage.

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Overall, it's really quite an article.  

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" Yet some music-business insiders regard this arrangement as a mixed bargain. When masters arrive at Iron Mountain, they say, institutional memory — archivists’ firsthand knowledge of poorly inventoried stacks — evaporates, as does the possibility of finding lost material, either by dogged digging or chance discovery. (Many treasures in tape vaults have been stumbled upon by accident.) Tapes can be retrieved only when requested by bar-code number, and labels pay fees for each request. For years, rumors have circulated among insiders about legendary albums whose masters have gone missing in Iron Mountain because labels recorded incorrect bar-code numbers. The kind of mass tape-pull that would be necessary to unearth lost recordings is both financially and logistically impractical. "

Fantasy's tape vaults were moved to Iron Mountain without much preparation - I know that they always were kept in a very casual fashion, so there's little hope for any vault discoveries from the Riverside, Prestige, Contemporary, or Fantasy labels.

“Just endless rows of stuff. It’s perfectly safe, but there’s no access, no possibility of serendipity. Nearly all the tapes that go in will never come off the shelf. They’re lost to history.”

Edited by mikeweil

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Thanks, interesting story. I occasionally drive by the Iron Mountain facility in Rosendale, NY (Sony archives per story). But of course they'd never let me in to peruse the vaults.

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Horrible. 

 

On the other hand, I just saw a teenager on the train in Belgium today holding an Elvis in Hollywood LP in the original RCA sleeve which cheered me up. I want one!

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I’m halfway through the story and the loss for music lovers us staggering, almost incomprehensible to contemplate. To imagine that the Chess masters for Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and others are gone is like losing history. 

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It will be really long, and there are lots of photos, but mostly of people whose recordings were lost.

It's from the Magazine.

The Day the Music Burned

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.

By Jody Rosen

  • June 11, 2019
    •  

1. ‘The Vault Is on Fire’

 

 

A version of this article appears in print on June 15, 2019, on Page 27 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: The Day The Music Burned . 

Moderator, please Delete if not allowed

Summary of what was lost:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/11/us/master-recordings-universal-fire.html?module=inline

Edited by JSngry
Removing photo credits and ads; removing full article per board guidelines

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Criminal. All those capitalist parasites and shareholders should be put against the wall IMO.

Edited by erwbol

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I think reprinting full articles was a concern for Jim; copyright issues I expect. 

I see Iron Mountain is discussed. The company I worked for pre-retirement used to use them. I was never that impressed; record retrieval was not always easy. I was in charge of negotiating a renewal agreement with them and it was not an easy process, never completed. Ultimately, it didn’t matter because the company that acquired us did their own record storage and we pulled all of our records from Iron Mountain.  

Edited by Brad

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1 hour ago, erwbol said:

Criminal. All those capitalist parasites and shareholders should be put against the wall IMO.

As always, it comes down to money. Someone has to pay to store that stuff; are you going to do it? Are you willing to pay higher taxes so the gov't can do it (as if the gov't would get it right)?

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3 minutes ago, Captain Howdy said:

As always, it comes down to money. Someone has to pay to store that stuff; are you going to do it? Are you willing to pay higher taxes so the gov't can do it (as if the gov't would get it right)?

And on the sixth day God created money, whiteness, and the United States Constitution. And God said:"Blessed be the Job Creators, they shall have the earth for their possession." 

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7 minutes ago, erwbol said:

And on the sixth day God created money, whiteness, and the United States Constitution. And God said:"Blessed be the Job Creators, they shall have the earth for their possession." 

Doesn't answer the question. And if you're implying that capitalist parasites and shareholders are exclusively white, well, it's time to refill your Rx.

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Record contracts are notoriously slanted in the favor of labels, which benefit disproportionately from sales and, in most cases, hold ownership of masters. For decades, standard artists’ contracts stipulated that recordings were “work for hire,” with record companies retaining control of masters in perpetuity. It is a paradox of the record business: Labels have often been cavalier about physically safeguarding masters, but they are zealous guardians of their ownership and intellectual-property rights.

Certain musicians, usually big stars, negotiate ownership of masters. (“If you don’t own your masters, your master owns you,” quipped Prince in 1996, at the height of a high-profile standoff with Warner Brothers.) It is unclear how many of the artists whose work was lost in the Universal vault had ownership of their physical masters, or were seeking it. But by definition, artists have a stake in the intellectual property contained on those masters, and many artists surely expected UMG to safeguard the material for potential later use.

(How do I make the above a quotation?) Here's an interesting question? Would it be better if the masters were owned by the artists? In some cases probably, but in many cases it's easy to imagine masters ending up in cardboard boxes in flooded basements, or passed after death from one increasingly distant relative to another, or tied up in probate court, or simply lost.

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5 hours ago, Captain Howdy said:

As always, it comes down to money. Someone has to pay to store that stuff; are you going to do it? Are you willing to pay higher taxes so the gov't can do it (as if the gov't would get it right)?

I am willing to pay taxes for exactly this sort of thing, if that were an option.

in the meantime, is Iron Mountain hiring?

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14 minutes ago, AaronG said:

I am willing to pay taxes for exactly this sort of thing, if that were an option.

Well then, good news:

In January 2011, the recorded-sound section of the Library of Congress announced its largest-ever acquisition: approximately 200,000 metal parts, aluminum and glass lacquer disc masters, donated by Universal Music Group. The recordings, dating from 1926 to 1948, are among the oldest extant masters in UMG’s catalog. Physical ownership of the masters was permanently transferred from UMG to the federal government; UMG retained the intellectual-property rights. The library is free to preserve the recordings, digitize them and make them available to scholars. The label can continue to exploit them commercially. For the label, it’s a great deal, transferring preservation responsibility for some of its most fragile assets while saving on storage costs.

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1 hour ago, Captain Howdy said:

Well then, good news:

In January 2011, the recorded-sound section of the Library of Congress announced its largest-ever acquisition: approximately 200,000 metal parts, aluminum and glass lacquer disc masters, donated by Universal Music Group. The recordings, dating from 1926 to 1948, are among the oldest extant masters in UMG’s catalog. Physical ownership of the masters was permanently transferred from UMG to the federal government; UMG retained the intellectual-property rights. The library is free to preserve the recordings, digitize them and make them available to scholars. The label can continue to exploit them commercially. For the label, it’s a great deal, transferring preservation responsibility for some of its most fragile assets while saving on storage costs.

I’m fine with this, as the alternative is decay, destruction, and/or unavailability.  I hope it includes lots of jazz.

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