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Author Topic: Recordings by Elton John, Nirvana and Thousands More Lost in Fire (NYT)  (Read 721 times)
Cabinessenceking
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« on: June 12, 2019, 04:12:15 AM »

I hope this article is relevant enough for the GOTP board. No mention of recordings made by the Beach Boys or its members being destroyed, but many of the artists that inspired them, such as Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly apparently had their entire collection of master tapes destroyed.


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

transcript of article below

Recordings by Elton John, Nirvana and Thousands More Lost in Fire

A New York Times investigation has revealed that decades of Universal Music Group treasures burned in 2008.

Eleven years ago this month, a fire ripped through a part of Universal Studios Hollywood.

At the time, the company said that the blaze had destroyed the theme park’s “King Kong” attraction and a video vault that contained only copies of old works.

But, according to an article published on Tuesday by The New York Times Magazine, the fire also tore through an archive housing treasured audio recordings, amounting to what the piece described as “the biggest disaster in the history of the music business.”

What happened?
The fire started in the early hours of June 1, 2008.

Overnight, maintenance workers had used blowtorches to repair the roof of a building on the set of New England Street, a group of colonial-style buildings used in scenes for movies and television shows. The workers followed protocol and waited for the shingles they worked on to cool, but the fire broke out soon after they left, just before 5 a.m.

The flames eventually reached Building 6197, known as the video vault, which housed videotapes, film reels and, crucially, a library of master sound recordings owned by Universal Music Group.

Hundreds of firefighters responded to the fire. After trying to douse it with foam retardant and water from a nearby lake, emergency personnel decided to dismantle the warehouse containing the vault to more easily put out the fire.

What was lost?
Almost all of the master recordings stored in the vault were destroyed in the fire, including those produced by some of the most famous musicians since the 1940s.

In a confidential report in 2009, Universal Music Group estimated the loss at about 500,000 song titles.

The lost works most likely included masters in the Decca Records collection by Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland. The fire probably also claimed some of Chuck Berry’s greatest recordings, produced for Chess Records, as well as the masters of some of Aretha Franklin’s first appearances on record.

Almost of all of Buddy Holly’s masters were lost, as were most of John Coltrane’s masters in the Impulse Records collection. The fire also claimed numerous hit singles, likely including Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” Etta James’s “At Last” and the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie.”

The list of artists affected spans decades of popular music. It includes recordings by Ray Charles, B.B. King, the Four Tops, Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, Sonny and Cher, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Al Green, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Aerosmith, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Barry White, Patti LaBelle, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Police, Sting, Steve Earle, R.E.M., Janet Jackson, Guns N’ Roses, Mary J. Blige, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, Snoop Dogg, Nirvana, Beck, Sheryl Crow, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, 50 Cent and the Roots.

What are master recordings, and why do they matter?
A master recording is the one-of-a-kind original recording of a piece of music. It’s the source from which other vinyl records, CDs, MP3s and all other recordings are made.

According to the article, documents show that the vault contained masters dating back decades, including multitrack recordings on which individual instruments remained isolated from one another. There were also session masters, including recordings that had never been commercially released. The recordings within the vault came from to some of the most important record labels of all time.

Audiophiles and audio professionals view such recordings with special regard.

“A master is the truest capture of a piece of recorded music,” Adam Block, the former president of Legacy Recordings, Sony Music Entertainment’s catalog arm, told the magazine. “Sonically, masters can be stunning in their capturing of an event in time. Every copy thereafter is a sonic step away.”

Why are we only finding about this now?
At the time, the fire made news around the world, and the vault featured heavily in that coverage. But most articles focused only on the video recordings in the archive and, even then, news outlets largely characterized the disaster as a crisis averted.

Jody Rosen, the writer of the article, described the successful effort to play down the scope of the loss as a “triumph of crisis management” that involved officials working for Universal Music Group on both coasts. Those efforts were undoubtedly aimed at minimizing public embarrassment, but some suggest the company was also particularly worried about a backlash from artists and artist estates whose master recordings had been destroyed.

The real extent of the loss was laid out in litigation and company documents obtained by Mr. Rosen, a contributing writer for the magazine.

How bad is the loss?
Mr. Rosen described the loss as historic, and even Universal Music Group itself — privately — viewed what happened in bleak terms: “Lost in the fire was, undoubtedly, a huge musical heritage,” reads one 2009 internal assessment.

Record companies have had a troubled history with such recordings and have been known to trash them in bulk. Decades ago, employees of CBS Records reportedly took power saws to multitrack masters to sell the reels as scrap metal. In the 1970s, RCA destroyed masters by Elvis Presley in a broader purge.

Because of that history, industry professionals have long questioned how committed the major music labels are to preserving what they see as priceless artifacts.

Today, most commercial recordings from the past century and beyond are controlled by only three giant record companies: Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and, of course, Universal Music Group.

further reading

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/11/magazine/universal-fire-master-recordings.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article#commentsContainer
« Last Edit: June 12, 2019, 04:27:21 AM by Cabinessenceking » Logged
JK
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« Reply #1 on: June 12, 2019, 05:31:35 AM »

Ye gods. That is beyond horrific.

As are the accounts of record companies wilfully destroying master recordings.

All this beggars belief.
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« Reply #2 on: June 12, 2019, 05:42:15 AM »

Ye gods. That is beyond horrific.

As are the accounts of record companies wilfully destroying master recordings.

All this beggars belief.
Look up the 1967 MGM(I believe it was MGM) vault fire that destroyed thousands of silver nitrate reels of old silent films. Many of them were the sole existing copy, like the Lon Cheney film "London After Midnight". Reading the Wikipedia article on it nearly made me cry. But yeah, the Universal fire is horrifying. This is literally losing part of our history and musical heritage.
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« Reply #3 on: June 12, 2019, 06:16:12 AM »

Many in the audio/music community (and elsewhere) were skeptical about the nature of that 2008 fire since the beginning. Details were never forthcoming. Which was never surprising.

Even with these new articles, which are amazing journalistic work (and obviously nausea-inducing even for those not inclined to be particularly emotional about such things), there is only so much detail available as to what is or isn't missing. "Masters" can refer to many different things. There are some indications many or most *multi-track* masters were relocated to a different vault prior to the fire.

But best case scenario, that would mean in *some cases* where both multi-track and mixdown masters existed for a given piece of work, the multi-tracks may survive while the mixdowns burned up. This alone would still be awful, and would leave us searching for safety backup copies in order to preserve original mixes of releases without resorting to vinyl rips and the like. But even that doesn't take into account how many musical recordings *didn't* have any extant multi-track masters. In those cases, everything that exists on tape may have been lost.

I loathe the "I'm glad it didn't happen to me!", but considering Universal now owns a hunk of the Beach Boys catalog and the Beatles as well, I'm quite glad it appears those tape archives were and are safe (and digital backups of most everything also being made). That's not to say some little side project thing the BBs did over the years didn't reside in those Universal vaults. We may never know. If Carl Wilson, unbeknownst to any of us, recorded some straight-to-stereo demos with Tom Petty eons ago or something, that could have been lost. Not likely of course, but who knows. The only way to get to the bottom of specifics that may have been lost would be if individual archivists/experts for the individual artists had, at some point prior to 2008, been able to catalog what was in those vaults and then determine what survives now.

These new articles are probably going to have some more wide-reaching effects. Just one example: Audiophile labels that licensed Universal product *well after* 2008 and either stated or implied they were working with original first generation master recordings. Is it possible they weren't? And if so, did they even know?
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« Reply #4 on: June 12, 2019, 11:27:17 AM »

Right, hang on to those remasters released before 2008. The scale of this loss is so big, I can't even cry, this is a music fan's worst nightmare come true.
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« Reply #5 on: June 12, 2019, 02:48:57 PM »

Moving this to General Music discussion
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« Reply #6 on: June 13, 2019, 03:22:03 AM »

Is it bad that I'm mainly worried about unreleased songs, or alternate takes/sessions being lost? I mean, remastering from an original vinyl isn't ideal, but as long as an original very good to mint copy exists, the sound quality wouldn't suffer too terribly. But perhaps I'm a bit naive about the recording and mastering process...
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