The New York Times: The Day the Music Burned

Building 6197, a 22,320-square-foot warehouse in Universal Studios Hollywood, housed 2,400 square feet lined with 18-foot-high storage shelves filled with master tapes owned by UMG. On June 1, 2008, Building 6197 went up in flames.

The New York Times has just published the story, and it’s stomach churning in both result and why? Why has it taken so long for this story to be told. An unnamed UMG source at the time reported, “Thankfully, there was little lost from Universal Music Group’s vault. A majority of what was formerly stored there was moved earlier this year to our other facilities. Of the small amount that was still there and waiting to be moved, it had already been digitized so the music will still be around for many years to come.”

This new Times report by Jody Rosen uncovered internal documents from 2009 claiming the actual number to be 118,230 masters.  However, estimates of the loss from industry insiders range from 120,000 to 175,000 masters and include a who’s who of who’s who in our shared musical heritage. I recommend reading the entire article, preferably on an empty stomach.

For reference:

Decca, the pop, jazz and classical powerhouse; it housed master tapes for the storied blues label Chess; it housed masters for Impulse, the groundbreaking jazz label. The vault held masters for the MCA, ABC, A&M, Geffen and Interscope labels. And it held masters for a host of smaller subsidiary labels. Nearly all of these masters — in some cases, the complete discographies of entire record labels — were wiped out in the fire.

Then there are masters for largely forgotten artists that were stored in the vault: tens of thousands of gospel, blues, jazz, country, soul, disco, pop, easy listening, classical, comedy and spoken-word records that may now exist only as written entries in discographies.

Read the full story, The Day the Music Burned.