Universal Music Claims Only A Handful Of Masters Were Lost In 2008 Fire

Los Angeles County firefighters mop up the King Kong attraction, New York Street and Courthouse Squ

Los Angeles County firefighters mop up the King Kong attraction, New York Street and Courthouse Squ

While Universal Music Group doesn't deny severe damage from the 2008 fire in its archive, the record company is disputing the New York Times report which claimed some 500,000 recordings were destroyed in the blaze.

UMG is expected to file a motion to dismiss a class action lawsuit against brought last month by several artists who believe their life's work to have been burned.

The company's chief archivist, Pat Kraus, issued a memo to staff that has been published by Variety. In it, Kraus outlines the work the archive team has been doing since the NY Times report to account for lost or damaged material in its catalog.

"Over the past several weeks, our team has been working around the clock, fielding requests from approximately 275 artists and representatives," Kraus wrote. "To date we've reviewed 26,663 individual assets covering 30 artists.

"Of those assets, we believe we've identified 424 that could be missing or lost due to the fire, with audio assets accounting for 349 of them. Out data suggests that 22 of those could be 'original masters' which are associated with 5 artists. For each of those lost masters, we have located high-quality alternate sources in the form of safety copies or duplicate masters."

The NY Times reported that "litigation and company documents, thousands of pages of depositions and internal UMG files" from the previous 10 years revealed the cataclysmic extent of the fire's damage.

But Kraus' memo refutes the claim that there is a "god list" of the lost recordings, while also detailing the UMG team's efforts to restore, replace and catalog the contents of the archive. Universal will not publicize a list of the missing masters, Kraus added, saying releasing that information is up to the affected artists.

Initially following the fire in 2008, Universal reps downplayed the losses. But the NY Times exposé this spring set off a firestorm of criticism against the company and spurred accusations of a cover-up.

CEO Lucian Grainge obliquely acknowledged missteps in a company-wide memo in June that emphasized that the label owed its artists "transparency" in questions about the status of their catalogs.

Singer-songwriter Bryan Adams told the NY Times that he believes every asset — including press photos, artwork, multi-tracks and master tapes — from his hit 1984 album Reckless was destroyed in the fire.

In an interview with the publication, he recalled the frustrating process of putting together the 30th anniversary edition of the album in 2014; Universal couldn't dig up any material from those sessions and couldn't explain why.

He says he remastered the album using a backup copy of the original master tape that he had been keeping in his home.

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