Universal boss Sir Lucian Grainge: ‘We owe our artists answers’ over 2008 fire that destroyed masters

Universal Music Group has found itself at the center of a media storm this week, following revelations over original recorded masters which went up in flames over a decade ago.

A New York Times article claimed that up to 500,000 master recordings of songs were damaged in the fire, which took place on a backlot at the NBCUniversal Studios in Hollywood in 2008.

Original recordings by the likes of Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Aretha Franklin, Elton John and Snoop Dogg are likely to have been rendered unplayable by the damage – although an unknown quantity of them were digitized by UMG before the incident took place.

Universal Music Group’s SVP of Recording Studios & Archive Management, Pat Kraus, has since suggested that the NYT article “overstated” the losses – but that hasn’t stopped legal firms from reportedly readying lawsuits against UMG in the wake of the exposé.

Today (June 18), Universal Music Group CEO & Chairman, Sir Lucian Grainge, sent a note to his company – now obtained by MBW – to address the incident.

Grainge, who didn’t become global CEO of UMG until 2011, noted that the fire “destroyed archived recordings, videos and related materials”.

He said: “Even though that event happened more than a decade ago, and while I’ve been somewhat relieved by early reports from our team that many of the assertions and subsequent speculation are not accurate, one thing is clear: the loss of even a single piece of archived material is heartbreaking.

“When I was 17, I acted as a courier to pick up the 2-inch multitracks and quarter-inch Boomtown Rats masters just after they finished their album at Rockfield Studios in Wales. I can still remember being repeatedly warned not to travel by subway to the mastering studio because the magnetic energy could destroy the recordings. It was then I first realized how precious these items were, and the care with which they needed to be treated.”

“Let me be clear: we owe our artists transparency. We owe them answers. I will ensure that the senior management of this company, starting with me, owns this.”

Sir Lucian Grainge, Universal Music Group

Added Grainge: “This is just one small anecdote. I know so many of you have your own individual stories about how and why you’re working here. But all of us came into this business for one reason: a love of music. Our artists and songwriters count on us to be the stewards of their art – today and for the future.

“And that’s one reason why the stories about the extent of the 2008 fire have resonated with all of us. Even though all of the released recordings lost in the fire will live on forever, losing so much archival material is nonetheless painful. These stories have prompted speculation, and having our artists and songwriters not knowing whether the speculation is accurate is completely unacceptable.

“So, let me be clear: we owe our artists transparency. We owe them answers.

“I will ensure that the senior management of this company, starting with me, owns this.”

Grainge went on to encourage any UMG employee who hears from an artist concerned over the damaged assets to contact a special team formulated by Pat Kraus in the wake of the NYT story.

Grainge concluded: “At UMG we have the greatest collection of musical recordings, videos and artwork in the world – millions of assets in total – dating back to the late 1800s. We invest significantly in preserving and protecting those treasures around the world — in technology, in infrastructure and by employing experts.

“I know how deeply committed our archival and catalog teams are to preserving our archives for generations to come. Part of “owning this” is redoubling our efforts to be a leader in preserving the rich cultural legacy upon which our industry is based.

“Again, none of this takes away the pain of losing any recording or video from our archives. But I want you all to be clear about how seriously we take this.”Music Business Worldwide

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