The biggest disaster in the history of the music business: the UMG Vault fire of 2008

If you’ve not already read this article and you’re at all interested in music, it’s a must-read:

Long story short: a lot fire ten years ago at Universal ended up engulfing the vault where UMG – Universal Music Group – housed its vault of master tapes and recordings. That’s Capitol Records, A&M, Verve, Interscope, Geffen, RCA, Chess, Decca, IRS, etc. etc.

Universal did their best to cover up and crisis manage the fire’s devastating results…but Jody Rosen has the emails and confidential source material as to what was lost, and this is just devastating:

I read that yesterday. Sad stuff. A lot of stuff that only existed in that vault is now gone.

Dear god, what a tremendous loss.

I’ve heard historians and cultural anthropologists speculate that in a hundred years or so, what our American civilization will be noted for is blues and jazz music. Losing the Chess masters and Impulse and Verve masters (Impulse is less known today as a jazz label, but back in the day they were very much the equal of Blue Note) is at least in some remote ballpark akin to losing original copies of the Declaration or Constitution.

Yeah…Coltrane, Mingus, Rollins. Yikes.

We’ll just get all those jazz guys to re-record their stuff

Universal, naturally, is busily answering questions no-one asked:

“Music preservation is of the highest priority for us and we are proud of our track record,” the statement reads in part. “While there are constraints preventing us from publicly addressing some of the details of the fire that occurred at NBCUniversal Studios facility more than a decade ago, the incident — while deeply unfortunate – never affected the availability of the commercially released music nor impacted artists’ compensation.”

Yeah, my timeline was full of folks like AMG’s Steve Earlewine pointing out that things like Chess remasters of Bo Diddley sesssions (which were amazing) just stopped cold in 2009, with the 1961 remasters, even though there were another 12-years worth of recordings still to come.

“A secret hidden in plain sight” was a great way for Rosen to describe it.