Joni Mitchell among artists who lost master recordings in 2008 Universal Studios fire

A new report reveals more damage in the accident than expected.

A new report reveals more damage in the accident than expected

Canadian folk singer and songwriter Joni Mitchell, strumming her guitar outside The Revolution club in London. (Central Press)

In June 2008, Universal Studios Hollywood suffered a massive fire that was sparked by an accident on a film set. At the time of the incident, it was reported that a King Kong theme-park attraction as well as some film sets and an old video vault were destroyed. 

But this week, a New York Times Magazine piece revealed that the fire also engulfed master recordings of what Universal Music Group estimates to be 500,000 song titles stored in the sound recordings library within the aforementioned video vault, according to a 2009 confidential report. When reports of the fire came out 11 years ago, Universal Music Group assured Billboard: "We had no loss, thankfully."

That newly uncovered confidential report speaks a different story, though. "Lost in the fire was, undoubtedly, a huge musical heritage," it read.

Music by some of the most famous musicians, dating back to the '40s, was impacted by this event. Works by Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland and Billie Holiday were lost. Other artists whose recordings were wiped out include Janet Jackson, Sonic Youth, Tupac, Hole, Nirvana, the Police, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. 

Update: A new New York Times report now reveals over 700 more artists whose masters were lost in the fire including Canadians Bryan Adams, Neil Young and Buffy Sainte-Marie. The article notes that Adams was looking into a 30th anniversary reissue of his album Reckless, but when he reached out to Universal Music, who originally put out the album, the label was unable to unearth any of his material. 

"I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that I couldn't find anything at Universal that had been published to do with my association with A&M records in the 1980s," Adams told the New York Times. "If you were doing an archeological dig there, you would have concluded that it was almost as if none of it had ever happened." 

Some of the musicians affected took to Twitter to share their thoughts. Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic responded to a fan wondering if Nirvana's 1993 album In Utero was safe by saying, "I think they are gone forever." 

Rock band R.E.M. said that they are looking to "get good information to find out what happened and the effect on the band's music, if any." 

And British rockers Asia shared their disappointment by adding, "This might explain why nobody can find the original Asia album masters." 

In response to the New York Times feature, Universal Music Group told Variety that the article contained "numerous inaccuracies, misleading statements, contradictions and fundamental misunderstandings of the scope of the incident and affected assets." 


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