Steely Dan, Nirvana and Others React to Fire Loss of Master Tapes
Steely Dan and Nirvana joined other artists are reacting to the news that their master recordings were among more than 100,000 destroyed in a 2008 fire.
Following yesterday's The New York Times report on the massive quantities of tapes lost in the Universal Studio blaze, Universal Music Group issued a statement disputing the severity of the incident, although it didn't directly address the matter of what material was lost.
Meanwhile, artists who may have been affected said that they were hoping to be given more details. Former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic said he believed his band's tapes were "gone forever."
The Times report contends that contrary to statements made at the time, the potential artistic value of items that were burned in a building on the Universal Studios backlot was incalculable. Master recordings by Guns N’ Roses, Eagles, Elton John and Tom Petty are among those said to have been destroyed.
“Music preservation is of the highest priority for us and we are proud of our track record,” UMG told Variety in a statement. “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.”
The statement asserted that many of the recordings listed as lost had been released in “master-quality, high-resolution, audiophile versions” in “recent years,” adding that “UMG invests more in music preservation and development of hi-resolution audio products than anyone else in music.”
The original Times report noted that, despite original tapes having been destroyed, many of the recordings did indeed exist in other formats. “But those masters still represent an irretrievable loss,” it said. “When the tapes disappeared, so did the possibility of sonic revelations that could come from access to the original recordings. Information that was logged on or in the tape boxes is gone. And so are any extra recordings those masters may have contained — music that may not have been heard by anyone since it was put on tape.”
Responding to the news, some artists who may have been affected by the blaze noted that they were attempting to find out whether their recordings remained intact. "I think they are gone forever," Novoselic tweeted in response to a fan question.
“We are trying to get good information to find out what happened and the effect on the band’s music, if any,” R.E.M. tweeted. “We will detail further as and when.”
Steely Dan released a statement saying, “We have been aware of ‘missing’ original Steely Dan tapes for a long time now. We’ve never been given a plausible explanation. Maybe they burned up in the big fire. In any case, it’s certainly a lost treasure.”
A spokesperson for Hole told Pitchfork that the band “was not aware until this morning” that its tapes may have been destroyed. The Roots drummer Questlove tweeted that the fire was the reason they couldn’t revisit two of their albums, saying UMG “sent someone to check out the vault log and then it hit them.”
Perhaps unfortunately, the most recent tweet on UMG’s account was a promo for a new Jonas Brothers release that led with the phrase “Get it while it’s hot.”