Universal CEO Pens Letter to Staff About Transparency Regarding Warehouse Fire (UPDATE)

“We owe them answers,” Lucian Grainge wrote.

Music
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UPDATE (19 June 2019): Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grainge has spoken to his staff in regards to the incident. The UMG head wrote a short yet emotional letter to the company, clarifying that on top of owning up to the mistake, they must also remain transparent to their artists. Grainge also stresses that despite having digital copies of most of the destroyed tapes, housing the largest musical archive in the world means that they need to step up and redouble their efforts in music preservation.

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

Read the full letter below.

Dear Colleagues, 

By now most of you have seen the articles relating to the fire in 2008 at the NBCUniversal Studios lot that destroyed archived recordings, videos and related materials. 

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. 

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. 

If any of you hear from an artist asking about the status of archived assets, please immediately have them contact [email address redacted], our SVP of Recording Studios & Archive Management. In the past few days, Pat has formed a special team specifically to field these requests and respond to them as promptly as we can.   

One final note: 

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. 

Lucian 

ORIGINAL STORY (13 June 2019): Universal Music Group has released a statement regarding the 2008 warehouse fire, disputing its severity as initially reported by The New York Times. 

“Music preservation is of the highest priority for us and we are proud of our track record,” the statement reads. They go on to say that while they’re not allowed to publicly address some of the details of the blaze due to certain restrictions, the “deeply unfortunate” incident “never affected the availability of the commercially released music nor impacted artists’ compensation.”

Touching on The Times article, UMG claims that it contains “numerous inaccuracies, misleading statements, contradictions and fundamental misunderstandings of the scope of the incident and affected assets,” and that it disregards “the tens of thousands of back catalog recordings that we have already issued in recent years – including master-quality, high-resolution, audiophile versions of many recordings that the story claims were ‘destroyed.’”

The warehouse fire dates back to June 2008 and occurred at the backlot of Universal Studios Hollywood. As mentioned in The Times piece entitled The Day the Music Burned, a 2009 confidential UMG report notes that an estimated half a million recordings were destroyed. The damages most likely include master tapes of projects ranging from Billie Holiday to Tupac and Nine Inch Nails.

A number of high-profile musicians involved, including Hole and R.E.M., spoke on the topic and publicly announced that they were unaware of their allegedly damaged material. Steely Dan’s manager Irving Azoff stated that while the group was aware of “missing” original Steely Dan tapes, they’ve “never been given a plausible explanation,” and that “it’s certainly a lost treasure.” Nirvana bassist and founding member Krist Novoselic responded to a fan asking about the masters of the band’s magnum opus Nevermind, simply replying, “I think they are gone forever.”

In other music news, listen to two new tracks off the upcoming Revenge of the Dreamers III compilation.

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