A List of Artists Whose Masters Were Lost In the 2008 Universal Studios Fire

Scene of the devastation from Universal Studios fire of 2008 (photo: Evan Wohrman CC by 2.0)
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Scene of the devastation from Universal Studios fire of 2008 (photo: Evan Wohrman CC by 2.0)
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Scene of the devastation from 2008 (photo: Evan Wohrman CC by 2.0)

The ripples are just being felt from Jody Rosen’s bombshell New York Times Magazine exposé on the Universal Studios fire of 2008.

The losses felt by Universal Music Group were staggering — not to mention the broader music community.  Yet nobody knew about the horrific losses, including affected artists, their managers, or their estates.

That wasn’t by accident.

The Times’ Jody Rosen pointed to a well-coordinated effort by Universal Music Group to lie about the actual damages incurred, with former PR exec Peter Lofromento effectively tricking major media outlets into completely misreporting the situation.

“We were able to turn [L.A. Times reporter Jon] Healey around on his L.A. Times editorial so it’s not a reprimand on what we didn’t do, but more of a pat on the back for what we did,” Lofromento gloated in an internal email obtained by the Times.

Healey, none the wiser, parroted the line that the damage was minimal.  “At this point, it appears that the fire consumed no irreplaceable master recordings, just copies,” Healy reported.

Zach Horowitz, then UMG’s president/COO at the major label, was reportedly copied on the email but declined to comment.  Doug Morris, CEO of the major label at the time, also declined to discuss the issue.

Similar non-truths were spoon-fed to the New York Times itself, which also reported the misinformation back in ’08.  But even those that caught wind of the real damage were silenced.  Deadline’s Nikki Finke originally pointed to thousands of destroyed masters, only to issue a clarification the next day based on UMG’s pushback.

Beyond the media, artist representatives and industry executives were also misled.  According to Rosen, that included Irving Azoff, who inquired about a specific Steely Dan archive but was subsequently uninformed about the destruction of others.  According to UMG whistleblower Randy Aronson, the lost Steely Dan archive included outtakes and other recordings that were never released — and are lost forever.

Universal is still downplaying the incident in 2019, specifically by pointing to digitized versions and other remasters that make the original versions less important.

Of course, that sounds a lot like the damage control from 2008, and it’s now uncertain whether the major label will face serious litigation or other repercussions from affected artists and their estates.  Already, a number of artists have confirmed that their masters were lost in the blaze, including R.E.M., Questlove of the Roots, Eminem, and surviving members of Nirvana, who believe that the original copy of Nevermind was destroyed.  It’s also believed that the entirety of Buddy Holly’s catalog was permanently lost.

Also unclear is whether UMG’s broader valuation will suffer.  At present, UMG parent Vivendi is shopping a 50% stake in the major label, though most of that valuation is predicated on streaming music’s explosion and the underlying IP ownership of UMG’s catalog.  Just recently, UMG’s valuation was pegged at more than $50 billion.

It’s impossible to determine what exactly was lost in the fire, though Rosen estimated more than 500,000 different recordings were obliterated.  Here’s a list of all of the artists mentioned in the Times article that lost original masters.

50 Cent
Al Green
Al Jolson
Albert Ayler
Alice Coltrane
Aretha Franklin
Art Blakey
B.B. King
Barry White
Benny Goodman
Big Mama Thornton
Bill Haley and His Comets
Billie Holiday
Bing Crosby
Bo Diddley
Bobby Bland
Bobby Brown
Buddy Guy
Buddy Holly
Burl Ives
Burt Bacharach
Cab Calloway
Captain Beefheart
Cat Stevens
Charles Mingus
Chuck Berry
Clara Ward
Coleman Hawkins
Count Basie
Dizzy Gillespie
Don Henley
Duke Ellington
Ella Fitzgerald
Elton John
Eric B. and Rakim
Eric Clapton
Ernest Tubb
Etta James
Fats Domino
George Jones
George Strait
Gladys Knight and the Pips
Guns N’ Roses
Howlin’ Wolf
Iggy Pop
Ike Turner
Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats
Janet Jackson
Jimmy Buffett
Joan Baez
John Coltrane
John Lee Hooker
Joni Mitchell
Judy Garland
Kitty Wells
Lefty Frizzell
Les Paul
Lionel Hampton
Little Walter
Loretta Lynn
Louis Armstrong
Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Mary J. Blige
Max Roach
Merle Haggard
Muddy Waters
Neil Diamond
New Edition
Nine Inch Nails
No Doubt
Ornette Coleman
Patsy Cline
Patti LaBelle
Pharoah Sanders
Queen Latifah
Quincy Jones
Ray Charles
Rufus and Chaka Khan
Sammy Davis Jr.
Sheryl Crow
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Snoop Dogg
Sonic Youth
Sonny Rollins
Sonny and Cher
Steely Dan
Steve Earle
Sun Ra
The Andrews Sisters
The Carpenters
The Eagles
The Flying Burrito Brothers
The Four Tops
The Impressions
The Ink Spots
The Kingsmen
The Mamas and the Papas
The Mills Brothers
The Police
The Roots
The Weavers
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Tupac Shakur
Willie Dixon
Yoko Ono

We’ll add more names as we learn them.

11 Responses

  1. Tony Gottlieb

    I guess they won’t have to bother with any annoying back catalog development. Good job there Doug.

  2. Angelito

    At least the Archies masters are not on the list. That would have caused me to hit the Xanax hard.

    • Tony Gottlieb

      Thank goodness for Title 17 §115 so we didn’t have to share any of the insurance claim settlement money with those nuisance music publishers & their idiot songwriter writers and nobody cares about the AF of M and AFTRA members so we just need to cover the Recording Artists and their estates, Oh Wait! but what about my $50 trillion Golden Parachute?

  3. Tom Hendricks

    The Big 3 labels controlling music mean all this is concentrated in one place.
    Yet another reason for the music revolution going on now against that concentration of power, that Paul Resnikoff won’t talk about.

  4. Dean Hajas

    Say it isn’t so….UMG lying and manipulating the owners of Masters….the artists, the media, the public…..the music industry…
    Here’s a news flash, the music industry is built on theft, lies and manipulations at the most grotesque and ultimate ends to be mean. The lawyers that feed off the creators through twisting technicalities, and Government Agencies that go to bed with Publishing companies to assist in ISRC code regeneration in order to re- release with new ISRC codes through multiple back doors, as Orphaned Royalties…Now being claimed by the Canada – Eric Baptiste and Jeff Price of Audiam…to the Tunecore of $1.1 Billion….or so they are willing to profess. Who knows….ultimately, it’s the Wild West out there, and the big time players are lining the pockets with Bell – Rogers – Cogeco. I do know this,…..the shake down is happening as we speak, and pay attention to all the changes happening on the PRO’s websites, and the language used to point the way. A.I. is assisting in exposing these liars and thieves, and it will bite the very hand that fed them in the first place.

    • Bad Labels

      Somehow, the writers at DMN will spin this to be Spotify’s fault….

      Newsflash: Its not Spotify that’s ripping off the artists…

  5. Malton

    Why are the artists’ representatives not citing beach of contact for not being given disclosure of the masters being affected by the fire? The major labels are this smug to not provide explanation for why they didn’t notify the artists for 11 years.

    Master Recordings are subject to a termination rights law. This right makes the master eligible to revert back to the artist after 35 years from the date of recording. Therefore, this law gives artists the basis to be informed of the property’s integrity. The Major label is essentially a custodian of the sound recording.

    For master recording copyright deals made on or after January 1, 1978 (the effective date of the 1976 Copyright Act) the termination period is 35 years under Section 203 of the Copyright Act.

  6. Cindy Wheeler

    If you are an artist who is NOT famous but still had masters owned by Universal, does anyone know if there is a way find out if your masters were destroyed in the fire? Is there an definitive list?

  7. KueenLioness

    Why I feel this is just a way to divert everyone from a real problem that the industry will not talk about. Just reading the list gave me palpitations. Good God! I need my asthma pump!

  8. Phil Alexander

    Oh my God, the priceless recordings of Y. Ono have been lost forever! Can the world survive?