The Day the Music Burned

The checklist of destroyed single and album masters takes in titles by dozens of legendary artists, a genre-spanning who’s who of 20th- and 21st-century standard music. It contains recordings by Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, the Andrews Sisters, the Ink Spots, the Mills Brothers, Lionel Hampton, Ray Charles, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Clara Ward, Sammy Davis Jr., Les Paul, Fats Domino, Big Mama Thornton, Burl Ives, the Weavers, Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Bobby (Blue) Bland, B.B. King, Ike Turner, the Four Tops, Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, Sonny and Cher, the Mamas and the Papas, Joni Mitchell, Captain Beefheart, Cat Stevens, the Carpenters, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Al Green, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Don Henley, Aerosmith, Steely Dan, Iggy Pop, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Barry White, Patti LaBelle, Yoko Ono, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Police, Sting, George Strait, Steve Earle, R.E.M., Janet Jackson, Eric B. and Rakim, New Edition, Bobby Brown, Guns N’ Roses, Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Sonic Youth, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, Snoop Dogg, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Hole, Beck, Sheryl Crow, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, 50 Cent and the Roots.

Then there are masters for largely forgotten artists that have been saved in the vault: tens of hundreds of gospel, blues, jazz, nation, soul, disco, pop, simple listening, classical, comedy and spoken-word information which will now exist solely as written entries in discographies.

Today Universal Music Group is a Goliath, by far the world’s greatest file firm, with hovering revenues bolstered by a increase in streaming music and a market share almost double that of its closest competitor, Sony Music Entertainment. Last 12 months, Vivendi introduced a plan to promote as much as 50 % of UMG. The sale is the discuss of the music enterprise; rumored potential patrons embody Apple, Amazon and the Chinese conglomerate Alibaba. The price ticket is predicted to be hefty: In January, Deutsche Bank raised its valuation of UMG to greater than $33 billion.

The label’s dominance rests largely on its roster of present chart toppers — stars like Drake, Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande. But UMG’s repute can be primarily based on the nice swaths of music historical past it owns, a canon that features Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Queen and plenty of extra artists and labels whose catalogs got here underneath the UMG umbrella throughout many years of acquisition and consolidation. A key a part of that legacy — the originals of a few of the firm’s most culturally vital belongings — went up in smoke in 2008.

The vault hearth was not, as UMG recommended, a minor mishap, a matter of some tapes caught in a musty warehouse. It was the greatest catastrophe in the historical past of the music enterprise. UMG’s inside evaluation of the occasion stands in distinction to its public statements. In a doc ready for a March 2009 “Vault Loss Meeting,” the firm described the injury in apocalyptic phrases. “The West Coast Vault perished, in its entirety,” the doc learn. “Lost in the fire was, undoubtedly, a huge musical heritage.”

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