×

Universal Music’s Chief Archivist Explains Company’s Post-Fire Artist Outreach Plan (EXCLUSIVE)

As details about a serious 2008 fire that destroyed hundreds of thousands of master recordings owned by Universal Music Group continue to emerge, the company’s SVP of Recording Studios & Archive Management, Pat Kraus, today issued a memo to the staff that Variety has obtained. The memo follows in full:

Dear Colleagues, 

Today, I’m writing to you at the request of Sir Lucian following his note about the 2008 fire at NBCUniversal Studios to update you about the steps we have taken to provide our artists with transparency and answers as quickly as possible.   

Since last week, we have taken the below steps: 

  1. We’ve created a worldwide team of more than 30 people from UMG to work on this project; 
  2. This group features highly skilled professionals including archivists, recording engineers, producers, developers and musicologists that will handle everything from receiving, logging and tracking requests to archival research, data analysis, A&R administration and asset retrieval;  
  3. We’re bolstering those efforts with more than 40 outside professionals from Iron Mountain (our media storage partner) to work solely with us; 
  4. This combined team of more than 70 professionals will be responsible for timely and open responses to artists about the status of musical assets under our care, as well as the extent to which certain assets were lost.   

With this team in place and responding to requests as promptly as possible, I wanted to also remind you that, if an artist or their representative inquires about the status of archived assets, please immediately ask them contact me at [redacted]. 

We will continue provide you with updates. 

Pat Kraus 

The fire, which destroyed an estimated 500,000 master recordings by artists ranging from Billie Holiday to Nirvana, took place in a facility UMG had rented from NBC. Sources close to the situation have acknowledged that UMG’s management at the time was not entirely forthcoming about the extent of the damage.

Many artists have said they were unaware that their masters had been destroyed. Yesterday the New York Times published a long list of artists whose masters are believed to have been lost in the fire. Although UMG has acknowledged that the damage was devastating and many thousands of masters were lost, it has contested the extent of the damage claimed in the articles.

In the weeks since news of the extent of the fire’s damage broke, Universal’s chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge issued an internal memo stating that “we owe our artists transparency” and a rep for the company says it has had staffers “working around the clock” to assess the damage and keep artists informed.

However, late last week attorneys representing Soundgarden, Hole, Steve Earle and the estates of Tupac and Tom Petty filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, seeking some “50% of any settlement proceeds and insurance payments received by UMG for the loss of the Master Recordings, and 50% of any remaining loss of value not compensated by such settlement proceeds and insurance payments.” In a 2009 legal action against NBC over the fire, UMG reportedly valued its losses from the fire at $150 million.

UMG appears already to have been paid damages for the fire. “Even as it kept Plaintiffs in the dark and misrepresented the extent of the losses,” the lawsuit reads, “UMG successfully pursued litigation and insurance claims which it reportedly valued at $150 million to recoup the value of the Master Recordings. UMG concealed its massive recovery from Plaintiffs, apparently hoping it could keep it all to itself by burying the truth in sealed court filings and a confidential settlement agreement.” Although UMG did not own the facility, the lawsuit attempts to cast the blame on the music company by claiming it was aware of fire hazards in the building.

Despite the extent of the damage, a major-label attorney told Variety on Thursday that artists’ attempts to sue UMG over the fire faced a steep challenge, because contractually most if not all of the physical master tapes were the property of UMG — not the artists. For that reason, the company was under no obligation to inform effected artists about the damage, the attorney said. The ownership distinction here comes down to the difference between the master tape or hard drive as a physical object, which in nearly all cases is the property of the label, as opposed to the copyrighted intellectual property (i.e. the sound recordings) contained on that master.

 

More Music

  • Terry Wakefield Exits Sony/ATV to Head

    Terry Wakefield Exits Sony/ATV to Head Up A&R at UMPG Nashville

    After a decades-long tenure at Sony/ATV Nashville, Terry Wakefield has followed another alumnus, Troy Tomlinson, across town to take a top position at Universal Music Publishing Group Nashville. Wakefield is senior VP of A&R at UMPG after having been senior VP of creative in his previous post. Personal loyalty to Tomlinson, UMPG Nashville’s recently named chairman/CEO, [...]

  • Sally Williams at PBS Country Music

    Sally Williams to Leave Longtime Opry Home for Top Post at Live Nation in Nashville

    Nashville executive Sally Williams is leaving Opry Entertainment, where she rose to the top over a two-decade tenure there, to join Live Nation’s regional office as the president of Nashville music and business strategy, the company announced Monday. Live Nation said Williams will not only lead programming and marketing for their concerts in the area, [...]

  • 'Welcome to New York The Empire

    Woodstock 50's Permit Denial Heap Keeps Growing

    In what’s become a broken record for music journalists everywhere, Woodstock 50 was once again denied a permit to hold its event, slated for Aug. 16 to 18, as a daytime festival at Vernon Downs in upstate New York. Previous attempts to convince the town of Vernon, on June 18 and July 3, were rejected [...]

  • London's CODA Agency Formally Becomes a

    Paradigm Agency Formally Absorbs London's CODA Into the Fold

    After five years of working together, London’s CODA Agency has formally become a part of Paradigm and will continue under its U.S. partner’s banner. The London office of what is now a fully integrated Paradigm will continue to be led by Alex Hardee, Tom Schroeder, James Whitting and Dave Hallybone. In a statement otherwise laden [...]

  • Mariah Carey

    Mariah Carey Signs With CAA

    Mariah Carey has returned to CAA for representation worldwide after moving to UTA in 2015. Throughout her 30-year career, the five-time Grammy winner has released some of the best-selling albums of all time, including “Music Box,” which racked up more than 28 million in sales, and “Daydream,” which sold 20 million copies. Her other albums, [...]

  • Art Neville of The Meters performs

    Art Neville of the Meters and the Neville Brothers Dies at 81

    Art Neville, one of the key figures of New Orleans music as a member of the Meters and later the Neville Brothers, died Monday. He was 81. Neville’s manager, Kent Sorrell, confirmed the death. “It was peaceful,” Sorrell told Nola.com. “He passed away at home with his adoring wife Lorraine by his side. He toured [...]

  • Roddy Rich

    Roddy Ricch Signs Wide-Ranging Deal With Kobalt

    Kobalt has signed Roddy Ricch to a wide-ranging exclusive worldwide deal in which the company will have full administration of the rapper, singer, songwriter and producer’s catalog, as well as publishing, creative services and synch for his future works. Ricch is a relative newcomer, first emerging onto the music scene in 2017 with the release [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content