UPDATED: Approximately 20 hours after this article published, Beck posted the following note on Instagram regarding the state of his master recordings after the 2008 fire at the Universal Music archives and his management’s communications on the matter. “I wanted to clarify some out of context quotes regarding the universal archives fire,” he said, referencing the Sydney Morning Herald article cited below and subsequent articles based on it. “Since the time of that interview we have found out that my losses in the fire were minimal. Another point I want to clarify: I have had a wonderful and very close relationship with my management for 25 years through to working on my current album. x.”
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I wanted to clarify some out of context quotes regarding the universal archives fire. Since the time of that interview we have found out that my losses in the fire were minimal. Another point I want to clarify: I have had a wonderful and very close relationship with my management for 25 years through to working on my current album. x
In an article published today under the rather alarmist headline “Beck fears most of his music has been destroyed,” the artist expressed concern that some of his early master recordings could have perished in a 2008 fire that tore through the archives of Universal Music Group, although he admitted that he is unaware whether any damage took place.
More than 500,000 song titles are estimated to have been destroyed in the fire, the extent of which was revealed just last summer in a New York Times report.
Beck conceded that he’s short on details. “I have a feeling that my management is not telling me because they can’t bear to break the news,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald in an article published Tuesday. Referring to certain unreleased sessions from early in his career, he added, “I don’t know [whether they’re gone], nobody’s telling us anything. We didn’t hear about it until the last year.”
Reps for Universal and Beck did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comment, but in the months since the publication of the Times article, UMG reps have stressed that the company is not withholding information but simply doesn’t have answers for all artists yet, considering the vastness of the archive and the disorder common to nearly all studio record-keeping. A succession of artists have said they’ve received inventory reports from the company: Four of five artists who recently sued UMG over presumed damage from the fire have since received inventory reports showing minimal or no damage, although all of them were ‘90s-era artists.
The extent of the damage to some deeper catalogs is said to be extensive.
In the interview, Beck, who signed with UMG’s Geffen label in 1993, rattles off an extensive list of unreleased projects, estimating that he’s issued just 10 percent of the music he’s recorded. “There’s a lot in there,” he said. “Like an album like ‘Sea Change,’ there are completely different versions of songs and then there’s probably another 10 to 20 songs that aren’t on the record that [were] in progress; things that I thought I would finish later.” He continued, “In 2001, I went into Sunset Sound [in Los Angeles] and I recorded 25 Hank Williams songs for a double album, just solo. I wanted to celebrate that influence in my music and explore it, and I don’t have a copy of that; it’s on a master tape, so that’s probably gone,” although it’s unclear why that one seems more at risk than others.
He went on to talk about the state of master preservation in general. “I have friends who work in archives and they see the tapes for legendary artists from the ’50s just lying there in a cardboard box,” he said. “There’s a lot of neglect of masters. It’s a big problem. There’s troves of great music in these archives, treasures that are not being tended to.” The artist gave a similar but much less accusatory interview to NME last week.