UMG Archivist Speaks: NYT Article ‘Surprisingly Overstated,’ However Any Loss Is ‘Painful For Us’

UMG Archivist Speaks: NYT Article 'Surprisingly Overstated,' However Any Loss Is 'Painful For Us' 1

“Many of the masters that were highlighted [in the report] as destroyed, we actually have in our archives,” says UMG archivist Patrick Kraus.

For a lot of final week, Common Music Group archivist Patrick Kraus despatched members of his group into the ten vaults the corporate retains around the globe — generally accompanied by attorneys — to confirm the placement and situation of its greater than 3.5 million property, from authentic session recordings to pictures. The world’s greatest music firm has been in disaster mode because the New York Occasions Journal ran “The Day the Music Burned,” reporting {that a} 2008 Hollywood, California, fireplace destroyed as much as 500,000 grasp recordings, together with historic originals by Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Weapons N’ Roses, Snoop Dogg, the Roots and plenty of others.

The Occasions story introduced unprecedented consideration to a little-known a part of the recording enterprise — storing and preserving masters, the “first-generation tapes,” in Kraus’ phrases, used as sources for vinyl, CD and digital releases. The Occasions described them as “the irreplaceable primary source of a piece of recorded music,” which is why they’re important for formidable reissue tasks and indispensable for historians. They might additionally now be the topic of litigation: Outstanding artists are contemplating submitting lawsuits towards Common primarily based on the destruction of their masters.

Kraus, UMG’s senior VP of recording studios and archive administration, did not work at Common on the time of the fireplace, however he spent a part of final week reassuring panicked artists and responding to outraged music followers – and he defined to Billboard why the Occasions story “overstated” the losses. “Mind you, we’ve had two days!” he says. (Common has allotted extra sources to Kraus’ tem and established an electronic mail deal with for artists to speak with the corporate about this difficulty: Kraus, who began in music promoting information at Licorice Pizza in LA, labored in Warner Music Group’s archives operation for 17 years earlier than coming to Common in 2015.

Common will not say what number of archival property had been misplaced within the fireplace at Common Studios backlot, which on the time of the fireplace, Common Music Group rented from Internet Common. “There are constraints preventing us from publicly addressing some of the details,” the corporate stated in a press release. However Kraus, who spoke with frustration and wonky ardour, mentioned what he might concerning the extent of the harm and the way the the label now archives the recordings it owns.

The Occasions story says the fireplace far worse than was reported on the time. Is that evaluation truthful?

Based mostly on what we all know, to me [the article] was surprisingly overstated. The article painted an image of an archive being a spot the place each asset is a grasp – which is not at all times true. Actually, it is by no means true. The issues we gather vary from reference cassettes, reference reels of tape, CD-Rs, manufacturing masters, multi-track tapes, flat-mix masters, EQ’ed manufacturing masters – it runs a gamut of things, codecs and functions.

How lots of the thousands and thousands of UMG archival “assets” are thought-about masters? And what number of are early-generation copies? And the way vital is that distinction?

It isn’t at all times so simple as simply saying, “Oh, we’re going to do a reissue, give me the master tape.” We have a look at every thing we have now. Generally the grasp supply will not be the very best supply to work from. Generally it is a “protection copy,” as a result of it has been performed much less, for instance. It is a nuanced world we stay in.

Are you able to characterize what was the truth is misplaced within the 2008 fireplace?

There isn’t any dispute that the fireplace triggered critical loss, and we by no means stated in any other case. Any lack of any asset, grasp or in any other case, is painful for us. What was misplaced? There are various issues that had been in these archives — grasp tapes, safety copies, containers of paperwork, and so forth.

The story means that masters for a lot of main catalogs, from Chuck Berry to Aretha Franklin, had been destroyed. Is that true?

The extent of the losses was overstated. Most of the masters that had been highlighted as destroyed, we even have in our archives — the Impulse [Records]/[John] Coltrane stuff, Muddy Waters, [jazz pianist] Ahmad Jamal, [gospel label] Nashboro Information, Chess Information, to call a couple of. These are a number of the issues we have gone via. Simply within the final two days, we have discovered these examples within the archives. 

What are you able to inform me about Constructing 6197, the power the place Common saved its archival materials on the Common Studios lot again then, and the way a lot harm was accomplished within the fireplace?

All I learn about that lot is what I noticed as a customer on the tour, to let you know the reality.

When did you go as a customer?

I’m speaking concerning the Common Studios tour. When I lived in Burbank, in my Warner days, my youngsters had been little, so we’d go to the Nickelodeon Splash zone regularly.

Do you assume Common and different labels realized something from the fireplace about tips on how to shield archival property? 

Properly, you understand, it is 11 years in the past, proper? Anytime you could have a fireplace — any time you lose an asset — it is a horrible occasion. We all know we have now to place these property into safe amenities which have fireplace safety and we have now to work rapidly to protect some of these items digitally to ensure it is round for the ages. Past that, I do not know that I might say we realized something particularly from this specific occasion. 

How a lot have you ever modified the archiving course of because you began at UMG 4 years in the past? How do you retailer masters and different property at present? 

We’ve a mixture of our personal amenities around the globe, and companion amenities, and that companion in lots of circumstances is Iron Mountain. We’re fairly deliberate about geographic separation. We’ve issues on the West Coast, within the middle of the nation, on the East Coast, in and round London, within the U.K., and numerous native vaults across the territories we function in around the globe. 

The story quotes a supply describing Iron Mountain, the place Common shops lots of its grasp recordings in Boyers, Pennsylvania, as a “Raiders of the Lost Ark”-style warehouse that incorporates rows and rows of objects which are onerous to determine. Is that true?

That was grossly overstated. Iron Mountain has been an excellent companion for us by way of not solely storage but additionally serving to us to grasp what we have now higher. Issues are marked and we have now databases that comprise as a lot information as we have been in a position to seize round these property. 

How a lot of a problem is discovering an figuring out recordings?

It is my sense that, throughout the board, music archiving has improved drastically during the last 20-plus years. I haven’t run throughout conditions the place it is wildly uncontrolled and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”-like. 

The Occasions story paints a fairly darkish image about how masters have been cared for through the years.

There are many tales of horrible issues which have occurred to archival property throughout the leisure business over the many years, and folks love to inform them. They’re in all probability all true. However we’re not combating a battle towards the weather right here every day. There are some actual threats that we cope with on a regular basis, like decaying bodily carriers and tapes. The place do you discover a wax-cylinder participant that does justice to the content material? Identical with analog tape. 

After the article, some artists have publicly stated that they consider their masters have been destroyed, together with Krist Novoselic of Nirvana and Irving Azoff, who spoke on behalf of Steely Dan, which he manages. Are you able to reply? 

Each artist who’s reached out to us with considerations, we’re working carefully with them and/or their representatives to present them perception into the standing of all the property we maintain.

May any good come from this by way of folks paying some consideration to this difficulty extra broadly?

It is a good alternative for us to say, “Look, we’re not a bunch of bean counters who don’t give a shit about these assets.” We truly actually spend most of our waking moments devising methods for tips on how to finest handle these items. There’s an countless checklist of beautiful artifacts that we have now that we treasure and that we work onerous to protect. And with the ability to speak about that’s at all times an excellent factor.

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