UMG Receives First Legal Warning to Disclose Its 2008 Fire Losses as Chairman Lucian Grainge Breaks His Silence

 

What exactly was lost, and why isn’t UMG disclosing it?

The crisis over UMG’s catastrophic loss of recording masters in 2008 is now entering a new phase.  Just this morning, LA-based law firm King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano, LLP issued a written demand against the major label to disclose exactly what perished in the fire.

The demand — addressed directly to UMG chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge — is likely a preview of future legal actions, with partner attorney Howard King moving quickly on behalf of clients.  Other attorneys, most notably Ed McPherson, have also indicated that legal action may be ahead.

“We formally request that UMG promptly furnish us with a complete inventory of all master recordings, including finished sound recordings as well as outtakes, that were destroyed in the fire,” the letter reads.  “It is important to all artists who may have been affected by this calamity to know the truth regarding the condition of their master recordings stored by Universal.”

Failure to disclose critical details could lead to court-ordered subpoenas.

Since the 2008 disaster, UMG has refused to catalog, divulge, or otherwise disclose the losses incurred in the Universal Studios blaze.   The New York Times has estimated losses at roughly 500,000 recordings, with dozens of legendary artists and irreplaceable works destroyed.

UMG has repeatedly dismissed the Times report as inaccurate, though it hasn’t revealed any concrete details on the losses.  The label has also refused to disclose the sizable payout received from Universal Studios and NBCUniversal after a confidential settlement was reached between the parties in 2013.

In an internal letter to UMG staff, Grainge shared a determination to show artists ‘transparency’ and ‘own this’.

Ironically, the letter itself offered little in the way of concrete details, though it did suggest that answers would be given upon request.

“Even though that event happened more than a decade ago, and while I’ve been somewhat relieved by early reports from our team that many of the assertions and subsequent speculation are not accurate, one thing is clear: the loss of even a single piece of archived material is heartbreaking,” the email offered (full text below).

“Even though all of the released recordings lost in the fire will live on forever, losing so much archival material is nonetheless painful,” the letter continued.  “These stories have prompted speculation, and having our artists and songwriters not knowing whether the speculation is accurate is completely unacceptable.’

“So, let me be clear: we owe our artists transparency.  We owe them answers.  I will ensure that the senior management of this company, starting with me, owns this.”

Grainge also pointed to an internal point-of-contact for artists: Pat Kraus.

“If any of you hear from an artist asking about the status of archived assets, please immediately have them contact Pat Kraus (), our SVP of Recording Studios & Archive Management,” the chairman wrote.  “In the past few days, Pat has formed a special team specifically to field these requests and respond to them as promptly as we can.”

Here’s Grainge’s full email.

Dear Colleagues, 

By now most of you have seen the articles relating to the fire in 2008 at the NBCUniversal Studios lot that destroyed archived recordings, videos and related materials. 

Even though that event happened more than a decade ago, and while I’ve been somewhat relieved by early reports from our team that many of the assertions and subsequent speculation are not accurate, one thing is clear: the loss of even a single piece of archived material is heartbreaking.   

When I was 17, I acted as a courier to pick up the 2-inch multitracks and quarter-inch Boomtown Rats masters just after they finished their album at Rockfield Studios in Wales.  I can still remember being repeatedly warned not to travel by subway to the mastering studio because the magnetic energy could destroy the recordings.  It was then I first realized how precious these items were, and the care with which they needed to be treated. 

This is just one small anecdote.  I know so many of you have your own individual stories about how and why you’re working here.  But all of us came into this business for one reason: a love of music.  Our artists and songwriters count on us to be the stewards of their art – today and for the future.   

And that’s one reason why the stories about the extent of the 2008 fire have resonated with all of us.  Even though all of the released recordings lost in the fire will live on forever, losing so much archival material is nonetheless painful.  These stories have prompted speculation, and having our artists and songwriters not knowing whether the speculation is accurate is completely unacceptable. 

So, let me be clear: we owe our artists transparency.  We owe them answers. 

I will ensure that the senior management of this company, starting with me, owns this. 

If any of you hear from an artist asking about the status of archived assets, please immediately have them contact Pat Kraus (), our SVP of Recording Studios & Archive Management.  In the past few days, Pat has formed a special team specifically to field these requests and respond to them as promptly as we can.   

One final note: 

At UMG we have the greatest collection of musical recordings, videos and artwork in the world – millions of assets in total – dating back to the late 1800s.  We invest significantly in preserving and protecting those treasures around the world—in technology, in infrastructure and by employing experts.  I know how deeply committed our archival and catalog teams are to preserving our archives for generations to come.  Part of “owning this” is redoubling our efforts to be a leader in preserving the rich cultural legacy upon which our industry is based.   

Again, none of this takes away the pain of losing any recording or video from our archives.  But I want you all to be clear about how seriously we take this. 

Lucian