Last week, the New York Times broke the story when they reported that hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable master recordings, by artists such as Billie Holiday, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Elton John, and Aretha Franklin, were lost in the fire which ravaged NBC Universal Studios’ backlot in 2008.
At the time of the fire, Universal told the press, in an apparent fabrication, that the recordings were largely safe, and appeared to double down on that claim earlier this week when UMG’s Pat Kraus asserted that the New York Times article “overstated” the losses.
However, that didn’t stop the rapidly snowballing controversy and in the ensuing week, media reports have indicated that the label giant may be facing dozens if not hundreds of lawsuits related to the fire.
“We have many very concerned clients,” Attorney Howard King of the Los Angeles-based law firm King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano told the Times. “This has a potentially huge impact on their future, coupled with the rather disturbing fact that no one ever told them that their intellectual property may have been destroyed.
“There is a significant amount of discussion going on, and there will be formal action taken,” King added.
Now, Lucian Grainge, Chairman & CEO of Universal Music Group, has weighed in on the fire in an internal memo to the company.
According to the memo, obtained by Music Business Worldwide, Grainge expressed a belief that the label giant should provide answers to artists who may have been affected by the fire.
“So, let me be clear: we owe our artists transparency. We owe them answers,” Grainge said in the memo. “I will ensure that the senior management of this company, starting with me, owns this.”
Grainge, who took a leadership role at UMG in 2011, also addressed the importance of the recordings, noting: “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.”
Grainge also appeared to support Kraus’s statement that the damage from the fire was overstated by the New York Times.
“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,” Grainge said in the memo, according to MBW.
Grainge went on to encourage any UMG employee who had concerns to communicate directly with a crisis team assembled by Kraus in the wake of the NYT story.