Features

Saturday Deluxe / 6 July 2019

SDE… As Seen On TV

Last week the BBC reached out to me to see if I’d like to appear on the national TV on the BBC One’s ‘News at One’ to talk about Sheryl Crow‘s statement where she said her master tapes had been destroyed in the archive fire at Universal Studios back in 2008. Well, I wasn’t going to say no to that opportunity…

It all happened very quickly/ The idea was touted late in the day on 25 June and the editor and crew were round at SDE HQ at about 10am the next day (cue some frantic ‘tidying up’) to film the segment. Blinds were closed to help the cameraman control the light, and I was suitably positioned in front of a shelf of various vinyl records and box sets and then… “action!” For a brief moment I though about Michael Caine’s advice on his famous ‘Acting in Film’ masterclass where he said the hardest situation is the person who has just one line (“The Germans are crumbing…”) but tried to put it out of my mind.

I rambled on about what a master tape is, why it’s is important etc. for about 15-20 minutes and of course that turned into 20 seconds of comment on the actual bulletin, but hey, I’m on the news, mum!

It was really a case of ‘keep it simple, stupid’. I was going to mention the difference between a stereo master and a multi-track master for example, but that was (correctly) deemed as ‘too technical’ for the mainstream audience watching the one o’clock news on a Wednesday afternoon.

This is actually my second ‘stint’ on the BBC, having recorded an interview for BBC Radio 4’s consumer programme ‘You & Yours’ a few years back, where they were doing a piece on music box sets.

Unfortunately, there’s no link where I can share this appearance on BBC news. It was on iPlayer for a few days. Reflecting on the wider issue of the destroyed master tapes, it will certainly be interesting to see how Universal Music deal with this, publicly.

53 responses to Saturday Deluxe / 6 July 2019

  1. Paul Wren says:

    The most shocking part of all this is that Universal kept the original and safety/copy tapes in the same facility. But often other safety/copy tapes for major artists were sent to elsewhere in the world when pressings were being made overseas, so maybe there will be salvation there.

  2. RODOLFO MARTIN says:

    It seems to me that we have to see you playing your guitar and singing. What is your usual set list? Congrats for the interview. Whenever youfind a link to those glorious 20 seconds, let us know.

  3. Paul Murphy says:

    Re ‘Iron Mountain’ [David Bly etc], this is where all Dylan’s master tapes are kept. After the Sheryl Crow interviews that made the fire story hit the main news, there was a joke doing the rounds in Dylan circles wondering whether it was too late to take the master tapes to ‘Down In The Groove’ down to the Universal vault.
    With all the talk about how artists should be the ones to have their master tapes in the wake of the wider reporting of the Universal fire, it is worth noting that on one of the few occasions Dylan has been totally in charge of his own studio session – the ‘Blood On The Tracks’ re-visit in Minneapolis in December 1974 – the master tapes went missing and have never been found.

  4. Ian Smith says:

    The Universal Fire is pretty infamous in Film Score circles, as many original soundtrack masters were lost in the fire and so many scores previously unreleased or unexpanded can never see the light of day- they are gone. Forever. So Film Score forums often mention the fire and moan about it- it’s common knowledge and its morbidly funny, considering how long ago it happened, to see Sheryl Crow and the mainstream media go on about it as if its something new.

  5. Shane says:

    The basics any serious collector should know is to avoid too much light to the items (discoloring first) and too hot or cold as well as where there is too much temperature fluctuation in short periods

  6. Cliff says:

    Maybe you could release a Blu-ray with the actual 20-second broadcast – and then a bonus extra with the unedited 20-minute plus “Director’s Cut” (kinda like the legendary 27-minute Helter Skelter). That would be highly educational to all of us!

  7. Eric B says:

    A big, big, big point in this is the question whether a particular artist had the master tapes destroyed, and/or the multitrack masters. If the multitrack masters survive, all is not lost.

    The reason why I mention this is because some artists such as R.E.M. had “Automatic For The People” mixed to Dolby Atmos. This simply could not have happened without the multitrack masters.

    Plus, how many albums have been transferred to DSD or to 24/96?

    • David Bly says:

      R.E.M. were signed to Warner Bros. from 1996 on, so if they don’t have the tapes themselves, then Warner Music Group likely has them.

      The issue with their earlier tapes is that the I.R.S. label was first distributed by A&M (now part of Universal Music Group), then is was distributed by MCA (now part of Universal Music Group), and then later the A&M/MCA albums were re-released by Capitol (now part of [say it again, folks!] Universal Music Group).
      So that’s where the real concern lays – in the I.R.S. Records tapes.

      When they made the deal with WB, part of the deal was that they retained all the rights to their masters, and after a certain length of time all rights reverted back to them.
      The re-releases from “Green” onwards have been distributed by Concord Music Group, now trading as Craft Recordings.

      Concord originally was in the town of the same name in California and so likely their tapes were stored somewhere in the Bay Area, likely in Berkeley, the home of Fantasy Records and Fantasy Studios, which Concord bought in 2004.
      By 2002 they had already had moved to Beverly Hills, and in 2006, Concord, originally independently distributed, made a distribution deal in with… wait for it… UMG!

      But in 2007 they supposedly sent all their to a place called Iron Mountain*, in a secret location (seriously!) somewhere in California, where the master tapes of many labels have been sent. This means that at least all the great Fantasy (and associated labels) tapes are safe.

      As R.E.M. made the distribution deal with Concord in December 2015, the WB tapes were likely either with the band by that point, or still with WMG, and so I would bet that all the WB tapes are safe.

      *Iron Mountain is very serious about their security and for the most part people even in the record industry don’t know where things are kepy. Note that the NY Times story mentions a “high-rise facility in Hollywood”, but it is still alleged that they have an underground facility somewhere else in California.

      • Robert says:

        Actually REM signed with Warner in the late 1980’s and ‘Green’, released in 1989, was their first Warner title. It seems logical that REM had many of the masters tapes for years so they may not have been affected by the fire unless it was a release from the past 10 years.

  8. Randy Metro says:

    If you could time travel backwards in history, someone could have warned Universal about the fire & the fire was prevented. So then you are time traveling back to the present & end up crashing into a time traveler going back in time to warn Universal the masters are going to be destroyed in an earthquake. As if that wasn’t bad luck enough, another time traveler is involved in the crash. He was traveling back in time to warn Universal that there was going to be a big earthquake that would cause a fire at……. Meanwhile a fourth time traveler misses the crash but is going so fast he ends up in the age of the dinosaurs and he is immediately struck by a meteorite.

  9. Randy Metro says:

    In a 2014 radio interview, Richard Carpenter referred to “the “destruction of most of the original Carpenters master tapes in the Universal Studios fire.” The interviewer seemed to talk as though the fire was a well know fact. The A&M Carpenters forum mentions the fire quite often. I am surprised that Richard didn’t have his own masters or safety copies tucked away. He has a huge car collection; that would have been a great place keep the masters.

  10. JT says:

    Do the spines of your boxsets and vinyl fade in the sunlight being so close to a window? Mine do, just wondered… sorry for the mundane question…. All best JT

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      I don’t know. They might do…. There’s a limit to how much trouble I’m prepared to go in terms of looking after my collection. I want them to be on a shelf and I don’t want to keep the blinds shut all day so that in 20 years time everything is in mint condition.

      • Andrew Greenwood says:

        All my windows that would allow sunlight onto book spines, art or records are covered in UV protective film. I got it in big rolls and cut it to size, but it is easy to apply (just needs a water spray). This blocks about 99% UV but I still pull blinds across if the sun is going to be on anything for a long time

      • Robert says:

        Paul, over a few years these spines will discolor. I have about 40 CD’s close to a window for years and I can see that the spine color has changed. If I was in your position, I would move these expensive Beatles and Bowie boxsets far from the window.

  11. Silica says:

    Glad to see it wasn’t the only one having a good look at that shelf. Very nice. Great interview, especially for those (unlike many of us here), who would not have known how much of a loss this whole fiasco is for music. It is irreplaceable history, priceless. I had noticed many over the years talking about the poor quality of some anniversary reissues/remastering. Not being able to go back to the masters would have been an issue.

    I know there are safety copies, but going back to the true source is always preferable. I can’t believe the true story was hidden for so long. The truth will always come out eventually. Such a sad loss for those involved. Very poor storage too. Safety copies under the same roof, poor fire protection, you couldn’t make it up really …

    • Kauwgompie says:

      Good for you Paul! Your mom must have been proud and so are your readers.

      If I was an artist and Universal lost my masters in a fire because there was poor fire protection, poor storage, and safety copies were kept in the same storage room or facility, I would sue Universal for millions. Not just for lost revenues from future lack of sales (because many ppl don’t want vinyl rips), but especially to force Universal to properly store all masters and safety copies going forward. There should be a standard to keep these tapes and if the record company doesn’t respect that, they need to suffer the consequences.

  12. Shane says:

    The creator of the footage choosing to wilfully destroy outtakes cannot be compared to this. As much as we’d love to see Kubrik outtakes we do not have the right to demand to see it and Kubrik had any right to destroy his outtakes. It had nothing to do with legally-bound “safekeepers” failing to prevent damage or loss.
    Hendrix sad & pathetic story proves that not even the non-corporate owners are reliable

    • Paul Murphy says:

      You miss my point slightly. Kubrick was the ‘legally-bound “safekeeper”‘ of this material. Technically he may have owned it, but the work was not entirely his – that celluloid contained the work of the actors, many of whom reached into their creativity and emotions at an enormous level on those projects. The reason that ‘the creator of the footage choosing to wilfully destroy outtakes cannot be compared to this [the Universal fire]’ is that one is the wanton and premeditated destruction of some of the greatest filmic art of the 20th century whilst the other was an accident.

  13. Tim South says:

    BBC 4 have, over recent years proved to be an interesting and excellent conduit of music. I trust that those responsible for this have also seen your report Paul

  14. AndyHaines says:

    I suppose you’ll be on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here next, (rolls eyes)!

  15. Giles says:

    The picture reminds me that I should have asked you before to do a feature on the storage solutions for our habit. Yours looks like bespoke joinery but I am sure there are many creative options for this, I am in need of inspiration as my collection of odd-sized boxes is getting somewhat chaotic !

    • colm47 says:

      The Kallax range from Ikea are very good Giles. I have lots of vinyl and box sets stored in them.

      Google “Ikea Presents Harry Love”s Records”.

      • Yani P says:

        i-Cube are excellent as well

        • Carl Jacobs says:

          Rather they were. They (I- cube) were becoming increasingly unreliable in terms of delivery. Up to 4 months.
          A quick search and one will discover that they’ve gone out of business. PayPal have been great. And so will credit card companies if that was the payment vehicle.
          All is not lost though. There is a company not far from where I cube used to be – Blox.
          They use MDF though. If you’ve got plain plywood bit of an issue. If you got painted units they use same paint colours.
          Re fading: only my Genesis WCD promo cassette CD box spine has slightly faded. Persuaded the memsab to invest in sunlight glare reducing blinds like those in libraries and country house libraries and museums. Better still get remote operated blinds. They don’t half reduce the glare and harmful sunlight.
          Yes.
          My collection was there long before wife was plucked from obscurity on the shelf and will be there long after she has left.
          Carl.

      • shane says:

        iKea is the collector’s friend. Yes, indeed Kallax for vinyl. add to that, Billy with the special inserts for CDs (the rich mans 8-track tape)

        Aside from music, my Star Wars room is all iKea. Billy’s. Detolfs and Bestå.

        Detolf and Bestaå are both wonderful for showcase items, ie: that EMF Cha Cha Cha deluxe pop-up venticular cover, or the Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts deluxe seven inch box set (autographed, of course).

        It’s no secret that I keep my Bum Gravy acetates in a safebox, alongside my original Butcher Cover.

  16. Mister Stick says:

    Good for you, Paul. I hope it was fun, and as a bonus, your readers get to see a slice of your collection (I’d love to see photos of SDE fans’ shelves).

    A recording engineer I work with and I were talking about the fire, and how Universal kept the truth under wraps for years. Sorry to think like a big corporation for a minute, but one can see why. Negligence is not something that you advertise with full-page ads in Billboard. I’m sure they were hoping to keep the extent of this catastrophe a secret as long as they could, banking for the day when they would be set upon by furious artists. Lord knows how the courts will interpret this, and whose side they will be on… Are Universal owners of the content or caretakers? And if artists claim that Universal has taken away their chance for great remastered releases, can’t Universal simply say, “Hey, we weren’t planning on reissuing your stuff anyway?”

    Here’s another question: What do recording artists learn from this? Shouldn’t they now, for certain, always keep their own copies of all multitracks and mixed masters? In the digital workflow era, wouldn’t most people be doing that already, as a matter of habit, since you just need to hang on to drives or mineral discs instead of tapes? Even if the label owns the recording, wouldn’t it still be within contract to keep personal copies of everything, as long as they weren’t being sold to other labels or directly to fans?

    It’s hard to imagine any prudent artist, from here out, allowing a sole master to be one place, when it’s so easy to clone the data, or make a first generation analog safety copy. I’d love to hear the opinion of someone within in the industry on how performers can insure themselves against this kind of thing happening again.

    Thanks, always.

    • Paul Murphy says:

      Well, one problem would be that at the first sign of fiscal temptation, the material would leak out like a dam made of Swiss cheese. As you say, ‘it’s so easy to clone the data’.
      Secondly, thinking that artists are the best people to have their own material is a wonderful idea but not necessarily the case – Hendrix left the “Axis: Bold As Love” album master tapes in a taxi, Dylan cut the 1966 tour film footage to shreds without making a safety copy first, and Stanley Kubrick ordered Leon Vitali, his assistant, to burn every piece of outtake material from all his films.

    • Kevin Wollenweber says:

      In some cases, we’re talking about artists who are long gone from this earth! One could have never predicted neglegence of this magnitude!

    • Hugh Hall says:

      I imagine most contracts will entitle artists to have their masters revert back to them after a period of time, especially once they have recouped as I imagine many of these artists will have, then they are definitely content caretakers and not content owners.

      Don’t forget that it’s not simply a case of masters reverting back to artists for safekeeping but the artist would then be able to enter a new contract with another label and then a re-issue programme could be undertaken.

      I think Universal are likely to be subject to one of the biggest claims in entertainment history.

  17. Soren says:

    Kudos!

  18. Gisabun says:

    I’m wondering if artists will now not trust the label’s storage and instead invest in their own vault.

  19. Willy says:

    I always look at the shelves in the background on these things to see what box sets they have.

  20. Paul Murphy says:

    You didn’t mention the irony of the Beeb asking people to comment on an entertainment multi-conglomerate destroying master tapes then…

  21. Rashers says:

    The whole thing about the Universal fire is so opaque. I think that the fire was the audio equivalent of Notre Dame – we are all distraught by the revelation and the cover up (which has really tinted Universal reissues – no wonder Back to Black vinyl is so crap). Obviously losing the multitrack master is significantly worse than losing the original master – as multiple copies of the latter would have been made for other markets – such as the UK, Germany or Japan – that would be very close to the original. However, losing the multitracks – analogue or digital – is catastrophic – it is the DNA of the recording. If they have lost the multi track masters for Steely Dan classics such as AJA or Pretzel Logic – it is beyond negligent.
    I saw Joe Jackson and the Flying Burrito Brothers on the New York Times follow up report – but Intervention records released fantastic vinyl reissues of at least some of their albums in the last couple of years from the original master tapes. Overall, this travesty has the potential to make mint copies of original albums very expensive indeed.

    • Daniel Lalla says:

      If you read the fine print in Interventions releases of Joe Jackson they say made from real tapes… but not the master!. They used safety copies (and they still sound wonderful) but they were ‘honest’ about it… you might look at the stickers on the product and think it was the master though… so not totally transparent perhaps… ? Obfuscation?

    • RJS says:

      “we are all distraught by the revelation and the cover up”

      Speak for yourself…!

  22. Ian Gair says:

    Thanks Paul for sharing your thoughts and insights of how pundits / influencers feel in front of the camera. Just hope it’s not your 15 minutes of fame (Karl Batos). Made my day when filmed by the BBC & asked my option about record store day, having being stood outside Record Collector store in Sheffield for 5+ hours. Of course it never made the airways, however at least when I was filmed by Sky sitting on the Simpsons couch in Leeds, I have a photo to prove it.

  23. Ian says:

    Fame at last!

  24. Kevin Wollenweber says:

    Yes, please, Paul, keep us informed as to what Universal does or says or handles the issues about lost masters. I do realize that, perhaps, all is not lost. After all, the Who, for example, have reissued some of their recordings since 2008, so they must be using some kind of near master quality recordings or recordings that can be manipulated to sound nearly as good as a master tape…and, when you’re talking about a group like the Who, you have to ask “which masters”, because they did have nearly their entire back catalog remixed by John Astley. I guess that the outcome, here, would be found out over time whenever an extensive remastering/restoration campaign is done for specific artists.

  25. bob says:

    I missed it, but I hope you had your life-size Marc Bolan carboard display within camera shot…

  26. unique says:

    was the point that labels often/usually “own” the masters rather than them belonging to the artist, and that’s why the label has the physical item, so if the masters are destroyed, it’s the record companies property, not the artists?

  27. David Roest says:

    Very good. You’re starting to become a celeb!

  28. Chris Squires says:

    I was on the Beeb in 2012 talking about rescuing cine film and it evolved into talking about physical media and discussing vinyl and CDs over iTunes, I don’t even think Spotify was a thing back then, I actually said at one point “I like to hold the music in my hands” as I found and played the recording only a couple of weeks ago.

    It was the most nerve wracking thing I had ever done and I had to keep telling myself to keep breathing as I felt my lungs had just seized up. Something so inconsequential that virtually no one saw and I fell to bloomin’ pieces.

    Makes you realize how brilliant the likes of Terry Wogan were at making the simple look, well.. simple.

    As I said before Paul, with a bit of luck and pushiness I could see that as a weekly 15 minute news channel slot. The Mark Kermode of Box Sets…..

  29. Chris Bennett says:

    It was also shown internationally on BBC World News channel. I saw it here in Hong Kong.

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