2Pac, Nirvana, Police: In 2008, 500,000 Universal Music Tracks Were Lost Forever In A Fire

The information had remained confidential until the New York Times published an investigation on June 11.

No less than 500,000 tracks went up in smoke. Thanks to an excellent report by the New York Times Magazine published on Tuesday June 11 and tragically entitled "The Day the Music Burned", we now learn that the fire which broke out at Universal Studios Hollywood in California on June 1 2008 didn't only affect cinema.

According to the New York Times, Building 6197 – nicknamed "the video vault" – was ravaged by flames. Home to numerous films, it also contained a large number of sound recordings belonging to the Universal Group, one of the biggest record companies in the world. A cultural treasure estimated by experts to be worth 150 million dollars was destroyed in minutes. 

And yet, after the fire, the company's directors stated that only the videotapes and some film reels had burned. Universal opted to keep the information secret to prevent a media outcry, and above all to avoid angering the artists concerned. 

But now, American journalists have got their hands on a confidential report from 2009 in which all of the losses are listed, explaining that "lost in the fire was, undoubtedly, a huge musical heritage". While numerous classics were destroyed in the fire, large numbers of unheard demos which were never released were also lost forever. 

The destruction was deemed to be "incalculable" by several musical industry experts. More than fifty years of the history of contemporary music were affected, ranging from Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, John Coltrane and Al Green, to 2Pac, Eminem and 50 Cent, including R.E.M, Eagles, Aerosmith, Elton John, Nirvana, Soundgarden and The Police, to name but a few. According to the New York Times, "it was the biggest disaster in the history of the music business".


Article translated by: Eleanor Staniforth

By Guillaume Narduzzi, published on 12/06/2019