News The loss of 500,000+ master tapes from legendary recording artists may lead to lawsuits

Discussion in 'TV & Media' started by Cutie McWhiskers, Jun 29, 2019.

  1. Cutie McWhiskers

    Cutie McWhiskers Commodore Commodore

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    https://www.altpress.com/news/universal-music-group-fire-lawsuits-expected/

    Others such as Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, (speeches from) Martin Luther King Jr (and others), and others.

    https://trap-a-holics.com/700-further-artists-affected-by-universal-warehouse-fire/

    All I can imagine is if these were digitized and archived in original form, then a second copy of that made for remastering, little if anything is lost. Modern day (last decade or so?) methods would exceed the range of audiotape. Being on audiotape, the masters would still degrade to unplayable status over the span of decades -- even under ideal conditions but these were not stored in a low-oxygen, low-humidity cool area like a salt mine.

    It's not quite the same thing for film, but technology is soon to be viable. Today's 2K standards are fairly close and depending on speed of 35mm film used, 2K if not 4K is a sufficient backup for digitizing film masters. 8K @ 32bit for TV shows and most films would probably be more than enough to get every last bit of sharpness and color hue from each particle in the negative. Still, even under ideal conditions, videotape can succumb to "the vinegar effect" after a few decades.

    But I digress. A master is still a master and once it's gone, only the best quality copy is left. At least, with audio sources, it is likely if not having been possible for some time to capture the entire range of sound from a master and then some.

    All I know is, as a fan of 60s soul, Aretha's music sounded horrid on consumer-grade cassette tape and every remastered edition was a LOT clearer, any limitations being due to the recording equipment of the time.
     
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  2. Relayer1

    Relayer1 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    They've lost all the unreleased material, the studio chatter, the alternate takes, the recording notes and information and yes, the actual masters should they ever need higher resolution copies.

    Yes, the good news is a lot of it was digitised and backed up. They kept the backups in the same storage facility...
     
  3. tomswift2002

    tomswift2002 Commodore Commodore

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    Not all the unreleased material. Richard Carpenter Of The 70’s supergroup Carpenters has released unreleased and remixed tracks since the 2008 fire. But he has said that their original masters were destroyed, but they still have digital tape copies that were made before the analog tapes were shipped out to Universal’s backlot.

    But in terms of archiving & backups in general, even today for albums that are recorded and mixed all-digitally, the major studios still create analog tape backups for the final album masters, as they’ve found that digital masters from the very-late-70’s up to even today can be unplayable if it turns out that the original digital tape recorder was out of alignment and recorded the digital information incorrectly and only the original machine can play it, if it still exists, or the original recorder was realigned and can no longer play the tape. Other problems are tapes having dropouts or hard drives seizing up and not working, whereas analog tapes, if they are recorded on a machine that was out of alignment or have dropouts you can usually still get them to playback by mid aligning another machine, and dropouts might result in a brief loss of audio. But even the “Cloud” is not a safe place to archive as we saw a few years with MySpace, they switched to a different platform and anything archived on the site from like 2000 to 2012 was deleted.

    Now then this is an old article (about 1995) but you can see in here that even in the mid-90’s they were finding that DAT masters from about 7 years earlier in 1987 were not lasting and about every 1 in 20 tapes was unplayable.
    http://www.minidisc.org/dat_archiving.html
     
  4. Marc

    Marc Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    One other issue with the masters whether the digital copies held elsewhere were multi-track or final mix.

    The article I read when the loss of the audio masters first broke talked about a lot of the lost material being the multi-track masters so while new releases can be made from other copies, they can never be remixed.
     
  5. tomswift2002

    tomswift2002 Commodore Commodore

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    With the Carpenters, from what I know, aside from their first single (Ticket To Ride/Your Wonderful Parade), the majority of the masters lost were the original analog masters of their non-seasonal stuff, because a number of those masters had been sent there in 2004 after Richard Carpenter had finished remixing a number of their tracks into 5.1 for a SACD release, and they were suppose to go back to Iron Mountain, but they were still sitting there 4 years later. (In 2015 a set of their US Singles was released through PBS, and the mono single master for their first single could not be located, so it’s been assumed that it was lost in the fire, so for that release a vinyl 45 was denoised. But even other singles, I know that they had to search other countries to get single masters as it seems those were stored there)

    But for the other artists, when you think of Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby their early recordings did not have multi-track masters as they started in the era where stuff was performed live to wax record and later on live to tape because the technology just was not at the level of multi-tracking at the time.
     
  6. Spot's Meow

    Spot's Meow Vice Admiral Premium Member

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    The New York Times Magazine (I didn't even realize they had a magazine) has an impressively long and detailed article on the fire and the true extent of the loss of masters: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/11/magazine/universal-fire-master-recordings.html

    While the loss of masters of beloved classics from major artists is certainly sad, I have to agree with the article that the biggest loss is of those recordings that were lesser known or "undiscovered." We'll never know the true extent of what was lost. What pained me the most was reading about unreleased Nirvana recordings that were lost in the fire. And of the little known early pioneers that music historians will never get the chance to study through their recordings.

    However, I don't necessarily agree with the article's suggestion that we should archive all masters in perfect condition forever, even the most obscure. As an archivist myself, this is a dangerous mindset. One of the hardest, but most important, parts of my job is deciding what to keep and what to destroy. Whether you work with paper, film, sound recordings, photographs, etc. we simply don't have the space, time, or resources to save everything that humans create. There's just too much. We keep only a fraction of what is created, and the archivist's job is to determine what is worthy of saving.

    When it comes to things written on paper, I feel that it's a little bit easier to make that decision. Are researchers of the future going to care about this memo stating that the new copy machine has been ordered? Probably not. With sound recordings, I do think it's trickier, because there's no way to really know what someone will be interested in decades from now. Commercial success seems a poor metric.

    There's a case to be made for digitizing the masters as much as possible, but that also presents issues. As the article points out, many recordings are actually "safer" on tape than on hard drives, since tape has a possibility of physical repair but once a digital file is corrupted, it's lost forever. There's also the issue of changing formats and needing specialized equipment to read digitized recordings made not even that long ago, as previous posters have mentioned. Digitization is great as a method of improving access to collections that would otherwise be inaccessible to everyday people, but it is problematic as a permanent archival storage medium.

    There's no easy answers. While the catalog of music recordings is relatively small at this point in time, with only about ~140 years since they came into existence, imagine how many more recordings will exist 100, 500, or even 1,000 years from now. We'll need to find a way to preserve these long term, something as reliable as paper has been for other types of records. And we'll need to come up with better methods of appraising the historical value to determine what to keep and what we let fade into history.
     
  7. publiusr

    publiusr Vice Admiral Admiral

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