Fire, fire on the backlot.

Okay so those weren’t weren’t exactly the lyrics to the Grateful Dead’s 1978 “Fire On The Mountain”, but the message may as well stay the same as it’s now been reported that master recording tapes from some of the biggest names in American music over the last 100 years were destroyed during a 2008 fire on the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot.

On Tuesday morning, the New York Times published a shocking new report on the fire which did a sizable amount of IP damage when it swept across the backlot of Universal Studios Hollywood on June 1st, 2008.

The fire came as a result of maintenance workers who had been repairing a roof of one of the backlot set buildings with the use of blowtorches. The fire spread quickly and eventually reached a 22,320-square-foot warehouse which housed a mix of videotapes and film reels.

The warehouse also contained a 2,400-square-foot fenced off area where the vast collection of master recordings owned by Universal Music Group. The vault sacredly protected thousands of song titles from John Coltrane, Nirvana, Joni Mitchell, Tupac Shakur, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Don Henley, Aerosmith, Steely Dan, Iggy Pop, Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis Jr., Les Paul, Fats Domino, Yoko Ono, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers and many, many more, which were ultimately transformed from metal shelving and reels of tape to piles of ash and melted steel.

The report goes on to state:

“The archive in Building 6197 was UMG’s main West Coast storehouse of masters, the original recordings from which all subsequent copies are derived. A master is a one-of-a-kind artifact, the irreplaceable primary source of a piece of recorded music. According to UMG documents, the vault held analog tape masters dating back as far as the late 1940s, as well as digital masters of more recent vintage. It held multitrack recordings, the raw recorded materials — each part still isolated, the drums and keyboards and strings on separate but adjacent areas of tape — from which mixed or ‘flat’ analog masters are usually assembled. And it held session masters, recordings that were never commercially released.”

The tape vault had also housed recordings from dozens of record labels which had been purchased by UMG over the years, including several very prominent labels with highly profitable master recordings including DeccaChess, MCA, ABC, A&M, Geffen, and Interscope.

A document assessing the company losses from the fire released in March 2009 estimated the number of “assets destroyed” at 118,230, although some believe that a more accurate estimate is within the “175,000 range.” The range of the company’s financial losses is also estimated to be well over $100 million in future earnings. The real loss, however, cannot be marked at a dollar value, as the timeless artistic artifacts destroyed in the fire will never be heard again through their original analog recordings.

Watch the initial news report from the 2008 fire below.

Fire at Universal Studios – June 1, 2008

[Video: dantemadison]

[H/T New York Times]