Record Companies and Sloppy Archiving of Original Tapes

Discussion in 'The Sound Hound Lounge' started by pcutt, Feb 19, 2009.


  1. pcutt

    pcutt Member

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    Over the years of reading magazine articles and websites I've come across references to lost or damaged original master tapes at record companies. In fact, I've read this so often that it seemed to be commonplace, rather than a rarity. For example, on King Crimson's wikipedia entry we read about the fate of In the Court of the Crimson King, "The stereo master tapes were finally rediscovered in the archives of Virgin Records in 2003 after they had been misplaced for over 30 years."

    So, for actual tapes (rather than digitized data) can you clue me in? How is it that record companies lose their master tapes? After all, aren't these the crown jewels, their core intellectual property? Don't they document them and keep them in climate-controlled locked rooms? Don't they have a trail of signatures to document who handled them? What kind of storage are they using if tapes can easily be damaged?

    As a Silicon Valley engineer I can confidently state that any high tech firm, large or small, will have a well thought out and serious way of keeping track of its intellectual property, whether it is software, hardware designs, or anything else. Document control and version control is serious business in the world of high tech. It's really surprising to hear that the recording industry, whose business is based upon information, has been so sloppy.

    Any thoughts?
     
  2. playon

    playon Supporting Member

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    A collector/historian named Frank Driggs stole Robert Johnson's masters and test pressings from Columbia's vaults when he worked at Columbia to preserve them when he saw that they were not being taken care of.
     
  3. loudboy

    loudboy Member

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    In the 80's, someone found the multi-track masters to "Quadrophenia" in the dumpster, outside a studio.
     
  4. trickness

    trickness Analog with a side of DSP

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    Having worked at record companies for over twenty years, I can say that there were some people, like Steve Berkowitz at Sony or Bill Levinson at PolyGram, who cared a lot about these priceless assets. Understand that (in the old days at least) 99% of the label was focused on promoting and selling NEW stuff. Never mind that catalog is what keeps the lights on, the big money to be made was always in breaking new artists. It wasn't until the dawn of the CD that labels even realized the value of these old masters, because they could reissue them in a new format.

    Once they figured out how much money could be made reissuing old hits in new packages, with unreleased tracks, remastered and in "Deluxe" packaging, they built Catalog Divisions, staff charged with mining these assets and, for lack of a better word, exploiting them. Everyone at the labels understands the value of these catalog masters, especially as people over 30 might actually still buy a CD (as opposed to downloading it for free.)

    The people in these catalog divisions are still chasing down priceless assets from the past 100 years of recording history, although they've located the overwhelming majority. This isn't a problem specific to the music industry - there is plenty of treasure that ended up in a dustbin behind Fender and Gibson too.
     
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2009
  5. teleharmonium

    teleharmonium Member

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    One thing about that is that there was a time period where the formula used in the glue in the manufacturing process of tape was changed and lots of tapes were made and used before it became clear that the change had caused serious problems. Lots of recordings were lost, and there are still people around that specialize in baking these tapes in such a way that can render them playable one last time (but the tape is usually destroyed in that playback, so it has to be a good transfer).

    But yeah like the film industry, the music business hasn't always been characterized by great foresight or well placed priorities, I just think when there's no immediate relationship between cash flow and the storage of a particular tape, even if it made a lot of money before, it often happens that no one is tasked with the job or takes the initiative to worry about the tape.
     

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