How Prince’s masters were saved from the 2008 Universal music fire

Prince

Image: Penner / Wikimedia Commons / Ghostolini / Flickr

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Prince sound engineer Susan Rogers has detailed how she created the legendary artist’s famous vault and subsequently saved his masters from the Universal Music fires in 2008.

Speaking in an interview for Double J’s Take 5 podcast, Rodgers, who began working for Prince in the ’80s, said she began organising Prince’s masters as a “practical matter” when the ‘Kiss’ singer would ask her for old reference tapes at all hours of the night.

“When I first started working for him, he would sometimes say to me at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning ‘bring me this tape or that tape’. I realised I have to know where all these things are, ’cause how would I know this obscure stuff that had never been released,” she said.

“I started working with the women who worked in his office, and I asked for their help. Let’s collect all these tapes and start a database…With [a] personal computer we were able to start forming a database of all the tapes – the two-inch, the quarter-inch, the half-inch – and then I got really ambitious. I started calling faraway places that might have some of his tapes.”

Luckily, her determination paid off, as the infamous Universal Music fires took place on June 1, 2008, and reportedly saw anywhere from 120,000 to 175,000 master recordings perish in the blaze, according to The New York Times. Since Prince’s vault had been located under his Paisley Park estate, his trove of unreleased masters remained untouched.

Master recordings, as Rodgers explained, is the original sound recording of a song and can be thought of as the audio equivalent of the original negative for a photograph.

“When a listener is listening to a master mix, that’s as good as it gets,” Rogers told NBC. “Everything else from there is a copy. By the time the consumer gets it, it is several steps removed.”

According to the Times, among the important pieces of musical history that was lost include Buddy Holly’s masters, most of John Coltrane’s masters for the Impulse label, and the masters for a slew of other artists, including Elton John, Nirvana, and Tupac.

As for singles, it’s said that ‘Rock Around the Clock’ by Bill Haley and His Comets, Bo Diddley’s ‘Bo Diddley/I’m a Man’, ‘Louie Louie’ by the Kingsmen and ‘People Get Ready’ by the Impressions were also lost.

“It would have been a lot safer if people had their own vaults,” Rodgers said.

Despite this, Universal Music has denied the claims, telling Billboard soon after that “we had no loss, thankfully.”

After Prince died in 2016, upon drilling his vault open the estate’s archivist reportedly “discovered enough unreleased music to release a new album every year for the next century,” according to Consequence of Sound.

“When I left in 87, it was nearly full,” Rodgers explained in an interview with the Guardian. “Row after row of everything we’d done. I can’t imagine what they’ve done since then.”

Check out ‘Purple Rain’ by Prince:

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