Call it luck for Eminem or for his fans, as the tape reels of Slim Shady were digitalised before the fire at Universal. The status of original, priceless master recordings by a host of top-name artists remained up in the air Tuesday following an explosive report revealing the true devastation of a 2008 Hollywood fire.
They include recordings by Detroit rapper Eminem. His tape reels were named among a slew of musical works in the New York Times’ investigation into the fire on the Universal Studios lot, which destroyed a vault that may have contained 175,000 multitrack recordings, session masters and outtakes by “a genre-spanning who’s who of 20th- and 21st-century popular music,” as reporter Jody Rosen writes.
Although the fire was widely reported in 2008, the Times story contends that Universal Music, the world’s biggest record company, hid the staggering scope of the loss from the public and even affected artists. The facility apparently housed master tapes of music by Chuck Berry, Louis Armstrong, Nirvana, Tom Petty, Elton John, Ray Charles, George Jones and many others, according to the Times story.
Joel Martin, operator of 54 Sound studio in Ferndale and manager of Eminem’s former production team, the Bass Brothers, said his team digitized all of the tape reels at hand in early 2008. That included Eminem music recorded at 54 Sound — such as “The Marshall Mathers LP,” “The Eminem Show” and hits such as “Lose Yourself” — along with tapes created in Los Angeles with producers such as Dr. Dre.
Martin said he was spurred to undertake the “thorough process” of backing up the tapes when Universal, Eminem’s label, requested that all of the rapper’s recording reels be sent to L.A.
The backups, while vital, still don’t equate to the original session reels — the first-generation magnetic tape bearing the cleanest, most precise document of the music. And digital media has its own long-term issues with degradation and compatibility. But something is better than nothing.