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How Are Sheryl Crow and Data Backup Related?

An archive in Los Angeles belonging to Universal Music burnt down back in 2008. It was never known how much data was lost. However, a report from the New York Times this year that up to 500,000 recordings were destroyed in the damage.

While Universal Music claimed that the story had inaccuracies and misunderstood the scope of the incident, they have admitted that the damage was extensive.

Original recordings from artists like Sheryl Crow, Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, Elton John and Eminem are suspected to have been destroyed. That said, some of the recordings had been digitised before the damage occurred, though it’s unknown how much.

Lots of the recordings are believed to be master tapes. These are the original studio recordings, from which the commercial prints are taken from. These studio recordings often include different takes and unreleased songs, which often get released down the line as archival packages.

Writing to his staff via email, Universal Music CEO Sir Lucian Grainge said, “even though all of the released recordings lost in the fire will live on forever, losing so much archival material is nonetheless painful.”

Although he is “somewhat relieved by early reports from our team that many of the assertions and subsequent speculation are not accurate”, he conceded the way the company had handled the incident was not proper.

“These stories have prompted speculation, and having our artists and songwriters not knowing whether the speculation is accurate is completely unacceptable,” he said.

While the archive burnt down in 2008, Sheryl Crow only found out this year that her masters were destroyed. She said that she was grieving, sad in the knowledge that she would never be able to listen to her masters ever again.

You might be wondering why Universal Music didn’t have backups of the data. Most of it was on tape, which a cumbersome medium to backup. Nevertheless, it’s estimated that the financial cost of the damage to the company is $150 million. And that’s not even accounting for the cultural loss.

That said, they did have some backups. But they broke the crucial backup rule – never store your backups in the same place as your primary data. The reason for this rule is precisely because of what happened: a natural disaster isn’t going to pick favourites, it’s going to destroy all of your data.

They also didn’t have sprinklers in their archives, which is unforgiving. Fires are rare in archive centres, but they can happen – that’s especially true when there are stacks of drives and servers, unlike the static tape in this case.

Universal Music are now being sued by a group of musicians for $100 million. They accuse Universal of breaching its contracts by not protecting the tapes. They want to gain class action status, meaning that other artists can join the case later.

Let this be a lesson to anyone storing backup data. Keep it away from your primary, and ensure the building is well protected against disasters. The financial and reputational damage that data loss can cause is huge.


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