Acoustic Sounds
By: Michael Fremer

August 10th, 2023


Editor's Choice

Universal Music Group Opens its Iron Mountain Tape Vault And You are Invited!

this video will surely amaze you!

Tracking Angle's exclusive visit to Universal Music Group's Iron Mountain tape vault outside of Pittsburgh includes a tour of Iron Mountain Entertainment Services' facilities. The two companies work together. You'll get to go deep within the former limestone mine where Universal Music Group has one of its worldwide tape storage facilities and see how, with the help of Iron Mountain Entertainment Services, the company catalogues and keeps track of its vast audio and video tape holdings as well as with the associated artwork and images.

Two events precipitated this opportunity. The first, of course was the tragic 2008 Universal Studios Fire that destroyed a large archive of film and video assets as well as parts of the company’s master audio tape holdings.

No one, least of all UMG executives, disputes that a great deal was lost, but, according to the Universal executives with whom I met, far fewer of the audio assets were lost than was reported in, among other places, The New York Times Magazine, which published a detailed, but UMG claims inaccurate story that overstated what had been lost.

I was told that at the time of the fire, a considerable percentage of the master tapes had already been removed from the vaults located on the backlot of Universal Studios atop Universal Mountain and were in the process of being moved to a new, far more secure location so, when the fire broke out much of the holdings were elsewhere. Incidentally, the Blue Note holdings were never in danger. Those tapes were and are stored at another Iron Mountain facility in downtown Los Angeles, formerly a Bekins Moving and Storage depot.

UMG backed up its claims by forwarding eleven displays it had produced showing master tape holdings supposedly destroyed in the fire along with obviously incorrect assertions made in The New York Times Magazine story that I was told the paper refuses to correct. Here they are:

Billie Holiday master tapesThe Mamas and the Papas master tapesLouis Armstrong master tapesNirvana master tapesMuddy Waters master tapesSheryl Crow master tapesJohn Coltrane master tapesEtta James master tapesChuck Berry master tapesTom Petty master tapesObviously, Universal is still in public relations recovery mode related to both the fire itself and to The New York Times claims they hope these displays published here help to refute. Those of us following recent Analogue Productions Buddy Holly reissues and the many that are part of the Verve/Acoustic Sounds reissue series already know that tapes supposedly lost in the fire weren’t and that in other cases one off the master copies sent overseas and to other locations—including UMG’s Berlin tape storage facilities, previously in Hanover Germany, where I visited in 2003 ago—have been retrieved and sound as good as the masters—and in some cases better because they sat in the vaults unused or little used.

Universal's now closed Hanover, Germany facility

Now Closed Emil Berliner Studios in Hanover

The second event that helped make possible this difficult to arrange trip was the adventure I had a few years ago when I was contacted by a woman in Lake Oswego, Oregon outside of Portland, whose husband ran the GRT label’s tape duplication operations. At one point GRT had purchased the Chess Records catalog. When she called to say she had a storage space filled with tapes that she wished to sell, well visions of Muddy, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf and much more danced through my head.

I flew out and examined the tapes. That video is on my previous endeavor’s YouTube channel, and frankly I think I’m entitled to publish it here as well and just might. There were only a few Chess titles, but a great deal more that was of interest to UMG so I contacted people I knew there and they arranged for me to fly back again and participate in a video showing the tapes and including an interview with the woman, who has her own fascinating story that included her being a clown at The White House, entertaining Carter and Reagan, and being a jazz fan befriending Count Basie and the Orchestra and having band members over to her home. She was also a professional photographer and so had a treasure trove of images. I’ve not seen the footage but I hope UMG does something with it soon!

Through that I met a number of UMG executives and over time we hatched a plan for me to visit Iron Mountain. The visit also includes a ride through other parts of the labyrinthian, underground facility where governmental agencies we can't identify also store data, safe from natural environmental damage as well as from acts of war. You'll see the process by which a licensee gets selected assets for a music album reissue, whether it's the tape for an all-analog reissue or a digital file for a digitally sourced reissue.

You'll see the action from finding the tapes in the vast facility to cataloguing and preparing them for reissue. The visit was like going onto a science fiction movie set, only this was real! For most people this will be a first and only opportunity to see the facility in this almost two-hour long presentation.

Tracking Angle thanks Universal Music Group, Iron Mountain and Iron Mountain Entertainment Services for allowing us into the usually off-limit facility and for everyone's hospitality and cooperation. It was an experience I'll never forget!


  • 2023-08-13 04:41:37 PM

    Gary Faulkenberry wrote:

    An outstanding video and well worth the wait!

  • 2023-08-13 05:03:00 PM

    George DeCario wrote:

    Thank you, Michael, for all the hard work in making this video happen. It was a pleasure to experience, and I shared in your amazement as you navigated those seemingly endless corridors! I can only imagine what it would have been like to actually be there, but this certainly was the next best thing! Equally as interesting, was the written lead-in, concerning the discrepancies between the NYT Magazine piece on the fire and what Iron Mountain "assets" exist today. Hope that a follow-up might be in the works. Again, many thanks for your work!

  • 2023-08-14 03:48:56 PM

    Jim Shue wrote:

    Michael, this is the reason why I visit TrackingAngle daily - excellent write up and video! Thanks for all you do and your efforts to keep the analog and vinyl flame lit during the decades of digital darkness.

  • 2023-08-26 11:33:19 PM

    JuzDisGuy wrote:

    Great video - you da man Michael!

  • 2023-08-30 04:04:16 PM

    Jeff Turk wrote:

    Great article and video Mike. While the fire was tragic, I am relieved that what was lost was exaggerated. So happy to see the "James Bond" level of security and scrutiny at Iron Mountain, that protects these treasures!