Calgary’s bid to be viewed as a real Music City took a huge leap forward yesterday. At a media event clearly timed to coincide with Juno Week in the city, the University of Calgary announced that Universal Music Canada (UMC) has donated the archive of EMI Music Canada to the university’s Libraries and Cultural Resources. The University of Calgary has also partnered with the National Music Centre (NMC), which played a leading role in bringing this archive to the city by connecting UMC with the university.
The result of the donation is that the university (and city) now has a real treasure trove of material guaranteed to attract real public, not just academic, interest.
The size of the collection is certainly impressive. A press release from the University of Calgary notes that “the collection consists of 5,500 boxes containing more than 18,000 video recordings, 21,000 audio recordings and more than two million documents and photographs. The archive includes master recordings, publicity photos, demo tapes, album cover art, creative outlines for music videos, marketing plans, awards, drafts of song lyrics and correspondence between artists, producers, engineers and EMI Music Canada executives.”
Universal Music Canada acquired the archive when Universal Music Group purchased EMI Music in 2012. Now, thanks to this gift, the music label that has represented top Canadian artists for more than 50 years will soon have its files and recordings open to the public.
Jeffrey Remedios, president and CEO of Universal Music Canada, told FYI that “Universal Music Canada is privileged to make this gift of the EMI Music Canada archive to the University of Calgary. These assets represent the heart and soul of music and culture in Canada, spanning more than a half-century, now available in unprecedented detail to students, researchers, recording arts professionals, and music fans.”
UMC’s contribution goes beyond the donation of the collection. In an interview with FYI just a few hours after the announcement, University of Calgary Vice-Provost Tom Hickerson explained that “UMC has made a substantial financial commitment to the University over the next few years that will certainly assist us in this work. One of the remarkable things I recognized very quickly was that Universal very much wanted to find a great home for the collection and were very much committed to this being a contribution to Canadian heritage.”
As head of Libraries and Cultural Resources, Hickerson is the man in charge of the archive, a task he is clearly enjoying immensely.
He explains that the university’s acquisition of the EMI archive “has been in the works for two years, and especially from when I visited Toronto in 2014. That is when we got seriously involved in these discussions, after Andrew Mosker from the National Music Centre provided the initial contact. It has been a real challenge to keep it secret, and I’m amazed we did.”
Hickerson spoke at the media event, as did Deane Cameron, long-time head of EMI Music Canada. The Canadian music icon rumoured to appear turned out to be Cameron’s close friend Tom Cochrane. Hickerson notes that the pair spoke eloquently, “looking back on everything they’ve done in their lives. For Deane especially, it was a poignant moment. In many ways this was a salute to him and it is a tremendous opportunity for him, for his records are being maintained and preserved and will be available for the next generation."
Also speaking at the event were Mosker, Elizabeth Cannon, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary, Lois Mitchell, Alberta's lieutenant-governor, and Jeffrey Remedios.
Hickerson told FYI that the University currently has just one-tenth of the collection, and that moving the archive from Toronto to the U of Calgary will be a lengthy process, The sheer size of it is indeed impressive, as he notes: “An archivist colleague figured out from the size of the boxes that if you lined them up one to one they would go for 1.7 kms. Imagine driving home along the highway and seeing a line of boxes that long!
Fortunately I was involved here in building a new library that opened five years ago, including a high-density storage library facility, so this came at the right time in our history to physically deal with the collection. We don’t expect to ever acquire a single collection this large again!”
There will be technical challenges with the archive, Hickerson says. “We know already that there are 40 different audio formats represented in the collection, and some of those may be hard to find a way to play. There are eight principal recording formats we’ve been able to identify sofar.
“EMI did have an inventory for the collection at the box level and that is general in nature. We do have a good sense of what we have there though.”
Hickerson already made one fascinating discovery in the collection. “There was a master tape for The Beatles album Rubber Soul, and I happened to recognized that it had ‘Drive My Car' on it. The most widely distributed version of that album did not include that song. We also have two small DAT tapes of The Beatles on the BBC from their early days. While it has a tremendous Canadian composition, this really is a world collection.”
The University has pledged to make the archive available to the public, Hickerson explains. “That was our intent from the first as we knew we were acquiring a collection that had huge public interest, beyond the classroom and academic research. Among our challenges is to responsibly, in terms of copyright, be able to promote the collection as a public asset. When I say public, the public for this is worldwide.”
In an interview with FYI yesterday, NMC head Andrew Mosker revealed that he was a key player in UMC’s donation to the University of Calgary. “Back in 2014 I was invited by Randy Lennox to Universal to do a presentation about the NMC and Studio Bell. One question the Universal team asked was about the archive they had as the result of taking over EMI and that needed a home. ‘Is this something you’d be interested in?,’ they asked, and I replied ‘absolutely. How large is it?' When I heard 5500 bankers boxes, my initial reaction was that we didnt have the capacity to look after a collection of that size plus we were in the middle of building Studio Bell. But I looked at the opportunity and said ‘I know someone who might be interested. Leave it with me.’”
Mosker decided to contact his alta mater, the University of Calgary, and that got the ball rolling. “I called Elizabeth Cannon who put me in touch with Tom Nickerson. He championed it with the university and they said yes.”
The potential benefits of the donation for NMC are huge, Mosker explains. “The archive donation is a tremendous gift to both the University and the city on many levels. What is really important is that it helps the National Music Centre to build the city we’re based in as a music city. Studio Bell, home of the NMC, is certainly one asset, the local music scene is another, and this tremendous piece of Canadian music history that will now reside in our backyard in Calgary is another. It gives the NMC an opportunity to really showcase this collection in collaboration with the University of Calgary.
“Elements of this collection can be developed into exhibitions we can put on display at Studio Bell. For instance, we could build a speakers series about the evolution of the Canadian music business, artist perspectives on working in the business, and the lessons learned within the EMI Music catalogue. I think there is a rich opportunity to use this archive in conjunction with the university and programming at Studio Bell. This is a great day for preserving and celebrating the history of music in Canada.”
Deane Cameron was thrilled to be part of the announcement ceremony, he told FYI. “It was very emotional and a poignant moment, not just from an EMI point of view, though that was the focus, but being there with Tom [Cochrane]. He and I go back to high school. It was interesting and sweet to be part of this today.”
He credits the fact that the archive was so complete and well maintained to the label’s corporate culture. “Being trained in the EMI British way, we were taught to archive things properly. With the digital era upon us, we were all given budgets to start transferring our analog catalogues to digital. EMI Canada was happy to oblige there, so we did a lot of preparatory work. When we moved from American Drive to Liberty Village [in Toronto], that really caused us to say ‘either we archive things or we have to throw them out.’ As you can see, we didn’t throw much out!”
“To be honest, from us being up for sale for some years, I had enough of a heads up to know that one day we were going to be sold. We knew something was coming so we took that as a great opportunity to make sure that all the material was properly archived and put away. It is very satisfying and I can’t thank Universal enough for taking it over and treating it well. For them in partnership with Studio Bell to give it to the University is nothing but thrilling.”
Cameron recalls that “When EMI was sold one of the first things I talked to Randy Lennox about was that we had this archive ready to donate. I think it was around 18 months later that the University of Calgary opportunity came up.”
He notes that the collection does include “some rare things that ended up in Canada. There is also a full archive of operating masters because we were always involved with the manufacturing.
“What is very international is all the marketing materials and paperwork and things that showed how EMI was part of an international marketing team. Canada is about the seventh or eighth biggest market in the global music industry so it is an important market for there to be any kind of archive from. There is plenty to tap into there.”