Lost Tapes From Major Musicians Are Out There. These Guys Find Them.

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In late 2020, Brian Kehew was working at the venerable Hollywood studio Sunset Sound when the owner asked him to help identify some tapes the Who had left behind. It was not an unusual request for Kehew, who has done tape transfers and mixes on hundreds of archival recording projects over the last 30 years, and serves as a tech and sometime backing musician for the band. He expected to find some overdubs or a safety copy of a master, nothing particularly important.

When he got his hands on the reels, he was shocked: The studio was sitting on all the original two-inch multitracks of the group’s 1975 album, “The Who by Numbers,” as well as previously unreleased songs from those sessions.

“I immediately contacted Pete Townshend, and we arranged to send the tapes back to England,” Kehew, a blond-haired Southern California native, said in a recent interview at his North Hollywood studio, which was lined with rare, vintage and obsolete tape machines. “The band had been looking for the tapes for years, but this was one place they hadn’t thought to check.”

For Kehew, a producer of Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine” and an expert on both the Beatles and Moog synthesizers, the recovery of the Who recordings underscored the fact that significant tapes “might be sitting in someone’s attic or barn or basement” and not where they belong, in a record company vault or an artist’s archive. “The obstacle to getting these tapes back in the right hands has always been the time and effort involved,” he said. “But what if there was a facile way to connect everyone that doesn’t involve a lot of hassle or red tape?”

The answer may be Master Tape Rescue, a company recently started by Kehew and his partner, Danny White, a fellow music industry veteran. The company acts as an archival matchmaking service of sorts, cataloging recordings from studios or private collections and then vetting and connecting rights holders with tape holders.

Shelves of recordings in an archive room above Sunset Sound, a studio in Los Angeles.Credit…Tag Christof for The New York Times

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