How to Identify Labels

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The simple cases

Before the massive mergers that occurred in the music industry during the last part of the 20th century, and for most labels, the situation was pretty simple: a single company would issue releases "using" a single imprint (its trademark, or logo).

A 1959 vinyl example

Cecil Taylor, Looking Ahead

On the front cover, the imprint name is featured on the top right hand ("Contemporary Records"), alongside the catalog number ("S7562"):

  • looking1.jpg

On the back sleeve, you can find the company name (at the bottom):

  • looking2.jpg

The imprint name is also featured prominently on the inner sticker of the vinyl (this is actually "the imprint"):

  • looking3.jpg

Note the full company name (Contemporary Records, INC) is slightly different from the imprint name (Contemporary Records, which you should use here).

A 1995 CD example

John Zorn, First Recordings 1973

Here also it's pretty straight forward. The label name appears both on the obi strip (along with the barcode)

  • firstrec1.jpg

And also on the bottom of the back sleeve

  • firstrec2.jpg

The catalog number appears on the side of the box (TZ 7304).

Note that in a lot of cases, you'll find the imprint on the cd itself as well, or on the side of the box.

Don't get fooled by the company name holding the imprint

At some point, though, the de-correlation between companies and imprints went on, quickly moving toward a situation where in a lot of cases:

  • a company has an entirely different name than the imprint it controls (possibly, it bought the remains of the bankrupted previous owner of the trademark)
  • a given company controls (several) different imprints (that it either created or bought) with different names, as to issue different kind of stuff / geared toward different public)

The relevant part, which you should use in release events, is still the imprint!

Here, a relatively straight-forward case: the Emarcy company was long deceased in 1991 - though its imprint was owned by Polygram (eg: Polygram bought the rights to use the "Emarcy" trademark as a label, and to issue under that name).

Eric Dolphy Last Date (from 1991)

  • lastdate.jpg

Note that this one is relatively easy (the "Polygram" name is quite discreet - though obviously the copyright owner and producer of the release), while the Emarcy logo is the one featured, and is indicated on the side of the box. Some cases are a bit more complicated. Nevertheless, again here the correct label to use is the imprint, Emarcy.

On the other hand, be careful that in some cases a company owning a specific imprint, along with the right to issue the catalog of the former owner, may do so using a new (different) imprint while still reproducing the original imprint logo as well as to indicate the origin of the stuff! Such cases might prove a little more complicated and should be handled on a case by case basis (see the OJC example below).

Don't get fooled by the manufacturer or the distributor

The music business getting more complex and globalized, the making of releases also became more complicated and began involving more than the company producing the release (usually at least an additional manufacturer and a distributor), and a (somewhat) recent trend pushed to a state where these companies would also print their own logos on the sleeves, alongside the producing label logo.

Right now, we don't care at all about manufacturers - and almost neither about distributors (at least, newcomers editors are heavily discouraged to dabble with distributors editing), so, the right choice is the label producing the release.

Usually, you can identify the record company by taking a look at the producing ((p)) or copyright ((c)) mention. Then you can probably identify the imprint name from that.

The LabelCode may also be a very helpful piece of information in identifying the correct label.

Here, Tom Waits Mule Variations, a release by the Anti label (distributed and manufactured in Europe by Epitaph) (Anti has LabelCode 02576).

  • mule-variations.jpg

Obviously, CD can very well feature a number of random logos (distributor, manufacturer, holding company, artist manager company), and sorting these may turn out more complicated than above.

Still, using the LabelCode, the copyright/produced mentions, eliminating these mentioned in the "distributed/manufactured" and the holding company usually proves efficient to sort the ins and out.

The completely awkward cases

In some cases, you really call for troubles. If you experience difficulties, your best shot is probably to ping one of the subscribers for the artist/label concerned, upload a sleeve scan and ask him/her for help.

Here is such an interesting case, in its full insane glory...

  • latinjazz.jpg

How to proceed?

The easy part:

  • ignore ZYX as the manufacturer
  • ignore the distributors

That leaves us with Fantasy (credited as producing the release), Prestige, Original Jazz Classics, LC 0313 and catalog number OJCCD-819-2.

Now you need to dig the history books. Though Fantasy (which is also an imprint!) is credited as (c), a little research will reveal that the Fantasy company were actually using Original Jazz Classics as an imprint to reissue stuff they owned from defunct labels, including Prestige. Though the label code used here is the one of Prestige, they insisted on using the OJC imprint with its own catalog scheme (typical OJCXX-XXXX) (while still featuring the imprint (and here label code!) of the original label), while later on during their history they reversed that trend and discarded the OJC line to come back to reusing the original imprint names...

A quick look in the database at the Original Jazz Classics entry will show you (a lot) more of these.

Either Prestige or OJC would fit here, and the choice is somewhat an arbitrary one, though, and based on Fantasy history, and following a number of other (serious) discographic resources, it was decided to use OJC for these.

Note that, on the other hand, the Japanese reprint of that stuff that Fantasy allowed Victor to put out was using solely the Prestige logo (making it technically a Prestige release)!

When to use a company name instead of an imprint in MusicBrainz?

Again, in 99% of the cases, you should only use imprints in release events, and most editors will only need to use/create imprints.

Using as labels companies that are not also imprints is quite rare and should be reserved to these editors who are willing to do ground-work on structuring imprints and injecting a sense of history into them (especially useful for old labels that went through many different historical phases). Such editing usually requires that you have a lot of specific knowledge about the history of the peoples and companies that made the imprints, and that you have a good judgment to achieve a decent balance between accurate and complete information, while still keeping the hierarchy in a simple state enough to make it useful (in helping structure the imprints list) and avoid the cluttering temptation of off-topic data (financial or economical details that are not directly relevant, etc).

Remember that the provision made to be able to use companies labels was only meant to help organizing and relating imprints, not to make things more confusing / complicated for newcomers.

What online databases shall I use to find labels info about releases?

None! :-)

Unless you have some serious knowledge about the release you're editing and/or the given label, it's very unlikely that you will achieve any decent result by just sourcing a random online database, which are just like everybody else: completely lost! Most times you'll find out that online store X randomly uses the distributor/manufacturer name, duplicates entries with the same UPC but different labels, shortens the labels names, mash-up the producing/distributing labels names, etc.

The only serious source is the release sleeve!

But, I mean, are they so bad?

A short and subjective review:

  • Amazon: is just horrible. Please don't use it to source label names...
  • Barnes and Noble: from average to decent, though still wrong quite sometimes
  • ciao: random
  • cduniverse: random
  • hbdirect: one of the most serious. Their data is usually very decent
  • ebay: good as long as you can peek at the sleeve, bad otherwise
  • priceminister: good as long as you can peek at the sleeve, bad otherwise
  • discogs: from average to good, though they have a different (sometimes incompatible) label organization than us, and also have their share of defects
  • All Music Guide: avoid...
  • Wikipedia: somewhat decent, though they really have very little data and often confuse/don't care about editions...
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