Item Details

The record and its label: Identifying, marketing, dividing, collecting

Issue: Vol 2 No. 3 (2007) PMH 2.3

Journal: Popular Music History

Subject Areas: Popular Music

DOI: 10.1558/pomh.v2i3.263


The paper record label, invented by Eldridge Johnson in the early 1900s, affected the fortunes and status of the analogue disc. On the one hand, it transformed it into a marketable product. On the other, using Walter Benjamin’s term, it helped to restore ‘aura’ to this mass-produced good. The clearest outcome of labelling lies in the fact that the term ‘record label’ soon became a synonym for ‘record company’. The label helped to brand both record and company but in so doing it altered the nature of their relationship. This article traces the manufacturing company’s domination over all other contributors listed on the paper label. It also outlines the consequences and compromises that have resulted from making such bold claims over the contents of the disc. Beyond its merely informative tasks, the record label was first used to develop associations between the manufacturing company and its recorded output, a process that soon grew complicated. Later it was employed to highlight the difference between classical and popular music. It was then used to create further sub-divisions, such as those which arose in the US market between ‘popular’, ‘race’, and ‘hillbilly’ musics. Such divisions were crucial in fostering the practice of record collecting. The generic label was an essential guide to, and indicator of, the record collector’s hobby. Nevertheless, collectors soon went further than record companies had planned. In order to establish the authenticity of their discs, record collectors explored each aspect and alteration of the record label. A practice that helped to individualize each duplicated disc.

Author: Richard Osborne

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