How to Identify Labels

Have you ever looked at a release and wondered 'which of these companies/logos is the label?' This how-to guide explains the difference between record companies and labels (imprints), how to identify them, and walks through some examples. It mainly focuses on physical releases.

For other label-related pages please see additional information.

What is a label?

A label is a record company's 'imprint' (its trademark or logo), that it uses to release music. Generally speaking, 'Label' and 'imprint' means the same thing - but in MusicBrainz we sometimes also create label entities for companies. Because of this, in this guide we will sometimes use the term 'imprint' instead of 'label'.

For more information on these entities see the Label page.

Should I use the company name or the imprint for the label?

In most cases you should only use imprints, particularly in the label field. Most editors will only need to use/create imprint label entities in MusicBrainz.

When needed, companies that aren't also imprints (for instance, a holding company that owns various imprints) can be added as labels. The reason for doing this is usually to represent the history and relationships between imprints in a meaningful way, or to use the manufacturing and distribution relationships. Note that there is no need to "de-duplicate" companies from imprints when their names are very similar.

Simple cases

Sometimes the situation is simple: a single company has issued a release through a single imprint (its trademark or logo). The name of the record company and the imprint it uses may be identical, but not always.

1959 vinyl example

Cecil Taylor, Looking Ahead!

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

  • looking1.jpg

On the back sleeve, bottom, the company name is printed ("Contemporary Records, Inc."):

  • looking2.jpg

On the medium the imprint name is printed ("Contemporary Records") prominently:

  • looking3.jpg

We have identified the imprint name (Contemporary Records), which we will use. The full company name is slightly different (Contemporary Records, Inc), and we can ignore it for label-related fields and purposes.

1995 CD example

John Zorn, First Recordings 1973

On the obi strip the imprint is printed ("Tzadik"):

  • firstrec1.jpg

On the back sleeve, bottom, the imprint name is printed ("Tzadik"):

  • firstrec2.jpg

At the bottom, next to the copyright, the company name is also printed ("Tzadik"). It is the same as the imprint.

In a lot of cases you'll also find the imprint on the cd and/or the spine.

We have identified the imprint name (Tzadik), which we will use. The full company name is the same, and we can ignore it.

Complex cases

Sometimes the situation is complex, and:

  • a company has a different name to the imprint it controls
  • a company controls several different imprints with different names.

These situations are often the result of mergers/label purchases, or when a larger company wants to create different labels for different markets/genres.

1991 CD example

Eric Dolphy, Last Date

On the back cover, top right, the imprint logo is printed ("Emarcy"), as well as the imprint name on the spine. On the bottom left, next to the copyright, the company name is printed ("PolyGram"):

  • lastdate.jpg

This example is relatively straight-forward: The Emarcy company ended in 1991, after which PolyGram bought the rights to its imprint. The PolyGram text is discreet, while the Emarcy logo is featured prominently, and is indicated on the spine as well. The correct label to use is the imprint, Emarcy.

1999 CD example

Tom Waits, Mule Variations

On the back cover, bottom, the logo and text of both the imprint and the company are printed:

  • mule-variations.jpg

Note also the label code, above the barcode.

This example is more complicated: It follows a trend where the production of releases has become more complicated, and involves more companies, leading manufacturers and distributors to start including their logos as well. For the purposes of this guide we want to ignore these, and identify the label producing the release.

Usually we can identify the company by looking at the production (p) and/or copyright (c) credit. In this case that text credits "Anti, Inc." Next to it we can read "Manufactured and distributed by Epitaph Europe". From this we can reasonably assume that Anti is the imprint (label) of Anti, Inc., while the Epitaph logo belongs to the manufacturer/distributor. We ignore the manufacturers and distributors, so we can use Anti as the label here.

If you are still unsure, this release gives us another very useful piece of information, the label code. Anti has the label code 02576, printed above the barcode, so we can definitively say that it is the main imprint for this release.

Careful: A company that owns an specific imprint, may reissue a release so using a new (different) imprint while still reproducing the original imprint logo, to indicate the origin of the release. This can be complicated and should be handled on a case by case basis (see the OJC example below).

Incredible cases

In situations like the following, don't be afraid to ask the community or subscribers to labels for help.

1994 CD example

The Latin Jazz Quintet + Eric Dolphy, Caribé

Everything is printed everywhere:

How to proceed?

The easy part, we can:

  • ignore ZYX as the manufacturer (see text printed at the very bottom)
  • ignore the distributors (the bottom row logos, with regions printed above them).

That leaves us with (c) Fantasy, Prestige, Original Jazz Classics, and LC 0313 and catalog number OJCCD-819-2.

For this one we need to dig into the history books. Though Fantasy (which is also an imprint) is credited as (c), research reveals that the Fantasy company used the Original Jazz Classics imprint to reissue music they owned from defunct companies, including Prestige and the Prestige imprint. Confusingly, the label code used here is for Prestige, but Fantasy has used the OJC imprint with its own catalog scheme (typical OJCXX-XXXX) on the spine. You can explore the Original Jazz Classics label in MusicBrainz to see a lot more of these types of releases - later on Fantasy would discard the OJC line and just reuse the original imprints instead.

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

Interestingly, Japanese reissues that Fantasy allowed Victor to release only used the Prestige logo, making them Prestige releases.

Other databases

The only serious source for label information is the release sleeve.

Online stores/databases inconsistently use the distributor/manufacturer/label/imprint name, abbreviates names, duplicates entries, and so on. Proceed with caution and use your best judgement when using other sources as references.

A short list of common sources:

  • All Music Guide: Bad
  • Amazon: Very bad
  • Barnes and Noble: Mixed
  • CD Universe: Mixed
  • ciao: Mixed
  • Discogs: Okay, but be aware that they have some differing label/imprint guidelines to MusicBrainz
  • ebay: Bad, unless you are looking at sleeve scans/photos
  • HB Direct: Good
  • Rakuten: Bad, unless you are looking at sleeve scans/photos
  • Wikipedia: Mixed, often grouping different releases/editions

Additional information

How-To Pages
Introductory Guides
Basic How-Tos
Specific How-Tos