Record label/runout coding
This article is about record label/runout coding. For a related article on coding more specific to master recordings and sessionography, see Matrix (record production). For other uses, see Matrix (disambiguation).
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A matrix number is an alphanumeric code (and on occasion, other symbols) stamped or handwritten (or a combination of the two) into the run-out groove area of a phonograph record. This is the non-grooved area between the end of the final band on a record\'s side and the label, also known as the run-off groove area, end-groove area, matrix area, or \"dead wax\".
In the days of 78 rpm records, before recording tape was commonly used (up to approx. 1950), audio recordings were cut directly to disc. The recording studio would assign a number to the song to be recorded, which would become the main part of the matrix number, and several takes would be made, with the take number inscribed in the matrix area. Only one take would be selected for issue in most cases, but there are occasions where alternate takes were issued as well, possibly by accident. Frequently, the record label on an alternate take is identical to the label for the more common take, as it only shows the \"main\" matrix number for the song without the take number.
Alternate takes are of interest to collectors, particularly if the music is jazz. Since jazz is often partially improvised, two takes can contain significant differences, and a comparison of two takes can reveal which portions of the music were pre-determined, and which were improvised or variable. Also, when two takes are released, one is usually much more common than the other, and the less common take can become a valuable record to collectors.
Take numbers on Victor Records can usually be found to the left at the label, i.e. the \"9 o\'clock\" position.
When looking for matrix information on 78 rpm records, care should be taken to examine the label area as well, as some numbers may be coded underneath the label, and are viewable as indentations.
Album matrix numbers are often similar to the catalogue number. For example, a record numbered X-1234 may have a matrix number like A–1234 or X–1234–A on side one, and B–1234 or X–1234–B on side two, as shown on the label. In the run-out area, the latter number could be expressed as X–1234–B7, where 7 is the cut number. In other instances, the matrix numbers may be a separate series of two consecutive numbers such as 55667 and 55668.
Compact discs (CDs) also contain factory codes inscribed near the hub, and these are also called matrix numbers.
Importance to collectors
Matrix numbers are often quoted as evidence that a record is a \"first pressing\", although this term is not used in a consistent manner by collectors. Records can be pressed in multiple batches that are identical, and therefore a group of batches must be regarded as one \"pressing\". Collectors sometimes refer to a \"second pressing\" when a major change takes place, such as a change to the selection or order of songs on an album side, or a not-so-major change such as a different record label design, or correction of a typo on the label text, or minor variation of the cover, such as a change of address for the record company. Or they may refer to a record as a \"second pressing\" if the cut number changes, but the label, cover, and musical content are otherwise identical. A first cut could be a rejected cut, and a cut #2 or later could actually be the one used for the first pressing as issued to the public. Even so, collectible records are often questionably identified as \"first pressing\" based solely on the matrix number marked as cut #1.
If a record is recut for re-issue with a new catalogue number, the cut number will probably start at #1 again. Therefore, a matrix number in itself is not proof of an original pressing, and additional research should be done before declaring a record to be a first pressing.
A greater importance to collectors is where a recut contains an audible difference from previous cuts. Some recuts contain a different take, mix, or edit (length of song) from previous editions. Some recuts are made to re-issue a song with different lyrics as an act of censorship. Even if a censored record is only distributed to radio stations as a promo edition, there could be two versions of the promo: censored and uncensored. Some recuts with altered content have a suffix of \"-RE\" at the end of the inscribed matrix number, but this does not necessarily mean that the non-\"RE\" edition was issued to the public.
In cases where a popular release is issued by a major label that uses more than one factory, so that copies are manufactured in several cities, a factory code in the form of a number, acronym, symbol, or logo found in the run-out area may have importance. These are sometimes quoted when collectible records are offered for sale. Factory codes used by major American labels such as Capitol, Warner Bros., RCA and Mercury have been documented by researchers.
Record collectors have often been amused to find hidden messages inscribed in the run-out area. The vast majority of these are the work of George Peckham, a disc cutting engineer in the UK who possibly cut hundreds of thousands of records for many record companies over several decades from the 1960s onward, and often signed his cuts \"Porky\" or marked them as \"A Porky Prime Cut\". While some of his cuts state only his nickname or motto, others contain a clever or cryptic reference to something mentioned in the lyrics, or something about the recording artist. Some of his inscriptions include a small drawing or cartoon. Most of his cuts can be found on records manufactured in the UK, but his use of messages has been imitated by others, and similar messages can be found in records from various countries. They can even be found on compact discs on occasion.
On the original UK edition of This Year\'s Model (1978), the second album by Elvis Costello, Peckham inscribed a message stating that this is the winning copy of a contest, and anyone finding this message should call the phone number which follows to claim their prize. The prize was a pre-printed signature photo of Elvis Costello which was sent out in limited numbers.
U2\'s Rattle and Hum (1988) features a secret message to the band\'s production manager, Anne Louise Kelly, reading \"We Love You A.L.K.\", but this was the first of several hidden messages referring to her in U2 albums, followed by her name being scrambled to make the name Kiley Sue LaLonne in the booklet of Original Soundtracks 1 (1995) and then on most CD copies of Pop (1997), a message on the playing side of the CD near the matrix numbers reads \"4UALKXXXX\".
Although hidden messages are usually the invention of the disc cutting engineer, there is an instance where a message is believed to have been inserted at the request of the recording artist, on Led Zeppelin\'s single, \"Immigrant Song\", which contains this message on copies made in more than one country: \"Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law\". Not all copies contain this inscription, and copies that do have a higher collector\'s value.
On Emitt Rhodes\' self-titled album, an ornate design surround a \"Recorded at Home\" inscription, as Rhodes recorded the entire album by himself and at his home.