What Is A Discography? Meaning Revealed

Whether you’re a music fan, appreciator, aficionado, musicologist, writer, or even student, the work of specific artists is no doubt an important subject to you.

For example, you can probably easily name three songs by your top three favorite artists. Or you can name your favorite album by them.

This is the essence of a “discography.” But what is a discography exactly? Here we explore the meaning and its origins.

What Is A Discography?

In music, a discography is a collection of works by a specific artist. Sometimes it will also refer to a set of published works by a composer, orchestra, performer, record label, or even a category or genre of releases or a set of releases that were published during a certain timeframe.

In the same way, Quentin Tarantino has written 26 movies to date (like The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained, and Grindhouse), artists, and bands of any note also have a set of releases attributed to them. We’ll be looking at some examples below.

What Information Is Relevant To A Discography?

What Is A Discography? Meaning Revealed

There are no set-in-stone rules, but a discography will usually include the artist's name, the title of their release, and the time of the release.

A discography entry may also include the names of the artists who contributed to the project, the time and place of the recording, chart positions, and sales data.

A discography can be easy to scan, offering just essential data to the reader, or it can be more detailed, offering in-depth insights and relaying stories or experiences to a reader.

The information can vary based on the intention of the discography – how the information will ultimately be used.

Are Discography & Sessionography The Same Thing?

They are not, though, in the jazz world, the two are sometimes synonymous.

While a discography is a catalog of specific works, a sessionography describes musical sessions that took place with specific artists. Effectively, a sessionography is a catalog of recording sessions as opposed to a catalog of published sound recordings.

Discography Examples

Here we’ll explore a few examples of discographies.

Van Halen

With the untimely death of guitarist Eddie Van Halen in October 2020, the band unceremoniously came to an end. Rumors have been flying about a tribute show, which the son of Eddie, Wolfgang, says is quite unlikely.

Van Halen was nevertheless a prolific hard rock band, especially in the 80s. The following studio albums make up their entire studio album discography:

  • Van Halen (1978)
  • Van Halen II (1979)
  • Women and Children First (1980)
  • Fair Warning (1981)
  • Diver Down (1982)
  • 1984 (1984)
  • 5150 (1986)
  • OU812 (1988)
  • For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)
  • Balance (1995)
  • Van Halen III (1998)
  • A Different Kind of Truth (2012)

Drake

Canadian rapper Drake has risen to become one of the most influential artists in pop rap today, thanks to the success of his first three albums in the early 2010s. His success streak since, however, has been just as impressive if not more so.

With the growth of his own record label, OVO Sound, it seems as though every career move has been calculated and engineered to help him achieve even greater plateaus of success. Here’s Drake’s discography so far:

  • Thank Me Later (2010)
  • Take Care (2011)
  • Nothing Was the Same (2013)
  • Views (2016)
  • Scorpion (2018)
  • Certified Lover Boy (2021)
  • Honestly, Nevermind (2022)
  • For All the Dogs (2023)

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa is one of the most prolific rock artists in music history with 62 studio albums to his name.

His music may have been quirky, but he was an intellectual through and through, as evidenced by the interviews he gave. Zappa passed away on December 4, 1993, from prostate cancer, at the age of 52.

We cannot cover his entire discography here, but let’s look at one of his most prolific periods in the 70s:

  • Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1970)
  • Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970)
  • Chunga’s Revenge (1970)
  • Fillmore East (1971)
  • 200 Motels (1971)
  • Just Another Band from L.A. (1972)
  • Waka/Jawaka (1972)
  • The Grand Wazoo (1972)
  • Over-Nite Sensation (1973)
  • Apostrophe (‘) (1974)
  • Roxy & Elsewhere (1974)
  • One Size Fits All (1975)
  • Bongo Fury (1975)
  • Zoot Allures (1976)
  • Zappa in New York (1978)
  • Studio Tan (1978)
  • Sleep Dirt (1979)
  • Sheik Yerbouti (1979)
  • Orchestral Favorites (1979)
  • Joe’s Garage Act I (1979)
  • Joe’s Garage Acts II & III (1979)

How Did The Term “Discography” Come Into Being?

An artist's body of work

The term came into popular use in the 1930s because jazz collectors enjoyed researching when jazz records were created as well as the specific musicians that played on them.

This type of information is readily available today, especially if you own CDs, but streaming services are now providing more information on every song you listen to as well.

Jazz discographies were a favorite among fans of the genre and sometimes became popular published works. Discographies are still relevant and are still published today.

So, as you might expect, the term “discography” refers to “the study of the discs of music.”

Why Is It That Not All Sources Are Consistent?

You may have noticed that, for example, some sources say Frank Zappa released 62 albums, while others say he released 127. And you may have even seen other numbers thrown about. So, how do we know what’s accurate?

In the case of Frank Zappa, he had a huge number of posthumous (meaning after his death) album releases. That’s enough to confuse any musicologist.

But let’s not forget that artists like Tupac Shakur had many posthumous studio albums of his own, between 1997 and 2006. Zappa is not unique in this regard.

There certainly can be other reasons for the inconsistency, however, whether it’s a misattribution, an outdated source, the inclusion of live, bootleg, unofficial, independent, or compilatory releases, or even re-releases, remasters, and “best of” albums.

While it can be a little frustrating for students and historians alike, the lack of consistency can sometimes add to the mystique of artists as well.

Why Do Discographies Matter?

A discography represents an artist’s body of work.

Certainly, an artist may also become known for their live shows and tours, concert DVDs, music videos, merchandise, and other promotional material. But at the end of the day, artists are associated with the music they’ve published.

It’s not merely a matter of who can publish more, either. It’s probably not a mistake that some of the most prolific composers and artists are also some of the best. But then you think of bands like Queen, Boston, or Van Halen and realize some artists only released their best material to the public.

For instance, in working on Thriller, producer Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson are said to have written 30 songs but only released the nine that were deemed the best. It seems their gambit paid off – the album spawned seven hits and became one of the best-selling albums of all time.

An artist without a discography is an artist without anything to show. They may still have a career in music (maybe as a live session player), but that would be a rare artist indeed. Just about anyone who ever amounted to anything in music has a discography.

What Is A Discography In Music? Final Thoughts

What did you discover today? Have you been inspired by a specific artist’s discography? Are there any artists or songs you hope to learn about in more detail? Are you starting to think about creating your own discography?

The more you learn about music, the more fascinating it is. So, keep following that curiosity of yours. You never know where it might lead you next.

P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!

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