So you have finally decided to set up the record label that you have long dreamt about. You have been into the studio and recorded your musical masterpiece and have designed a CD album cover that is surely going to be regarded as a seminal crossroads in design.
So with your master and artwork signed off you pop in to your local CD manufacturing company and one of the first things they ask you is if you have a “Catalogue Number” or “Cat Number”, a what number you ask? So what you want to know is what is a Catalogue / Cat number, what does it do and how do I get one.
Well a Catalogue Number is not that mysterious really, it is just a shortened way of describing a particular product. So imagine you are in a a band called “The Scratching Dogs” and your album is called “Flea The Scene” on a record label called “One Paw In The Air”, and you phone up your CD Pressing company to ask about the progress of the order, however by the time we type all of that info into the tracking system to get an update, the job will probably be delivered! So from a CD manufacturers perspective it would be handy to have an abbreviated version of all the above information that can be quickly typed into the system.
If you have ever been to Argos or used a mail order catalogue company you will have noticed that if for instance you want to buy a watch you don’t fill out the order form with “Casio LCD Gents TV Remote Control Watch”, instead you will have a set of numbers that are underneath the product description that you use on the order from, such as “254/5642”. This is a catalogue number, it is just a product number to make filling out the order form quicker and easier.
You don’t have to apply to any organisation to get a catalogue number, you can make this up, it entirely up to you what you use. Generally for Vinyl records and CD pressings a catalogue number will consist of a few letters to describe the record label, and every release will have a particular number assigned to it .So if Pure Music Manufacturing where to set-up a record label, we might use PMM as the first part of our catalogue number, so PMM001 would be the full catalogue number for our first release, PMM002 for our second release and PMM003 for the 3rd. Or we might use PURE001, PURE002 and PURE003.
Some record labels will add on some additional information to the catalogue number to help identify the type of product. For example, if we had a CD,Vinyl and DVD version of the same album we might have a cat number for the CD album of “PURECD101″, for the vinyl version “PURELP101″ and “PUREDVD101″ for the DVD release.
One of the record labels that was best known for it’s use of catalogue numbers was Manchester’s legendary Factory Records, who always used FAC as the beginning part of the catalogue number . They used catalogue numbers for everything and not just the records and CD’s they released. New Orders “Blue Monday”, the biggest selling 12″ record of all time, was given the Catalogue Number of FAC73, the Haçienda night club was given FAC51, the Haçiendas cat was given FAC 191 and the last ever Factory Records catalogue number was given to Tony Wilson’s coffin, FAC501.
In the above examples we have used three and four letter acronyms followed by 3 numbers, but although common, you don’t have to follow this tradition, you use more letters, start at whatever number you want. It can be anything you want. Of all the jobs I have ever dealt with, one of Cat numbers that sticks in my head was WE8U2, it tickled me anyway. Some of the larger record labels have gone down the road of using the last 5 or 6 digits of the barcode number as the catalogue number, and although possibly practical, it is incredibly dull, and it doesn’t slip off the tongue that easily.
One thing that will make everyone’s life a little easier is if you place the catalogue number on the artwork, particularly on the spine of the packaging if your product has a spine. Some people also have the cat number on the label as well, but that is not really necessary.
So that’s it, the mysterious catalogue / cat number is really not that mysterious after all.