August 2016 | Volume XXXIV. Issue 4 »

Dear Elsie

August 1, 2016

Will RDA affect main entry for recordings of popular music, jazz, and similar genres? Some of my colleagues think
we can no longer enter these under performer unless the performer also composed all the music on the recording.

Restless in Rantoul

Dear Restless,

Your colleagues are right. There was some uncertainty on this point when RDA was first published and adopted, but the Music Library Association’s (MLA) Best Practices for Music Cataloging using RDA and MARC21 (Version 1.0 published in February 2014, now incorporated into the RDA Toolkit) has clarified that AACR2’s broad interpretation of the role of performers of “music in the popular idiom,” which had allowed recordings of such music to be entered under performer, would not be carried over in RDA.

This interpretation of RDA, “Basic Instructions on Recording Creators—Scope,” says, “Persons and families who are performers may only be considered creators if they composed the work they perform or … are responsible for modifying a previously existing work in a way that substantially changes the nature or content of the original and results in a new work.” Further, RDA under, “Corporate Bodies Considered to Be Creators,” has a category e for performing groups whose language resembles that of AACR2 21.23D1: “… where the responsibility of the group goes beyond that of mere performance, execution, etc.” In MLA’s interpretation, a corporate body as performer may be treated as a creator under only two conditions:

1) the group performs a work entirely by means of improvisation or

2) it has been determined that a work has been composed or adapted … by the group (e.g., when an original work is credited to the group on the resource).

Therefore, for most recordings of popular music, jazz, country music, and the like, the authorized access point 

will be the composer (person, family, or corporate body) if the entire work was created by that composer (for a recording composed of separate compositions, this means all the compositions); otherwise, the authorized access point will be title. The performer or performers, unless determined to be creators, will be represented by variant access points.
(Elsie, too, finds it difficult not to speak in terms of main and added entries, but recommends getting accustomed
to RDA’s terminology.)


Why such a rigid interpretation, when a way was found in AACR2 to justify collocating these recordings by performer, as most of the non-library world does? Elsie believes it is because the distinction between work and expression is much more explicit and much more fundamental in RDA than in previous cataloging codes. A performance of a song, unless it so radically changes the tune and words as to make it in effect a different song, is by definition an expression; and the choice of an authorized access point is made at the work, not the expression, level.

Elsie is well aware, and has voiced the observation more than once, that this logic leads to a different arrangement of popular music recordings than most of the world is accustomed to. This need not affect physical arrangement or shelf-list browsing: nothing in RDA or in MLA’s Best Practices forbids us to construct call numbers so as to arrange popular recordings by performer. Display in the catalog is another matter, though defenders of RDA’s and MLA’s instructions point out that catalog users can access a performer’s recordings by searching for the performer, and that the distinction between authorized and variant access points for works is becoming less important in the library and information world.

Bibliographically yours,

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