A discography is an organized list of musical recordings with basic information about the recordings, such as the dates they were made and the identities of the performers. The term “discography” is also sometimes used to describe the study of sound recordings. Numerous books contain extensive discographies which pertain to various artists and musical genres, and it is also possible to find standalone examples.
The term is a portmanteau of “disc,” as in the discs used for phonograph records, and “graphy,” a Greek suffix which refers to writing. “Discography” has a precedent in “bibliography,” a listing of books. Any type of sound recording can be covered in a discography, including records, tapes, compact discs, and digital recordings, with the type usually being noted in the margins for the benefit of the reader.
A classic example is a compilation of all of the recordings of a single artist or group, typically arranged chronologically. Having a complete list allows people to see which recordings they are missing, and the list can also be used to highlight rare recordings, or changes in musical stylings. When complete, discographies include everything from B-sides to greatest-hits albums, and compiling a complete version can take a lot of time, especially in the case of a prolific artist or group like The Beatles. Music scholars may also disagree on the contents of some discographies, and scholarly debate can get vicious at times.
In addition to compiling lists of music performed by particular people, it is also possible to create a discography which covers a genre or theme, such as African-American spirituals or music about water. Discographies may also be compiled by composer, which can be useful for people who want to compare and contrast multiple recordings of the same work to see how different musicians and conductors interpret it. For noted composers like Beethoven and Mozart, a discography can quickly become quite intimidating and unwieldy, since so many musicians have recorded performances of their works.
Music biographers almost always include a discography in the index of their works for the reference of readers, as do scholars and historians who write about music, with the discography serving as a list of sources and materials used in the preparation of a text. Bands often publish discographies with their recordings or on their websites for the benefit of fans, and sites which collect and distribute information about music may have a repository of discographies as well.