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Motown 45 Numbering - Ain't That The Truth!

Motown 45 Numbering - Ain't That The Truth! magazine cover

An article Steve Armitage, and I, wrote in 1993 ... explaining the number system

Ain't That The Truth!

The Motown DM Master System

By Steve Armitage & Andy Rix Acknowledgements To Ron Murphy (Detroit)

Have you ever wondered what the letters and figures on your Motown 45's stand for? Obviously there is the issue number (e.g. Motown 1056), but there are also other numbers, different on every side of every record.

Examples might look like this:-

DM 003222 / DM-V 038221 / DM-J 084103
DM-WLB 098112 / DM-BLL 134324

Gradually, by late 1965 the DM is dropped, leaving the number/letter sequence like this:-

HLI 192313

If by now you're wondering "why do I care?" - Then as an avid collector, you might be interested in exactly how much music remains to be unearthed from the Motown vaults. You will be staggered!

D.M. stands for Duplicate Master. As tracks were mixed down from original session tapes (not part of the D.M. series) and saved for issue (or rejection) Motown needed a method of filing and retrieving it's mixed tapes.

During 1962 a series of letters were also added to the D.M. system. As listed in issue 7, these letters relate to the producer of the tracks in question. Later on further letters were added to the master number and these relate to the control room engineer who worked on the mixing session and the mixer (often the producer). In some instances the same letter is repeated within the master number and this indicates that the same person was responsible for more than one of these functions. Let us take some examples of this:-

DM WLL-115307: The Temptations - "It's Growing"

This track was produced by Smokey Robinson, which is represented by the letter "W", and was engineered and mixed by L. T. Horn, whose code was represented by the letter "L".

It is to be found on Duplicate Master tape 115. The tape is on 10 1/2 inch reel which contains some 3600 feet of 1/2  inch tape. Recorded at 7 1/2 inches per second, it will hold up to 95 minutes of music. There are three tracks on the tape (known as 3-track multitrack tape). Let us assume that between 20 and 30 songs of 2 to 3 minutes (Motown rarely used longer!) can be recorded per track. Simply each D.M. tape will contain some 60-90 tracks. The song "It's Growing" by The Temptations is to be found as follows:-

TAPE 115       TRACK 3         SONG 07 (On The Track)

Another example that illustrates where a different mixer and studio engineer were used is:-

WIL-179312: Marvin Gaye - "One More Heartache"

Again produced by Smokey Robinson and mixed by the same person who was responsible for the mixing of "It's Growing" by The Temptations (L. T. Horn), this track was however engineered by a different person, who is represented by the letter "I".

It is interesting to note however that whilst Motown continued using this type of prefix through until the early Seventies, the codes were used for different producers during different periods of time. Examples of this can be traced to recordings using the letter "V" as the producer prefix. This letter represents the studio work of Brian Holland on recordings that were made up to 1968, whilst this same letter was also used for the studio work by Mike Valvano in the 1970's.

Now comes the fun. By the middle of 1966 some 214 of these Duplicate Master tapes had been registered. 214 multiplied by an average of a conservative 60 songs equals a staggering 12840 songs! Motown issued around 1200 separate tracks in the same period. So now we might have a 10-1 ratio of tracks 'In The Can'. Obviously this figure includes several mixes of each song, but our guess is that at least two titles are in the vault for each one known on disc. This is born out by the fact that the Jobete catalogue has a ratio of 70% of unissued titles.

At some point during 1966 Motown changed its recording procedures with the introduction of  1 /4" twin channel (left and right) tapes for mixing sessions, following the demise of 3-track multitrack use. These recorded at 15" per second and held between 10 and 14 songs, dependent on length of the recordings. This series of duplicate masters began with D.M. 215  and was continued through until 1973, following Motown's re-location on the West Coast, with D.M. 1019 being the final tape registered - a total  of 804 different tape reels.

An example from this series is:-

H-XK-V-240M05: The Supremes - "You Keep Me Hangin' On".

This is to be found on duplicate master 240. It was mixed in mono (represented by the letter "M") and is the fifth track on this tape (05). The track was produced by Brian Holland & Lamont Dozier (H).

Another example is:-

F-I-I-505S02:  Tammi Terrell - "Just Too Much To Hope For".

This track was mixed from the original session tape onto Duplicate Master 505, and was mixed in stereo, which is represented by the letter "S'', and this is the second track on this tape (02). It was produced by Harvey Fuqua (F).

Towards the end of this series it had become commonplace for promotional singles white label releases to feature the same song on both sides with the mono version on one side and the stereo version on the other. In some tracks cases consecutive were used as illustrated in the following example:-

M9-Ll-Ll-1013S02: David Ruffin - "Blood Donor's Needed"
(Used on promotional copies of Motown 1223-A)

M9-Ll-Ll-1013M03: David Ruffin - "Blood Donor's Needed"
(Used on the commercial release of Motown 1223-A)

There are a number of recordings that list a master number that includes the letter "S" for stereo, whilst they are in fact in mono. It should be noted that while these recordings were cut in mono the representation within the master number refers to the recording on the tape, and not the final cut, i.e. stereo mix/cut in mono.

Many of Motown's 1960's Detroit music producers are alive and well and living in America in 1993. Good health, and thanks guys!!!!


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