White Label Promo Records
One often sees the term, white label promo in reference to certain types of records, but what does that mean? in short, it refers to a special pressing of a single or album that was made for radio station use.
Early in the days of radio, disk jockeys would play whatever they felt like playing, without any input from the record companies. The relationship between radio and the music industry was a tense one, as record company executives felt that consumers wouldn’t buy records they could hear on the radio for free. By the 1950s, a few record companies changed their way of thinking, and decided that they might be able to have some degree of control over the songs played on the radio if they gave records to the radio stations free of charge.
Not wanting to confuse the free records with the copies they were pressing for commercial sale, the record companies would usually mark the covers and the labels of these free records in some way so that it was obvious that these records were not to be sold, but were for radio and/or promotion use only. Early on, many record companies simply added wording such as, “promotional copy – not for sale” to their regular label artwork. Over time, it became almost a standard to create a special “white” label for promotional records. Eventually, the vast majority of record companies adopted this informal standard, and the white label promo, as we refer to it today, was born.
What’s so Special About a White Label Promo?
There are a few things that make white label promo records something of interest to collectors. First of all, they are different from stock, or commercially released, pressings. Since collectors like things that are different, that alone makes them something to add to their collection.
Second, the white label promo pressings are usually pressed before the commercial copies, in order to get them to the radio stations prior to the release date. That means that the white label promo pressings are among the first records pressed from the stampers for a particular release, which generally means they will sound better than their stock counterparts. Stampers wear over time, and the last record pressed from a particular stamper generally will not sound as good as the first one pressed. White label promo copies are desirable simply because they often sound better.
Another oddity about white label promo pressings is that they may be different in some way from their stock counterparts. When monaural records were phased out in the U.S. in 1968, some record companies continued to send out mono white label promo pressings to AM radio stations that only broadcast music in mono. These records, by definition, sounded dramatically different from the stock pressings, which were stereo only. Promo-only mono issues of some albums, such as those by Led Zeppelin, have been known to sell for thousands of dollars.
White Label Promo Values
As a rule, a white label promo pressing of any given record will sell, at a minimum, for 50% more than a standard stock pressing. This can increase dramatically for white label promo copies that are different in some way – different song listings, different running order, or a different mix.
One of the problems with collecting white label promo copies of records is finding copies that are in acceptable condition. Many of these records were played on the radio, often by disk jockeys who didn’t pay much attention to taking care of the records. Many white label promo records by rock bands of the 1960s, such as Cream, the Yardbirds, or the Who, are typically found in terrible condition today. Finding a pristine copy of one of these rare promotional records can be quite difficult, but also quite rewarding once you finally add one to your collection.