What you need:

Citing an audio recording can be complicated.  With text-based sources, identifying the author or creator is usually straightforward.  With musical performances, this isn't always the case.  If you are writing a paper about Beethoven, you may cite a piece of music because of his role as the composer.  On the other hand, if you are discussing a particular performance, then the individual performer's role might be more important to you.  

And sometimes, you have to make this kind of judgment call in your citations.   Here are a few rules to guide you --

  • With any citation, your main goal is to provide enough information for someone else to track down the specific source you used -- the song, performance, etc.
  • In MLA style, sound recordings usually begin with the ARTIST'S name.  But, you may list them by composer or performer.  Use the correct abbreviation:
    • To indicate a performer, use (perf.)
    • To indicate a computer, use (comp.)
  • In MLA style, use the proper publication marker at the end of your citation:  CD, LP, audiocassette, MP3.  You will also use these abbreviations in APA style, but they should be placed immediately after the title of the recording.
  • In APA style, the songwriter/composer's name should go first.
  • In APA style you should indicate the performer (if it is someone different than the songwriter) in a separate section.
  • If there are additional creators (for example, a lyricist) indicate who did what in parentheses after each name.
  • In both APA or MLA, if the author is unknown, move the title of the song to the first position.


We will use a recording of the American folk song "This Land is Your Land" as an example:

TITLE:  This Land is Your Land

PERFORMER:  U.S. Coast Guard Band  

SONGWRITER: Woody Guthrie



ALBUM: Sing America



PUBLISHER:  Music Educators National Conference



MLAGuthrie, Woody. "This Land is Your Land." Perf. U.S. Coast Guard Band. Sing America. Music Educators National Conference. 1997. CD.
APAGuthrie, W. (1997). This land is your land [Recorded by the U.S. Coast Guard Band]. Sing America [CD]. Reston, VA: MENC.


For more information

For more information about these citation styles, and citing different types of audio, use the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL):

MLA Style: Digital Files (PDFs, MP3s)

MLA Style: Sound Recordings

APA Style: Sound Recordings

APA: How to Cite Recorded Music in APA Style

Chicago Manual of Style: