The American recording industry may now be a $13 billion dollar a year industry, but it sure didn't start out that way.

In fact, when that industry began right here in the Nation's Capital more than a century ago (not in L.A. or New York as some might think), neither music nor profit was on anybody's mind. Prosaically, it was a group of stenographers from the four-year-old American Graphaphone Company who sensed different potentials for the machine invented here by German immigrant Emile Berliner (who set a musician's precedent by not giving up his day job at a local haberdashery). Berliner's proto-Dictaphone was then being sold solely for business, not entertainment, since the early wax cylinders were best suited for the speaking voice. But in 1889, those stenographers took note and formed the Columbia Phonograph Co., setting up offices downtown at 709 G St. NW (the building still stands).

At first, Columbia (named after the District, of course) turned to a mix of acts passing through on the vaudeville circuit and local musicians, most of whom also wisely kept their day jobs. Columbia's first stars were whistler (not whistle-blower) John York Atlee, big-voiced railroader Dan Donovan and George Graham, discovered selling elixirs at the corner of Ninth and Pennsylvania. Early on, the U. S. Marine Band also signed on, with John Philip Sousa conducting when he wasn't composing his fabled marches. Columbia also was the first company to issue recordings of comedy -- the major difference between then and now being that then white people made fun of ethnic minorities and now ethnic minorities make fun of white people.

Columbia was also prescient in other ways: In 1893 it made cylinders in which pop tunes were interspersed with advertising jingles (can you say MTV?) and it also released the first dance records, mostly waltzes and polkas, setting the stage for the last Washington-based dance craze, Van McCoy's "The Hustle" in 1975.

Columbia moved to New York in 1908 and these days few people -- including those at the $3 billion music conglomerate now owned by Sony -- associate the name with our city. But Washington remains on the map thanks to more than a dozen labels that have sprung up over the last 40 years. Though they represent many different styles of music, they share some commonalities. In fact, many have made their mark by niche marketing: RAS for reggae, Future for go-go, Fifth Column for electronic-based music, Dischord for hardcore punk.

Some started out as local and regional distributors for other small labels before themselves taking the plunge (Adelphi, Cuneiform). Some were formed by musicians looking for a home for their work and that of similarly inclined friends (TeenBeat, Simple Machines). Some work almost exclusively with local acts, while others include almost no local acts on their rosters. Some are government-supported (through the Smithsonian and Library of Congress) and one competes most aggressively in the telemarketing and mail-order forum (Time-Life Records). We are not including one-group labels or those with only a handful of releases.

Here, then, is a brief roundup of the ever-spinning label scene in the city that spawned it all. ADELPHI RECORDS -- P.O. Box 7688, Silver Spring, MD 20907; Call 301/434-6958.

In 1964, Gene Rosenthal began distributing small West Coast folk labels like Arhoolie and Takoma (which owner John Fahey named after his hometown of Takoma Park). Four years later, Adelphi released its first album, Backwards Sam Firk's "True Blues and Gospel," and its initial focus was on contemporary folk (Patrick Sky, Holy Modal Rounders) and blues (Rev. Gary Davis, Furry Lewis). "But early on, we decided to be a broad-based label," says Rosenthal, and a look at the back catalogue of 120 releases indicates that plan coming to fruition.

There was always a strong local flavor, from Roy Buchanan's 1972 debut, "Buch & the Snake Stretchers" (released with a burlap cover) to 1996's "Psycho Rodeo" by Arlington's VanDangos. Other locals who have passed through Adelphi include Bill Holland, the Nighthawks, the Rosslyn Mountain Boys, Catfish Hodge, Coup de Grass, John Gurnsey and the Mystery Band, Richmond's Bill Blue Band and the Charlottesville Allstars.

Jazz was represented by Richie Cole and Reuben Brown, as well as national acts like guitar legend Lenny Breau. In the early '80s, Adelphi purchased the recording rights to the annual Reggae Sunsplash festival in Jamaica and its Adelphi/Sunsplash titles now number more than a dozen, with albums by Yellowman, Big Youth and Toots & the Maytals. More recently, Rosenthal has begun the Adelphi/Genes Blues Vault Series with albums from Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Otis Rush and Bukka White already out, and more to come from Big Joe Williams, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Sleepy John Estes and Little Brother Montgomery.

Coming up: the all female Peyote Circus and a commemorative album from the closing of the old 9:30 club featuring such temporarily reunited Washington bands as the Urban Verbs, Insect Surfers, Tru Fax and the Insaniacs, Tiny Desk Unit and Black Market Baby. BIG MO RECORDS -- RR1, Box 389C, Thetford Center, VT 05075; 802/785-2445.

Big Mo is the recording studio that accidentally turned into a label.

The Kensington studio, which also operates two mobile recording trucks, has had a particularly close relationship with Washington's Nighthawks and the late Danny Gatton. Big Mo had done most of the recent albums for the veteran blues band as well as the demo that got Gatton signed to Elektra (though his international reputation among guitar freaks probably also had something to do with that signing).

"But because Danny's second Elektra album didn't sell 150,000 copies, he was dropped," says Dixie Eastridge, who operates the label with husband/engineer Ed. As for the Nighthawks, they'd worked with labels big and small over their 20-year career. "It was nuts that these bands didn't have a record deal and that they seemed to have so much trouble with record companies," Eastridge adds. And so with an album titled "Rock This House," the Nighthawks became the first act on Big Mo Records.

Initially, the focus was going to be blues, says Eastridge, "but we just kept hearing music we thought should be recorded." And it's become a tale of two towns: Ed Eastridge splits his time between the studios here and the label's business offices in Norwich, Vt.

The label has just released Tommy Lepson's "Ready for This?" and is putting the finishing touches on "9-9-94," a Danny Gatton Trio album recorded live at the Birchmere just two weeks before Gatton's suicide. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS -- M/B/R/S, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20540-4690; 202/707-2691.

After Columbia, it's the Library of Congress that is Washington's oldest label, albeit one of its most slow moving. Since the Library's first release in 1941 -- a set of 78s titled "The Friends of Music" -- it has only issued 81 recordings. Many of those, drawn from the Library's Archive of American Folk Song, have been remarkably influential. The '40s also witnessed readings by such poets as Robert Frost, Robert Lowell and T.S. Eliot (32 poetry collections are currently available).

Collections like "African-American Ballads, Worksongs and Spirituals," "American Sea Songs and Shanties" (sung by retired seamen) and "Cowboy Songs, Ballads and Cattle Calls from Texas" gave proof to then-Librarian of Congress Archibald Mac

Leish's counsel that "our purpose should be to share American music with Americans." Unfortunately, the Library has struggled to expand its catalogue: Its last releases, "Children of the Heav'nly King: Religious Expression in the Central Blue Ridge" and "Omaha Indian Music," came 15 years ago.

"We feel we're good editorially and know our collections," says Recordings chief Sam Brylawski, even though he admits that "marketing isn't our forte."

Happily, recent years have brought rewarding partnerships between the Library and a number of independent labels releasing its material for the first time on CD: Rounder, which has issued complete Library recording sessions by Jelly Roll Morton, Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly; Ryko, which through Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, has issued historic ethnic field recordings; Rhino, which last year issued a box set of Presidential speeches; and Bridge, which has begun a series, "Our Musical Past," drawn from historic classical performances at the Library's Coolidge Auditorium by such artists as the Budapest String Quartet and Nathan Milstein.

Later this year, Rounder will begin reissuing as many as 20 classic LOC folk albums, including some that have been out of circulation since the era of 78s. CUNEIFORM RECORDS -- P.O. Box 8427, Silver Spring, MD 20907-8427 or fax 301/589-1819. Wayside Music's new release hot line is 301/589-1803.

Steve Feigenbaum's first attempted label, Random Radar, turned out to be a blip on its own screen. "We did 11 albums and one 45 between 1976 and 1981," he says of the collective formed around Rockville avant-gardists the Muffins and their musical friends. "It wasn't a good time to be doing this type of music."

The "type of music" Feigenbaum favors falls into the fringe/experimental/non-commercial camp and he champions it through Cuneiform (a label with close to 100 titles) and Wayside Music (which distributes similarly inclined labels from around the world through mail order). The first Cuneiform release was 1984's "What's the Point?" by R. Stevie Moore, the son of Elvis Presley bassist Bob Moore.

Even Feigenbaum admits that the Moore album was uncharacteristic, and that by the label's third release (by Belgium's Univers Zero), Cuneiform had found a focus in "types of music that aren't really popular and no one else does here. To put out music I liked -- that's always been the mission. I've just fine-tuned it over the years."

That's meant obscure, instrumentally heavy sonic adventurers like Henry Cow, Hatfield and the North, Boston's Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Mother Mallard and others who push the boundaries of both composition and performance. Much of the old catalogue has been reissued on CD, including local efforts from Happy the Man, the Muffins (with some material never previously released) and Grits, the adventurous classical-rock band whose "As the World Grits" was recorded in 1972 but didn't see the light of day until last year.

In a late-blooming 10th anniversary celebration, Cuneiform recently released the double-CD "Unsettled Scores," in which 25 Cuneiform artists cover the works of 25 other Cuneiform artists in styles that are (according to one reviewer) alternately or concurrently progressive/minimalist/ ambient/ experimental. Which sounds exactly like what Feigenbaum had in mind in the first place. DISCHORD RECORDS -- 3819 Beecher St. NW, Washington DC 20007-1802.

The end of the band Teen Idles proved the beginning of the label Dischord.

In 1980, "as we were breaking up, we wanted to put something out and we knew nobody else would," says drummer Jeff Nelson, who along with singer Ian MacKaye decided to apply punk's DIY ethic to immortalizing themselves. "We needed a name so Ian came up with Dischord," which was not connected to the similarly titled fanzine.

The Teen Idles' EP, "Minor Disturbance," would be Dischord 1, and soon some of their previously unreleased material will be Dischord 100. Actually, Dischord 101 and 102 are already out (by Blue Tip and the Warmers), so there's clearly a sentimental side to the label whose early releases included works by S.O.A. featuring Henry Garfield (now better known as Henry Rollins) and Minor Threat (the influential band formed by MacKaye and Nelson after Teen Idles, which also included Brian Baker, now with Bad Religion).

"There was nobody to shop your tape around to," Nelson recalls, adding that "there was a new generation of bands which we were a part of." In fact, those bands were quickly lumped into a hometown movement known as harDCore. "We realized with excitement DC' was right in the middle of hardcore, which was a distinction between punk and new wave -- faster tempos, non-poseur {songs}."

That's a good though partial description of Fugazi, which MacKaye and three other local musicians formed in 1988. The much-acclaimed-for-its-integrity band -- which opts for low ticket prices, good causes and all-ages shows -- is also Dischord's most successful, having sold as many as 300,000 copies of some of its albums.

Dischord was a proving ground long before Nirvana and Pearl Jam made alternative safe. The recently reissued Scream albums feature drummer Dave Grohl (subsequently of Nirvana and Foo Fighters) and the Stahl brothers (who ended up in Wool).

There's also the self-defined price-point for the label's releases: Most CDs sell for less than $10 -- and that's stated right on the back cover and in mail-order ads in alternative music papers (the Dischord mailing list has grown to 11,000).

Although there is no longer a narrowly defined Dischord sound -- witness groups like Smart Went Crazy and the Make-Up -- the label is still locally focused. "We came to be full of pride about the DC area," says Nelson. "We've never signed a contract with a band. It's always been done on a handshake, which is better if it's local people you know and who know you."

Besides reissues of older material on CD, the future includes a second album from Trusty (a Little Rock, Ark., band so enthralled with Dischord that they moved to Washington four years ago) and the Make-Up (formerly Nation of Ulysses). FIFTH COLUMN RECORDS -- P.O. Box 787, Washington DC 20044; 202/783-0044.

You could call Fifth Column a record/club. Or a club/record, since the F Street Club (which closed in February) came before the label. Zalman Fishman, who started both businesses, says "there wasn't any great philosophy behind it, just trying my hand at the label business with the music I liked."

The label has a reputation for championing harsh, synthesizer-based music -- techno, industrial, etc. -- but Fishman says the music was never intentionally beat-heavy. "What I had more in mind was electronic-{based music}, something to address the '90s and technology."

Ironically, Fifth Column's first project involved someone associated with a nightclub right across the street: Jared Hendricksen had been the longtime manager of the (now moved) 9:30, and in 1993 his band, Chemlab, recorded an EP, "Ten Ton Pressure," a slab of "chaos music" that proved to be a taste of the future.

"It didn't do real well at first," Fishman notes. "But then we got Chemlab on the road, and they made a name for themselves pretty quickly." So did the label, which has now released 50 titles. Some feature local groups like Thud, Fredericksburg's P.O.D. (Perceptual Outer Dimensions) and Chemlab (which is now based in New York). Beyond that, the label's reach is both national -- Chicago's Acumen and Dessau (a side project by members of Ministry, Filter, Pigface and Die Warzau) -- and international, as with Belgium's Cyber-Tec and Scotland's James Ray.

Fifth Column works in the tradition of such techno-pioneering labels as Los Angeles' Cleopatra and Chicago's Wax Trax, with an even mix of albums recorded specifically for Fifth Column or licensed from European labels. Fishman has also started two subsidiary labels which sport suspiciously familiar initials: Full Contact Records (for techno/ambient and techno/reggae bands) and the more experimental/noise-focused Fused Coil Records.

Recent releases include a label sampler, "Forced Cranial Removal," the avant/industrial Vampire Rodents, a trance/tribal compilation from Australia's Dorobo Records, Death Ride 69 (a Thrill Kill Kult side project) and Trust Obey, an epic-industrial album by John Bergin, author and illustrator of "The Crow." And next month: a new album from Chemlab ("our big name band!"). LIAISON RECORDS -- 445 Washington Blvd North, Suite K, Laurel MD 20723; 410/880-6111.

Reo Edwards's Future Records began in 1979 as an outlet for Trouble Funk, a go-go band he was managing at the time. "There was no support for go-go from any labels, so we figured the only way to do it was to do it ourselves." For a while Trouble Funk was the only act with a Future, followed by "Godfather of Go-Go" Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, but, as Edwards puts it, "styles of music change and if you run a record company, you've got to deal with the youngsters."

Despite a wave of national and international attention in the early '80s, go-go remains an essentially homegrown/hometown phenomenon on local labels. Starting with groups like Ayre Raid and Hot Cold Sweat, Future has put out close to 80 singles and albums and produced a couple of national hits (Brown's "Go-Go Swing" and Trouble Funk's "Drop the Bomb"). Today's roster includes Northeast Groovers, Physical Wonders and Pure Elegance.

Charlie Fenwick's Sound by Charlie has only one act, the very hot Huck-a-bucks, but a number of bands have done well with their private labels (Junk Yard's Street, Rare Essence's Sounds of the Capitol) and, like Future, they are distributed by 13-year-old Liaison Records (which has also released several go-go compilations). "We have encouraged go-go bands to start their own labels," says Tom Goldfogle, who, with partner Becky Marcus, runs Liaison and takes care of retail sales and radio promotion. New releases include Rare Essence's "Body Snatchers," the group's first CD single, and the live Junk Yard EP, "Reunion," that group's first new recording since the death of drummer Heavy One.

Reo Edwards says there is no competition between Washington's go-go labels. "Everybody's pushing for the same thing," he says. "It's like a car -- the more people behind that car, the better the chances of getting it out of the mud." MAGGIE'S MUSIC -- P.O. Box 4144, Annapolis, MD 21403; 410/268-3394.

Hammer dulcimer virtuoso Maggie Sansone started Maggie's Music in 1984 to release her own albums and tapes, which now number seven. But in 1991, Sansone signed harpist Sue Richards, opening the door for a company that's found a seemingly narrow but surprisingly successful niche. Sansone describes it as "instrumental Celtic music with a chamber-folk feel to it, played on authentic early music and folk instruments."

Richards's "Grey Eyed Morn" was the first outside entry in a catalogue that now lists more than 20 albums and a roster that includes guitarist Al Petteway and fiddler Bonnie Rideout, three-time U.S. National Fiddle Champion. Petteway's "Midsummer Moon" and Rideout's "Kindred Spirits" are the Annapolis-based label's bestsellers. Maggie's Music has also put out three successful Christmas albums and, recognizing a good thing when it makes one, is currently putting the finishing touches on No. 4, "A Scottish Christmas." The label is currently working on a Colonial/early music series with the Hesperus Ensemble (consisting of players from the Folger Consort).

For now, the roster is local. "We do expect that to change, but we have a very strong regional base and we are looking to expand," Sansone says. "But we like the feeling of close access, us to the artists and them to us. That way, it's more of a family affair." MAPLESHADE RECORDS -- 2301 Crain Hwy., Upper Marlboro MD 20772; 301/627-0525.

Mapleshade mixes Pierre Sprey's chief passions: jazz and blues music and state-of-the-art recording. The later is achieved at the historic (and secluded) plantation house in Upper Marlboro that Sprey has turned into an unusual, spiritually ambient setting in which technology serves the music, not vice versa. For instance, the musicians recording at Mapleshade are guests at the mansion during their sessions, with Sprey himself acting as chef and maitre d'.

It was Washington pianist-singer Shirley Horn who in 1986 talked Sprey into a new career (he'd previously worked at the Pentagon). "I had recorded Shirley as an amateur and in the process got more interested in improving my sound. One night she was sitting at my piano {a rare, rebuilt 1911 Steinway Model O} and fell in love with it. She said P. baby, I want to do my next album on this piano and I want you to be my engineer.' " The resulting "Softly" was released on Atlanta's Audiophile label and helped Horn land her current contract with Verve.

"I enjoyed recording Shirley so much, I decided to hang out my shingle," Sprey says. Mapleshade started releasing CDs in 1990, and its catalogue now includes 31 titles. Early releases included pianist Frank Kimbrough's trio, saxophonist Clifford Jordan, guitarist Eddie Gale and blues legend Sunnyland Slim (recorded live at the D.C. Blues Society in 1987). Saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett has recently helmed a new Explorations series to champion acts ignored by conventional jazz labels, including himself: the first release was "Young Warrior, Old Warrior," followed by the Ebony Brass Quintet's "Brand New Bag." Just out: albums by drummer Michael Carvin and the Jack Jeffers N.Y. Classics Big Band.

Mapleshade also has strong local connections through releases by Piedmont bluesman Archie Edwards, Brother Ah's World Music Ensemble, Big Joe Maher & Jeff Sarli, Ben Andrews and the Blue Rider Trio, Bad Influence and A La Carte Brass and Percussion (the blues-oriented material is released on the Wildchild subsidiary). POSITIVE MUSIC -- P.O. Box 1521, Columbia MD 21044; 410/750-3813 or fax 410/750-1897. Order/Listening Line: 800/806-9906.

When guitarist Ken Navarro started Positive Music in 1990, he envisioned it as a one-act label -- Ken Navarro. But as he was shopping his first release, "The River Flows," he found that "to be taken seriously by distributors, you had to have a larger plan."

Which is exactly what Navarro developed, signing up flutist Peter Gordon and percussionist/composer Bill Moore. Like one of its models, GRP Records, the focus at Positive Music was contemporary instrumental and mainstream jazz. When its releases started getting good radio response right from the start, that further advanced its distribution prospects.

The Positive Music catalogue now lists 50 albums by some 20 artists, with 10 or so albums scheduled for release per year. The roster is a mix of current and former regional musicians -- keyboard players Greg Karukas, Dan Reynolds and Stef Scaggiari, drummer Greg Fraedrich and vocalist Sue Matthews, the last three from Annapolis -- and established artists such as guitarists Grant Geissman and Thom Rotella and saxophonist Brandon Fields.

Next up: a Navarro Christmas record (the company's third) titled "Christmas Cheer." It's a duet album in the style of Jim Hall and Bill Evans, teaming Navarro with New York pianist Jay Rowe, whose own album will be Positive Music's first 1997 release. RAS RECORDS -- P.O. Box 42517, Washington, DC 20015; 301/588-9641.

Dr. Dred sounds like the perfect name for the head of a reggae label, but Gary Himmelfarb actually first used it in 1979, when he hosted Night of the Living Dred on WHFS.

"I had become a DJ with the goal of spreading reggae music," says Himmelfarb, "and I soon realized I could do more good by starting a distribution company and importing records directly from Jamaica because nobody was doing that." Soon after, he shifted his attention to starting a label, RAS (for Real Authentic Sound), whose first release in 1982 was Peter Broggs's "Rastafari Liveth." Since then, RAS has released more than 250 albums by such Jamaican artists as Freddie McGregor, Eek-a-mouse, Gregory Issacs and Nigeria's Don Carlos.

"We started working with independent producers in Jamaica and that became a fertile ground for promoting new artists," says Himmelfarb, whose releases are now almost all newly recorded in Jamaica or locally at Lion & Fox. In Jamaica, he works closely with such hot producers as John Screw, Gussie Clarke and Tappa Zoukie and Xterminator, whose Yellowman album, "Yellow Like Cheese," is now hot in Jamaica, according to Himmelfarb, who has no local reggae acts on the roster.

As for RAS's bestseller, it's the five-year-old "Reggae for Kids," which features different artists selected by Himmelfarb on tunes that baby boomer parents can relate to. ("I was tired of listening to Raffi and nursery rhymes.") Next up: Israel Vibrations' sixth album, "Free to Move," to be unveiled at the Bayou Aug. 28. SIMPLE MACHINES -- P.O. Box 10290, Arlington, VA 22210; 703/276-0680.

Arlington's Simple Machines started off in 1989 with a series of six four-band compilations on 7-inch vinyl. One of those bands was Geek, featuring singer Jenny Toomey, who hadn't received much interest from any label (local and otherwise) and so decided to do-it-herself, along with housemate Brad Sigal. Soon after, they were joined by Kristin Thomson (who, with Toomey, is half of the current band Tsunami). Looking to Dischord and other small, independent labels as models, the trio decided to be more responsive to their peers and pals (the first single featured Geek, the Hated from Annapolis, Lungfish from Baltimore and Edsel from Washington).

"We were never confined to local or regional bands," says Thomson, "but it makes sense to work with bands in your area. For one thing, it's a lot easier to communicate and you know the people." As Tsunami toured, it met up with other bands in similar straits, including Columbus's Scrawl, Louisville's Rodan and Chapel Hill's Superchunk, all of whom have since recorded for Simple Machines, whose catalogue now includes 65 titles, about half of them singles.

In 1993, Simple Machines began its "Working Holiday" series, releasing each month a 7-inch record (with one band on each side) celebrating alternative or unique holidays found in each specific month. "Some took it to heart," says Thompson, pointing to Baltimore's Tinklers and their song about Black History Month. The singles were all collected on the "Working Holiday" CD, which also included live material from a year-end Black Cat party featuring most of the bands involved.

In the spring, Simple Machines released six full-length CDs by Danielle Howle, Ida, Sea Saw, the Raymond Brake and two by Retsin. SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF RECORDINGS -- Smithsonian Books, Records and Videos, 100 Pine St., Holmes, PA 19043; 800/863-9943.

The Smithsonian Collection of Recordings, under the direction of James Morris and Cynthia Hightower, made a spectacular entrance in 1973 with the 100-track box set, "The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz." Oddly, no one knew it would become such a seminal historic overview: it was actually designed to accompany a book on the history of jazz, and while the publisher ordered 10,000 copies, the Smithsonian opted for only 250 copies. But they were soon flooded by requests and "Classic Jazz" remains the label's most successful project, a perennial bestseller that resold very well when it was finally issued on CD.

Part of that set's appeal was the Smithsonian's ability as a nonprofit, educational institution to approach many competitive labels to contribute historical recordings for the common good. "At the time, there was a vacuum for traditional jazz," says Bruce Talbot, who has headed Smithsonian Recordings since 1991.

The increase and diffusion of knowledge have long been a Smithsonian mandate and the Recordings division has provided crucial historic overviews of American musical theater, folk song, country music and the blues, as well as surveys of jazz piano, big bands, pop vocalists and the music of World War II.

"We want to be the best purveyor of archival musical Americana to the consumer," says Talbot. "To put out the kinds of sets that are definitive and cover subjects very well, the sort of sets record companies wouldn't find that viable to do." Smithsonian Recordings has also worked with Columbia on sets devoted to Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

The label now has 80 titles, half of them multi-CD or box sets. There are about 25 single titles in its American Songbook series, as well as box sets devoted to George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael. Going further back to Bach (and Handel and Beethoven), Smithsonian Recordings also offers classical music on period instruments, as well as albums by such Washington-based ensembles as the 20th Century Consort and Smithsonian Chamber Players.

Next month, Recordings will release the four-CD set, "Hot Jazz on Blue Note," featuring early material by Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson and others that has never been available on CD. A month later, in conjunction with a major exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, it will release another four-CD set, "Star Spangled Rhythm," surveying American musical theater. Smithsonian/Folkways -- Office of Folklife Programs, 955 L'Enfant Plaza, Suite 2600, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC 20560; 202/287-3762.

In 1987, the Smithsonian acquired New Yorker Moe Asch's 40-year-old Folkways label, a 2,220 album repository of American folk music and jazz, blues and bluegrass, political speech and children's playsong, sound effects and more than 600 ethnographic recordings from around the world.

The catalogue included such influential collections as Harry Smith's "Anthology of American Folk Music," and early recordings by Doc Watson, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger (50 titles alone) and Leadbelly (whose "Last Sessions," a four-CD collection of previously unavailable songs and stories from 1948, was released last year). Folkways' true wealth, however, may be in the hundreds of lesser-known, and often unknown, artists it has chronicled and its un-elitist championing of roots musics.

Smithsonian/Folkways (headed by folklorist Anthony Seeger, it's a completely separate entity from Smithsonian Collection of Recordings) has been steadily reissuing the Folkways catalogue on CD -- often with additional material -- as well as creating new compilations. It also releases new recordings: throat singing from Central Asia, early Bill Monroe (taken from 700 hours of tapes donated by the late Ralph Rinzler), gamelan music from Indonesia (a projected 20-CD set), samplings of the annual Festival of American Folklife and the fine African-American gospel series, "Wade in the Water." By contract with Asch, everything in the Folkways catalogue remains in print (for obscure titles, a chrome cassette is run off from a master tape). TIME-LIFE MUSIC -- (for mail order) 1450 E. Parham Rd., Richmond VA 23280; 800/621-7026.

Based in Alexandria, Time-Life Music was begun in 1967 as an extension of the Time-Life Book Division and its initial mail-order releases focused on classical music and jazz, and, reflecting the Time-Life editorial tradition, produced two album sets accompanied by 70-page booklets.

In the mid-'80s, however, Time-Life underwent a dramatic change by embracing popular music -- particularly rock 'n' roll, R&B and country -- and started to put together extensive historical reissue series. According to Time-Life Music president Steve Janas, "it wasn't until we discovered rock 'n' roll and the ability to reach that mass audience" that the company's fortunes shifted dramatically.

The make-up of the product changed -- the series consisted of single albums with 20 tracks and a very small booklet -- and while Time-Life still does mail order, its focus now is telemarketing, in which it is now the most successful music company: last year, that translated into sales of more than 10 million CDs.

Not bad for a 30-person staff working out of small offices in Old Town Alexandria.

The current approach is based on single CDs (usually defined by a particular year or artist) and continuity: the first series was "The Rock 'n' Roll Era," which eventually totaled 50 CDs, becoming the company's most extensive and successful series ever. Others have included "Your Hit Parade" (pop music of the '40s and '50s), "Classic Rock," "Rhythm & Blues" and "Country USA."

More recently, Time-Life has focused on a series devoted to novelty records, blues, instrumental cocktail music and Broadway musicals and will soon embark on a lengthy series providing a historical overview of jazz from the '20s through the '60s. The label has also effected several partnerships, notably with Rolling Stone on two box sets, "25 Years of Essential Rock" and "Sounds of the '80s," and the Recording Industry Association of America, which will be issuing a six-CD box of "Classic Rock" from the late '60s through the '90s. And just recently, Time-Life began work with the Red Hot Organization on a series that will cover new wave/punk/modern rock favorites from the late '70s to today. TEENBEAT -- P.O. Box 3265, Arlington VA 22203; 703/358-9382 (Monday through Friday between 2 and 6).

Mark Robinson first came up with the idea, name and logo for TeenBeat in 1984. The label's first release in February 1985 was a cassette of recordings by his high school band, Unrest, sold mostly to friends at Wakefield High in Arlington. That was the case for TeenBeat's first six releases, says Robinson, because "cassettes were the only thing we had the money for."

A summer job in a pizzeria allowed for TeenBeat's first vinyl single, Unrest's cover of the Byrds' "So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star," and singles from New York's Dust Devils and California's Vomit Launch. Robinson says he always looked for music "that was first and foremost something I enjoyed personally. And, if it was people I also knew and liked, it made it double fun."

As for the first TeenBeat CD, it was quintessentially quirky: "The Tube-Bar Album," a collection of crank/prank calls made to a New York bar. The TeenBeat catalogue now lists more than 200 items, not all of them music. For instance, item 181 is a TeenBeat Box Set Box -- yes, just the box -- for a now-out-of-print label retrospective.

TeenBeat has been a home base for a number of local bands: Blast Off Country Style, Tuscadero, Johnny Cohen's Love Machine, Romania, Butch Willis & the Rocks and the now-disbanded Eggs, as well as Unrest itself. The last is represented by a compilation, as well as recent solo albums by drummer Phil Krauth and Robinson himself, under the name the Olympic Death Squad. "A band name is easier to hang on to, people can remember it better," Robinson explains. To further confuse matters, Robinson and Unrest's Bridget Cross also play in a sideband, Air Miami, whose first album was released on 4AD (an EP is due soon on TeenBeat) and Robinson and Simple Machines' Jenny Toomey occasionally record under the name Grenadine.

The major label Elektra has just put out a remastered version of Tuscadero's TeenBeat debut, "The Pink Album." TeenBeat plans to release 15 to 20 "items" a year, and its roster includes albums by Chicago's Gastr del Sol, Iowa City's Los Marauders and New York's Uncle Wiggly. Coming soon: the debut album by Louisville's Tel Aviv.

"I'd rather put out all D.C. bands," says Robinson, "but I don't like 15 D.C. bands that could all be on TeenBeat." CAPTION: Jeff Place (from left), Anthony Seeger and Bruce Talbot survey records held by the Smithsonian. CAPTION: TeenBeat's Mark Robinson awash in Tuscadero's "The Pink Album." CAPTION: Maggie Sansone's label has a Celtic accent. CAPTION: Gary Himmelfarb (top, right) with Peter Broggs, whose album "Rastafari Liveth" was RAS Records' first release. Gene Rosenthal (above) has operated Adelphi Records since 1964. CAPTION: Discord's Fugazi: (from left) Brendan Canty, Joe Lally, Ian MacKaye, and Guy Picciotto.