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What is an ISRC code? Tracking music in the digital Age

by | Music Business

Are you an independent or unsigned artist that is looking to get your music your music distributed online and in a physical format? Then, you have probably ran across the term ISRC Code. The record labels used to manage the ISRC Codes for their artists, but with the rise of independent musicians and online distribution, understanding this is necessary for musicians looking to release their own music.

What is an ISRC code?

 

 

Have you ever wondered how Billboard and PROs keep track of all the plays of songs on the radio, downloads, streaming, and at venues that play music? The ISRC code is how they do it.

The ‘International Standard Recording Code’ is a 12 alphanumeric code used to identify sound recordings and music video recordings. This code is embedded into the record and used as a way to uniquely identify the recording.

You can think of it as a digital fingerprint for your song.

This allows for your music’s streaming and sales stats to be tracked where ever in the world it is being played or purchased.

 

Let’s Break Down the Code

 

If you have never seen an ISRC code this is basically what it looks

US-SKG-19-12345 

 The code follows a basic template for how it is created.

 

US is the country code.

SKG is the registrant code. This is the code given to the registrant of the ISRC codes. This could be the distributor, record label, or yourself if you signed up and paid to be a registrant.

19 is the year.

12345 is the designation code. This is the code that the registrant assigns themselves. This is usually done in sequential order. So if a record label is releasing an album, the first song on that album would have a designation code of 00001 and a full ISRC code of: US-SKG-19-00001.

 

Example of the ISRC Code

Why Do I Need an ISRC Code?

Have you wondered how your music is tracked for royalties and getting on the charts? It is tracked by Soundscan, SoundExchange, and other organizations which use the ISRC Code to identify your music.

So whether your music is being streamed on Spotify or downloaded in the iTunes store, your music sales and streams are being tracked. Sounds great, right? So you should definitely have a ISRC Code assigned to your music! 

Now, if the recording mainly going to be for personal use, I would say you don’t need to go through the trouble of getting an ISRC Code. So for example, if you are just recording a demo, rehearsal, or rough mix, then getting a code is not necessary.

 

How Do I Get an ISRC Code?

METHOD 1: GET A ISRC CODE FROM YOUR DISTRIBUTOR

You probably already have an ISRC Code if you are using online distribution services. Most of the distributors that I researched provide ISRC Codes for free with their services.

Distribution Services that Provide Free ISRC Codes

  • Distrokid
  • Ditto Music
  • CDBaby
  • Routenote

But you only get the ISRC Code if you use their services. So it is not exactly free. It is a benefit bundled in with the cost of their distribution services.

METHOD 2:  APPLY TO BE A ISRC REGISTRANT WITH THE ISRC AGENCY

If you want to be a little more on the independent side you can apply to be an ISRC Code registrant. There is an one-time fee of $95. You get a Registrant code that will allow you to assign up to 100,000 ISRCs per year and it is yours for life.

The downside to this is obviously the upfront cost of the application fee, but you will be the one that will have to manage and keep track of the ISRC codes that you have used. You should be prepared to have a spreadsheet to keep track of this information.

You can get more information from the International Standard Recording Code website.

Website: https://www.usisrc.org/faqs/reg_code_applicants.html

METHOD 3:  PURCHASE CODES FROM THE ISRC MANAGERS

You can also simple purchase 1-off ISRC code from ISRC Managers. The price will vary and many managers will only provide you with an ISRC Code if you use their other services, similar to getting a code through a distributor.

The ISRC Organization provides a list of ISRC Managers that you can contact so that you know you are working with a legit ISRC Code Manager.

 

How Do ISRC Codes Work and Who tracks it?

As we mentioned earlier, the ISRC code acts as a fingerprint for your recording. So where ever your music is being streamed or downloaded, or physically purchased the organization that is in charge will be keeping track of it. Just so you know online streaming and download marketplaces will almost always been tracking this. The major online stores (Apple, Google, Amazon, etc) will be sending sales information to Soundscan to keep track of the charts. Bandcamp now tracks and sends this information to them as well.

 PRO TIP: Register for Soundscan (it’s free) so your music can be tracked for opportunities to make it into the charts. Most distributors do not do this for you.

Other organizations such as SoundExchange use the ISRC codes to keep track of Digital Performance royalties. 

Digital Performance royalties:  Royalties that service providers such as Pandora, SiriusXM and webcasters are required by law to pay for streaming musical content.

 PRO TIP: If you are releasing a physical album, you will need to get a UPC as well!

 

The Performing Rights Organization (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) s also use the ISRC to keep track of physical publishing royalties.

Physical Performance royalties:  Royalties that terrestrial radio stations, Music clubs, Bars, Stadiums, etc have to pay. It is basically that those venues or businesses need to play music as a part of their business so they must pay for a license to do so. Those royalties are divided up and paid out to the registered songwriters.

SoundExchange currently has a database where you can search artists and find the ISRC code that is attached to their music.

As the music industry adjusts to the digital age, I am sure that the ISRC code will be an important aspect of creating a international database of music that is commerically released.

 

MORE INFORMATION

If you need more information about ISRC’s and how to use them for your songs, you can visit the International Standard Recording Code’s website FAQ section at www.usisrc.org.

 

You can also leave a comment below and I will do my best to find an answer for you!