The Comprehensive Guide to ISRC Codes: What They Are & How to Get Them

Unchained Best Tips
Updated on
July 7, 2023
Written by
Unchained Music
ARTICLE OVERVIEW
In the realm of commercial music, one question you might ask yourself is, 'do I need an ISRC code?' The definitive answer is yes, absolutely.

The Importance of the International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) in Commercial Music Release

In the realm of commercial music, one question you might ask yourself is, 'do I need an ISRC code?' The definitive answer is yes, absolutely.

ISRC codes play an instrumental (ba dum tiss) role in the release of commercial music. If you're a rights holder releasing a song for public consumption, you are accountable for procuring and assigning an ISRC code to the track even though music distributors such as Unchained Music generally work at embedding ISRC codes in the music metadata of your releases.

The usage of these codes allows distributors and broadcasters to fulfill their roles efficiently, and importantly, they secure your pay! Every song you hear today, be it a popular Billie Eilish tune or an emerging artist's first single, will need an ISRC code attached to it.

Demystifying the ISRC Registrant Code

ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) is a unique code, 12-characters in length, linked to a piece of music that is set for commercial release. The code enables the rights holder, which could be an independent artist or a major record label, to identify and track their audio file recording's 'journey'. This journey includes information like where it's played around the globe and how frequently it's being played.

Crucially, ISRC codes also facilitate the tracking of a record's sales or downloads on download sites. Without these registrant codes, music distributors and retailers won't distribute your music. These codes are a unique identifier embedded into the music metadata of the songs, allowing sound systems, broadcasters, and streaming services to read and track the usage of the release.

Understanding ISRC Codes: Applicability and Unique Identifiers

Every publicly released song must have a unique identifier encoded into it. If you're releasing an EP with 4 tracks, you need 4 unique codes to identify each individual track. The same principle applies to albums, and even live versions of studio albums.

For variations of existing songs like covers or remixes, you still require a unique ISRC. The recordings may not be original, but they are new and unique, thus necessitating their own unique ISRC. Remember, once a code is encoded, it should remain unaltered, even if the recording rights are transferred to a new owner. There's always one, and only one, ISRC code for every song.

How to Get an ISRC Code

If you need an ISRC code to release, the first way you can get your own ISRC is by contacting your national ISRC agency or the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), which is the international ISRC agency. These organizations allocate ISRC codes to rights holders, promote the usage of codes, and maintain the ISRC system. Simply call or email your respective national agency for guidance on obtaining your codes. If your country doesn't have a national ISRC agency, reach out to the IFPI directly.

If you are in the United States, the US Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is the entity you need to contact.

Alternatively, you can work with a top music distributor that provides ISRC codes as part of their release process.

The Cost of ISRC Codes: What You Need to Know

The cost of an ISRC code can depend on your agency and the country you're based in. Your national agency might offer you the option to become a registrant, which enables you to generate your own codes as you prepare to release new music. However, if you choose to distribute your music through a digital distributor like Unchained Music, you're automatically given a code when you upload your music for release across streaming services.

Unchained Music: Your Partner in ISRC Code Assignment

Navigating the commercial music world can be a daunting task, especially when you're handling the process's technical aspects, like ISRC code assignment. But you don't have to do it alone. Unchained Music, can simplify this process for you.

Unchained Music, as a part of the release process, understands the importance of unique ISRC codes for every track that artists release. During the process of music distribution, identifying information, including ISRC codes, are correctly applied. You can release music now by signing up for the platform here.

Process Simplification

When you decide to distribute your music with Unchained Music, they take over the responsibility of assigning ISRC codes to your tracks. As part of their distribution services, Unchained Music will automatically generate a unique ISRC code for each track you intend to release. This allows artists to focus more on their music, leaving the intricacies of code assignment to the experts.

Tracking and Royalty Collection

Unchained Music doesn't stop at just assigning ISRC codes. They understand that these codes are essential for tracking music plays across various platforms and collecting due royalties. With an assigned ISRC code, Unchained Music can keep tabs on your music's performance globally and ensure you get the royalties you deserve.

Decoding ISRC Codes for Music Platforms

Navigating the digital music realm demands an understanding of ISRC codes and their role in platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. These platforms require each release to be equipped with an ISRC code, often referred to as an ISRC Spotify code or similar.

Regardless of the music genre, style, or version, every unique track needs its ISRC code. This includes any modifications or variations from the original recording, such as instrumental versions, live renditions, or even remixes. A new code is required for each version to ensure proper tracking and royalty distribution. The ISRC codes for these platforms are typically provided by your music distribution company when you debut a new recording.

Understanding the Structure of an ISRC Registrant Code

An ISRC registrant code is more than just random strings of characters. Each ISRC code is a structured sequence of 12 characters that link critical information about the sound recording to the rights holder and the details of its release.

The code's structure is as follows:

  • Country Code: This is represented by two characters at the start of the ISRC code, which symbolize the country of the rights holder.
  • Rights Holder Identifier: The next three characters uniquely identify the rights holder or the registrant.
  • Release Year: Following this, the next two characters represent the last two digits of the release year.
  • Unique Identifier: The final five digits are unique identifiers created by the rights holder. They typically follow the track listing or release order of the album.

The Price Tag on ISRC Codes: Free or Paid?

The cost of ISRC codes can vary, depending on how you choose to distribute your music. If you distribute your music through a digital aggregator like Tunecore or similar platforms, they'll generate a unique ISRC code for each new song you release. This service typically comes without any additional charges, making it a cost-effective choice for indie artists and small labels.

However, if you choose to become a registrant and generate your own ISRC codes, there's a small one-time fee involved. Becoming a registrant offers you the flexibility to generate your own codes whenever you release new music.

ISRC versus ISWC Codes: Know the Difference

When releasing music, you may come across both ISRC and ISWC codes. While they may seem similar, they serve different purposes. ISRC codes identify individual sound recordings, while ISWC (International Standard Work Code) codes are associated with the underlying musical composition – the music and lyrics.

If you're a member of a Performing Rights Organization (PRO), they assign the ISWC codes when you register your compositions with them. It's crucial to understand this differentiation to ensure appropriate tracking and royalty collection for both your recordings and compositions.

Expanding the Reach of ISRC Codes: Beyond Music

The necessity for ISRC codes extends beyond the music realm and into other forms of audio media. Audiobooks, for instance, require an ISRC code for each chapter if they're divided into individually recorded tracks. Similarly, each episode of a podcast also requires a unique ISRC code.

Music videos, despite being visually focused, contain audio recordings that need their own unique ISRC codes. In essence, any product based on audio – whether music, spoken word, or a combination of both – demands its unique ISRC code for proper identification and tracking.

Recap: The Critical Role of ISRC Codes

To summarize, the ISRC code, or International Standard Recording Code, is essential for all commercially released music. To receive your royalties, every song must have a unique ISRC code assigned. These codes can be obtained through your national ISRC agency, for free through a digital distributor, or by becoming a registrant with your national ISRC agency (this requires a fee).

Understanding and utilizing ISRC codes are crucial steps if you're self-releasing music, managing an artist, or looking to create your own record label. Without them, your music is unlikely to be distributed, and you would miss out on due payments as your music cannot be identified or sales tracked. In the music industry, accurate metadata management is key, and ISRC codes form an integral part of any commercial music's metadata files. There's no workaround; securing a code for every track you release is a must-do.

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