Everyone wants to get paid for their music, and with most releases widely available and streaming from all corners of the web, ISRC codes are the key to making sure you get your money.
The ISRC, or International Standard Recording Code, is an electronic tag that tells a story about the track to which it is attached. It is currently the only standardized and non-proprietary way to keep track of individual recordings in the digital marketplace, and as such, provides reliable identification of the sound recording for a specific track.
ISRCs are one of the primary elements of metadata you should be familiar with as you prepare for your mastering session. In addition to the mastered versions of your music, your final production master parts package will often include ISRCs as well as other pieces of metadata about your release.
Here are some of the basics about ISRCs and how they relate to both the music business and your mastering session.
Tied to Your Track
An ISRC is a permanent alphanumeric code assigned to each specific track of a recording (as well as short form music videos). Composed of 12 characters broken down into four subcodes, the ISRC gives an accurate description of the following:
1) The country of origin for the sound recording copyright owner. Due to the overwhelming demand to assign codes for recordings from the United States, a second country prefix of “QM” (in addition to “US”) was put into use in 2010.
2) The code for the registrant or copyright owner, which is unique to the sound recording copyright owner, whether artist or record label.
3) The year the ISRC was assigned to the sound recording track (not necessarily when the track was first released or recorded).
4) The designation code, which is the code assigned to each track.
The ISRC is always tied to the track, not the delivery medium. So, for example, a song from a regular CD album that is later released on that artist’s “Greatest Hits” compilation in digital download format would have the same ISRC in each case. However, a remix of the same song would be considered a new track and would require a different ISRC. Additionally, new codes are necessary when a track is edited so that the length changes by more than 10 seconds, as well as when a track is modified (say, for example, through re-mastering for sound restoration).
ISRCs are Forever
ISRCs are used to keep track of recorded works, including when and how they are used, downloaded, and sold across the digital universe. The code helps trace the royalty owner who is owed royalties when a sound recording is used by web-based streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, Google Play, Rhapsody, etc., as well as satellite radio stations like SiriusXM.
The ISRC is also the tool used to track sales in digital music download stores, such as iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, or Beatport. ISRCs are included in the metadata that these companies use – and often require – to sell your content.
Remember, ISRCs are applied to the recording regardless of medium or file format. It is a “forever” designation.
The ISRC was created by the International Standard Organization (ISO) in order to provide an electronic label to sound recordings. In each country, a national organization supplies codes to sound copyright owners. In the United States, the national administrative agency is the U.S. ISRC Agency, which is part of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
If you own the rights to your own music, and/or run your own independent record label, and plan to release multiple recordings in the future, it may make sense to apply for your own codes directly. Visit the ISRC Agency page for more information and to get your registrant designation.
There are other ways to get ISRCs. Often record labels apply for status with the Agency to obtain their own 3-digit codes (the “Z04” in our example, above) so if your music is coming out on a label they will probably supply the codes. Additionally, many music business entities, including digital distributors and online music aggregators (like CD Baby or The Orchard), are officially designated ISRC “managers” and are permitted to assign codes. If you’re going to be working with one of these companies, you can often receive your ISRC information from them.
One thing to keep in mind: it’s important to keep your contact info up to date with whichever party issues your ISRCs, including aggregators as well as SoundExchange, the nonprofit organization authorized in the U.S. to collect royalties from streaming services and satellite radio on behalf of musicians. That way, you’ll be sure to receive accurate and timely payments.
Before Your Mastering Session
Mastering engineers can include the ISRCs for your songs on your final production master (production master CD and/or DDP image file) as data on a subchannel (it cannot be encoded into the audio files themselves). If mastering at Airshow, be sure to indicate your codes on your Mastering Information Sheet.
Do your best to plan ahead: spend some time deciding how you will secure codes to ensure you have all the information needed when preparing your release for mastering, as well as having the necessary info to supply to aggregators (if they aren’t already providing you with ISRCs) or anyone tracking the distribution of your content online, such as SoundExchange.
For more about other types of metadata included on your master, including UPC, CD Text, and Gracenote information, be sure to visit our recently updated white paper on metadata entitled Cover Your (Data) Bases.