Tech Tuesday: What are ISRCs and why should you care about them?

ISRCs are causing a stir on the interwebs

Clubhouse, a wildly popular social networking app, has taken quarantine by storm due to its unique ability to connect people of all backgrounds, professions, and interests via drop-in audio. Since its inception in April, numerous discussions have been had on the platform, ranging from how to optimize playing sound through the interface to how to get flewed out. Some topics of discussion are more controversial than others, but one that was trending this weekend was none other than ISRCs.

Most of us in the music industry are at least vaguely familiar with the term, but it was quite evident this weekend that there still exists a lot of confusion surrounding ISRCs and even more misinformation on the subject.

Yikes.
Double yikes.

So what exactly are ISRCs and why have so many people been arguing about them since Saturday night? Let’s break it down:

What is an ISRC?

According to the US ISRC Agency, ISRC (colloquially and redundantly referred to as an “ISRC code”) stands for International Sound Recording Code. It’s a unique 12-digit alphanumeric identifier for sound and music video recordings.

How is it generated?

An ISRC is generated one of two ways:

  1. Automatically, via a distributor.
  2. Manually, by going directly to the US ISRC website and applying for a registrant code yourself.

So for example, if I, a resident of the US, was releasing my 17th recording ever this year and wanted to use my own ISRC, this is how it could look: US-ABC-21-00017

US = The country of the ISRC issuer

ABC = The registrant code

21 = The year of reference

00017 = A unique number assigned by the registrant, generally sequentially 

Want to create your own ISRC? You can certainly do that! However, it isn’t the best use of time or money. According to the official US ISRC website:

Regardless of how your ISRCs are obtained, you will be able to use them for the life of the recording – there is no distinction between ISRCs issued by ISRC Managers and those issued using your own Registrant Code.

The US ISRC Agency

So essentially, when dealing with a distributor that autogenerates the ISRC, you’re paying for the convenience. 

Why is it important?

An ISRC is essential for tracking sales and revenues of a sound recording. Think of it as the digital thumbprint that will forever identify that sound recording.

This is especially important when an artist is looking to switch distributors, say from their current distributor to Gvng Music Distro. The ISRCs will be needed to ensure the songs can be transferred smoothly and that any and all data specific to said songs is maintained, such as streaming metrics.

If I re-release a song, does it require a different ISRC?

Yes, it does. Re-releases, remixes, remastered versions, etc. all must have their own ISRCs.

Is an ISRC the same as an ISWC or UPC?

No.

An ISWC is an International Standard Music Work Code. This identifies works (compositions and lyrical content), not recordings.

A UPC is a Universal Packaging code. In music, it is a release identifier, meaning it is tied to the carrier (e.g. CD, vinyl, digital album, etc.) of the recording as opposed to the recording itself. UPCs apply to all kinds of goods, not just music.

Close-up view on red laser scanning label with barcode on product.

Anything else I should know?

Language matters. Words matter. It’s just as important to understand the business as it is to create the music. And that starts with doing your due diligence. The fact that you’re here already shows you’re aware of that. Keep going—and when in doubt, research.


Want to know more about all things music tech? Be sure to tap in with us on Clubhouse and follow us on Twitter to stay in the loop!

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