(© Jeffrey de Gans v1.6, 20 February 2020)

In the past ISRC codes where used for CDs, they where embedded on a CD and there was no spotify, iTunes, Deezer etc. All CDs where released through recordlabels and those labels knew about ISRC codes and delivered them to the Mastering-engineer who embedded them into the CD. As an artist you most likely didn’t even know ISRC codes excisted let alone know how to handle them. Don’t worry, you are not alone.

The music industry has changed quite a lot. We have things like spotify, youtube, iTunes and you don’t need a big label to release your music, you can do a lot of things yourself. But with that, as an artist or independent label, you need to know about ISRC codes (and UPC/EAN codes as well). ISRC codes are not rocket science, it’s pretty simple once you know it.

An ISRC code can be seen as a license-plate on your car, all cars have one and  all are different, never 2 of the same license-plates. An ISRC code is basically a unique identifier number that is connected to your song for tracking information, payments, archiving and things like that and in the near future probably even more.

To give you an idea on how much ISRC codes are used; all music on iTunes, Spotify etc has an ISRC, not one single track doesn’t have an ISRC code assigned.

So what does an ISRC code look like and how should I read it?

This is a fictive ISRC code, but all codes have the same structure.


NL is the countrycode, so for the Netherlands it’s NL, Sweden SE, Belgium BE etc
ABC is the repetoir code, this is what you get assigned and is ‘your own code’
19 is the year of registration, so 19 is 2019
00101 is the recording code.

You are responsible for recording code/number and it’s good practice to have a good administration for this. To make things easy I advise on numbering so that the last 2 digits are the tracknumber (NL-ABC-19-00101) and the first 3 digits are the release number (NL-ABC-19-00101). This way its easier to track, because from the number itself you can see which release it’s coming from. So the codes for 2 releases/albums/EP’s could look like this:

Best practice A  little less practical option
release #1

track 1 NL-ABC-19-00101
track 2 NL-ABC-19-00102
track 3 NL-ABC-19-00103

release #2

track 1 NL-ABC-19-00201
track 2 NL-ABC-19-00202
track 3 NL-ABC-19-00203
track 4 NL-ABC-19-00204

release #1

track 1 NL-ABC-19-00001
track 2 NL-ABC-19-00002
track 3 NL-ABC-19-00003

release #2

track 1 NL-ABC-19-00004
track 2 NL-ABC-19-00005
track 3 NL-ABC-19-00006
track 4 NL-ABC-19-00007

All songs and versions need a seperate ISRC code
Obviously every song needs a seperate ISRC code but also every version needs a seperate code. This means that for instance if you have a radio and extended version of the same song, they both need a seperate code assigned. Also an explicit and clean version need a different code, they are 2 versions. A seperate master for streaming services and CD use the same code because the song itself is the same, it’s just a different master.
How to get ISRC codes

If you are going to release just digitally and have no plans on making a phyical product (CD) you can use a service like Distrokid, CD-baby or Tunecore. They will not just upload your music to all streaming services, but they can also assign an ISRC code for you when you don’t fill in the code yourself during upload. The problem could be that you don’t know what code your song has (though the code is most probably in the confimation mail).

When you have plans on releasing on CD as well, you need the same ISRC code for the CD as well as the digtal release. That could be tricky since for CD, you need a DDP for the CD factory with the codes embedded, but when using a distributor/aggregator, you get the codes after upload and obviously the CD needs to be pressed before the digital release. To avoid that I think it’s a good idea to get your own ISRC codes.

Embedding ISRC codes

For CD it’s quite simple, I will make a DDP image and embed the ISRC codes along with CD text and things and that DDP is send to the CD factory for replication or duplication. You just deliver the codes and other info to me and I will take care of the rest. It’s also possible to embed the ISRC codes (along with other info) into the wav files, the BWAV standard. I’m not aware of any distributors reading the metatags (and so ISRC codes embedded) right now (February 2020), hopefully that will be the case soon. So this means, when uploading to an aggregator you still have to manually fill in the ISRC codes!

When you have plans on releasing on CD or vinyl, you are talking about a physical product that will be sold in shops or online. All products, no matter if it’s a bottle of beer, a package of cookies or a CD all have one thing in common, a unique number. A UPC (Universal Product Code) or EAN (International Article Number) code is nothing more, nothing less then a 12 (UPC) or 13 (EAN) digit barcode. That code needs to be printed on the sleeve so that it can be scanned. It’s also good practice to embed that code on the CD (DDP image) for tracking information so please send the UPC/EAN along with the ISRC codes and CD text.

I made an excell sheet for filling out all infomation so that it’s just a matter of copy/pasting the information. You can download the excell sheet here

A UPC/EAN is not free of charge but can be bought online. It’s as simple as googling for ‘buy UPC/EAN’ and you will find a lot of ‘online shops’ selling the codes.

Some practical info and links:

I hope this information helped you to understand how ISRC and UPC/EAN codes work and how to use them and how to get them. If you still have questions, feel free to ask.

With kind regards,

“Mastering is the final step before your music is released to the world. I take that very seriously.”

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