ISRC codes, UPC/EAN

(© Jeffrey de Gans v1.7, 26 August 2020)

Back in the days ISRC codes where used for CDs. We didn't have spotify, YouTube or Deezer. CDs where released by major 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 a lot over the years. We have services like spotify, youtube, Apple Music and you don’t need a big label to release your music, you can do it pretty much all by yourself. But with that, as an artist or independent label, you need to know about ISRC codes. ISRC codes are not rocket science, it’s pretty simple once you know it.

An ISRC code is a unique identifier number that is exclusive to your song, a 'digital fingerprint', and is used for tracking information, payment distribution, protecting and controlling your own repetoire.

 Every single track on Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer has an ISRC code assigned.

What does an ISRC code look like and how should I use them?
This is a fictive ISRC code, but all codes have the same structure.

NL-ABC-20-00101

NL is the countrycode, so for the Netherlands it’s NL, Sweden SE, Belgium BE etc
ABC is the repetoire code, this is what you get assigned and is ‘your own code’
20 is the year of registration, so 20 is 2020
00101 is the 'recording code'

You are responsible for the 'recording code' 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-20-00101) and the first 3 digits are the release number (NL-ABC-20-00101). 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  less practical option
release #1

track 1 NL-ABC-20-00101
track 2 NL-ABC-20-00102
track 3 NL-ABC-20-00103

release #2

track 1 NL-ABC-20-00201
track 2 NL-ABC-20-00202
track 3 NL-ABC-20-00203
track 4 NL-ABC-20-00204

release #1

track 1 NL-ABC-20-00001
track 2 NL-ABC-20-00002
track 3 NL-ABC-20-00003

release #2

track 1 NL-ABC-20-00004
track 2 NL-ABC-20-00005
track 3 NL-ABC-20-00006
track 4 NL-ABC-20-00007

All songs and versions need a seperate ISRC code
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 different 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 releasing just digitally and you have no plans on making a phyical product (CD) you can use a distributor like Distrokid, CD-baby or Tunecore. They will not just upload your music to all streaming services, but they can assign an ISRC code for you. The problem could be that it's harder to know what ISRC code your song has, though the code should be somewhere in the confimation mail or portal.

When you are planning a physical release on CD as well, you need the same ISRC code for the CD as the digtal release. That could be problematic since for the CD, you need a DDP for the CD factory with the codes embedded. 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 make your own ISRC codes by getting your own repetoire code.
Getting your own repetoir code
As explained before, the repetoire code (NL-ABC-20-00101) is ‘your own code’, but how can you apply for that code? For the Netherlands it’s quite easy, follow this link and apply for your own 'master owner code'. It’s free of charge and useually SENA responds pretty fast. For other countries it depends, but the local society for copyright, composers and music publishers can help you with that. Once you have the repetoire code assigned, you can make your own ISRC codes, it’s that simple!
Embedding ISRC codes
For CD I will make a DDP image and embed the ISRC codes along with CD text and UPC/EAN 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 (free of charge), along with other metadata, into your masters following the official EBU/MPG BWAV standard. But beware! I’m not aware of any distributors reading those metatags right now (August 2020) This means, when uploading to an aggregator you still have to manually enter the ISRC codes!
UPC/EAN/Barcodes
When you have plans on releasing on CD or vinyl, you are talking about a physical product that will be sold in physical 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) so please send the UPC/EAN along with the ISRC codes and CD text.

A UPC/EAN is not free of charge but can be bought online. Just google for ‘buy UPC/EAN’ and you will find a lot of ‘online shops’ selling codes.

 
I made an excell sheet for filling out all infomation which you can send along with the mixes. You can download the excell sheet here

Some practical info and links

I hope this information helped you to understand how ISRC and UPC/EAN codes work, 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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