ISRC stands for International Standard Recording Code (so yes, technically making saying “ISRC codes” redundant). Each song of yours will have its own unique code for tracking/sales/royalties purposes. These codes, along with the UPC/EAN (see below) are written to a CD as part of the description of the disc. The mastering engineer writes this information to the master CD so this information is on every replicated CD with all the other data. If you release your music on iTunes, Spotify, or anything of the like, they’ll want the ISRC information for each song, as well.
These codes are used to record numbers of plays which in turn tracks how much in royalties you’re owed.
How to Get ISRC Codes
If you’re on a label, they’ll take care of getting them for you. If you’re on your own, you’re responsible for your own codes. Last I checked a couple of years ago, if you’re living in the US you have to pay a one time fee to get your unique ID and then you can generate all the codes you need for life. Go to USISRC.org for more information and to apply to get your codes. The process of getting them varies for each country so look into your own country’s system for the specifics if you live out of the US.
A sample ISRC for a song might look like this – “US-S1Z-99-00001”. “US” is the country code of the artist (in this case they’re from the United States), “S1Z” is the unique ID for that particular artist, “99” is the year of the release or in this case 1999, and “00001” is the number assigned to that song. Each song gets its own code, so you can choose any number between 00001 and 99999 for each song of yours. Yep, that means you can generate enough codes each year for 99,999 unique songs of yours.
And while we’re at it…
What is a UPC/EAN?
This is like the ISRC code but for the entire album, standing for Universal Product Code or the European (or sometimes International) Article Number. You won’t be as concerned with this for a digital release, but this information should be an important part of your physical release if you are planning on doing anything beyond just giving it away. This is used to track sales in most record stores whether online or offline.
So you can see both codes are important in both tracking sales for charting/recognition purposes as well as ensuring that you get what’s coming to you in terms of royalties as the band and songwriter of your music.