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.
You have two options.
First, most music distribution services will automatically create ISRC codes for you once you upload your music to the various digital music streaming services and stores.
I recommend Distrokid or Ditto Music (the two services I personally have used for years to distribute my music).
When you upload your music in either of these services, they’ll allow you to put in ISRC codes for your songs if you already have them, otherwise they’ll generate them for you. You can then give me these codes to write to the CD. (Note that you can schedule your release for the future, so you don’t have to worry about the music releasing in online stores and streaming services before your CD comes out.)
Secondly, you can create your own codes which I do.
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 outside 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.
This route is more expensive with the one time fee, but it gives your own personal code to create a sense of cohesion and unity for all of your releases, not to mention it allows you to create codes as you like. It also makes it a bit easier if you ever need to move your music from one distribution service to another.
All that said, both methods work just fine for getting you viable ISRC codes.
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.
I talk more about how to get a UPC code here.