What are ISRC Codes and How do I Use Them?

As you prepare your recordings for distribution, you’ll probably hear people talk about ISRC codes. Don’t worry, they’re not as secret as they sound! Here’s what you need to know about ISRC codes and why they matter.

What Is an ISRC Code?

ISRC stands for International Standard Recording Code. This is a digital tool used to track sales and radio play of audio recordings.

Each code follows a specific template: CC-XXX-YY-NNNNN. Reading from left to right, the elements are:

  • Country code for the location where the ISRC code was issued
  • Alphanumeric designation of the ISRC issuer (combines with country code to denote a unique registrant)
  • Last two digits of the year the code was issued (not necessarily the year of recording)
  • ID number attached to the corresponding recording (usually assigned sequentially throughout a particular year)

Do I Need an ISRC Code?

ISRC codes are required for any recordings intended for public consumption: airplay, downloads, streaming. These codes are the only way to obtain accurate tracking through all channels. An IRC code is not necessary for demos, rehearsals or other recordings limited to personal use.

How Do I Obtain an ISRC Code?

You can acquire ISRC codes through two different methods:

  • Become an ISRC Registrant and purchase codes directly from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which is the official ISRC agency in the United States. This is not usually recommended for independent artists, as they don’t generally need codes in bulk amounts. In addition, a Registrant has the responsibility of detailed record-keeping and reporting.
  • Have your codes assigned by a mastering facility or digital distribution company that also serves as an approved ISRC Manager. At one time you could engage an ISRC Manager solely for the purpose of obtaining codes, but as of September 1, 2015, code management must be purchased along with mastering or another value-added package.

Can ISRC Codes Be Reused?

No. An ISRC code is attached to a particular recording, not the song itself. If you issue live versions, remixes or other substantially altered performances, each one must have its own ISRC code. Once an ISRC code is obtained, it follows the recording throughout its “life,” even if another person or company assumes ownership.

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