What Are ISRC Codes and Why You Need Them

ISRC codes are necessary for ensuring that you get the royalties you’re owed from streams and sales of your music on the various music streaming and sales services (Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, etc.). Let’s identify what are ISRC codes and talk about why you need them if you plan on releasing music commercially.

What Are ISRC Codes

what are isrc codes

ISRC stands for “International Standard Recording Code”.

They come in a very particular alphanumerical format which looks like this: US-S1Z-99-00001.

“US” is the two letter country code, “S1Z” is an example of a 3 character artist code, “99” refers to the year of release, and “00001” is the release number for that song.

Technically the entire thing is the number for that song, but when you register for an account with the US ISRC agency at https://usisrc.org/ (this is specific to artists in the US, refer to your country’s specific ISRC website), you can create 100000 codes per year. The “00001” is simply an example number. You can make this number to be whatever you want, but you would typically just go chronologically beginning with 00001 each year.

Every song which is released commercially needs an ISRC code which is used to track plays and sales of that song. Digital streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music use them, radio stations use them, even CDs are printed with ISRC codes.

Without a code assigned to and associated with each song of yours, any plays that song receives can’t be tracked. This is why music distributor services like DistroKid or Ditto Music require that you either input your own ISRC code or will otherwise automatically generate one for you.

Tracking is necessary for two reasons.

One, it quite literally keeps track of how many plays a song receives. When you’re browsing through Spotify, for instance, you’ll see the number of plays associated with every song on there.

Two, by tracking the number of plays and sales your song has received, this ensures that you receive the proper amount in royalties which you have coming to you which is consistent with that number of plays/sales.

It’s also important to mention that if your music leaves any streaming services for any period of time, or if you re-release the same music with new mixes or masters, if you use the same code(s) for each song, the same number of plays will be reflected.

This is why it’s important to keep a record of your ISRC codes for every one of your songs once you have them.

How to Get ISRC Codes

I alluded to two of the main ways to get ISRC codes, but I put together an overview on how to get ISRC codes which delves deeper into registering with the US ISRC agency or using your distributor to get your ISRC codes.

I also give a couple additional options you have for getting these codes in that overview.

Regardless of HOW you get your ISRC codes, it’s essential that you have them. This applies to whether you want to release your music digitally, on CD, or both.

Now you have a better understanding of what these codes look like and why they’re so important for tracking your music’s plays and more importantly their role in getting you paid for those plays.

Don’t forget about the OTHER important code for tracking your album’s sales as a whole, the UPC code, by checking out my guide on how to get a UPC code for music!

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