What Is An ISRC Code? | Sara Carter: Online Mixing And Mastering

What is an ISRC code?

So, you’ve just been asked about ISRC codes by your mastering engineer and you have no clue what they are or if you need them. Well, I’m about to explain all about them so you don’t have to feel like a noob and can wow your mates down the pub…(not).
You’re going to learn:
  • How they affect your royalty payments
  • Where to get them
  • How to have them added to your music tracks
I love mastering music, I really do. The creativity of the process and bringing out the best in a mix so that, in the end, the artist or band think you’ve performed a miracle and tell you you’re the best thing since sliced bread.
However, it’s not all glitter balls and rainbows.
Yes, there’s the other stuff…the BORING stuff that’s all part and parcel of mastering and is just as important if you ever want to get paid royalties if your record gets played on the radio, purchased or used on an awesome TV crime drama like ITV’s Unforgotten or BBC’s Line Of Duty (you never know!). That stuff is the METADATA and included in that is the ISRC code.

What are they exactly and how do they work?

An ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) is a 12 character code that uniquely identifies your song (a bit like a fingerprint) and can be permanently encoded into your recording as an accurate way to track sales and radio play.
The code is made up of 12 characters and is split into 4 sections:
  • The first two characters identify the county e.g. GB
  • The next three characters (XXX) identify the recording rights-holder
  • The next two characters (YY) identify the year
  • The last five characters (NNNNN) are the choice of the rights-holder

They look like this: “GB-XXX-YY-NNNNN”

isrc code meaning in mastering

Each ISRC is a unique and permanent identifier for a specific recording (not the composition or lyric content), one per track. Every re-mix, radio edit or re-master needs a different code.

You should get ISRC’s if you’re planning to release a record commercially, either on CD, for streaming or both. In fact, digital stores won’t put any track on sale without an ISRC code because they need it for sales tracking.

So how do I get a code?

They’re easy to get.
You’ll get them from most of the main digital distribution companies like CD Baby, Tunecore, Distrokid and Reverbnation when you upload your mastered WAV for distribution. They usually offer them free as part of their paid service. Not all do though and in that case you can get them from your country’s main ISRC registration company.
In the UK that’s the PPL and they offer them free of charge. The RIAA in the USA charge approx $2 per track.
Some mastering facilities also offer the codes for free as part of their service, so it’s always worth asking if they do that.

How are they added to the track?

The distribution companies will add them to your track following upload and your mastering engineer can add them for you during the mastering process.
You must make sure that you pass the codes on to your mastering engineer BEFORE they produce your final CD master or DDP image.
If you get a DDP from your mastering engineer without the codes, you must clearly label it so you know there are no codes embedded. The codes can be added at a later date to a second DDP, the one you intend to send to your CD replication house, but your mastering engineer might require a small fee to do this for you.
It’s fairly common to get the codes from the distributor AFTER the tracks have been mastered and uploaded. Your distribution company will email the codes to you once your tracks have been submitted and it’s only then can you give them to your mastering engineer for adding to the final CD master or DDP image.
Having the codes before mastering is beneficial as it could save you money by not having to pay for additional masters or DDP’s. This is when you could order your codes from the PPL in advance, before you send the files off for mastering.
Alternatively, you can embed your ISRC in your broadcast wav files yourself, using iD3 tag editor or this free utility from Sonoris Audio Engineering called ISRC editor. Note though, only your mastering engineer can add it to the DDP.
Codes can be added to MP3, M4A, AAC, FLAC and broadcast WAV files.

Where else might I need an ISRC?

Your lovely, flashy new music video will need an ISRC but a different one to your music recording.
FYI You’ll also find them used on spoken word recordings and training programs.


Now you know where to get ISRC codes and how to have them embedded into your music files and get your royalties!
You’ll also be able to wow your mates should the question ever come up in your local pub quiz on a Tuesday night. Isn’t that awesome? You’re welcome.
What about you? Do you get ISRC’s as a matter of course for your releases? Are you a mastering engineer? Do you ask your clients if they’ll be getting ISRC’s? I’d love to know!
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