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Why get an ISRC? Invaluable advice from PPL
Article Post Date: Thursday 09.08.2012

Once a recording has been produced, mixed and mastered, the next thing the rights holder wants to do is release it for the world to listen to.  In order to ensure the rights holders and performers are correctly paid the money they are due from having it released, it is crucial that the recording can be uniquely identified.  The ISRC is the industry standard way to do this. This guide will tell you what an ISRC is, how it is used by the industry and what you need to do to get one.

What is an ISRC?

ISRC stands for International Standard Recording Code. It is a code that is embedded into the sound recording file to help organisations with the music industry to track where the recording is bought, downloaded or broadcast.  Without one, a record company is unable to get their music onto sites like iTunes or register them with PPL.

An ISRC is made up of 12 characters and split into four sections:


 

  • The first two characters identify the country where the member is based (eg, 'GB' represents 'Great Britain').
  • The next three characters identify the rights holder. PPL allocate these three letters and numbers - they are specific to the rights holder. (Please note that this code does not imply permanent ownership of the recording or video. The code will not change if the recording is later licensed to a different owner.)
  • The next two characters identify the year in which the specific recording was given an ISRC.
  • The last five characters are the choice of the rights holder when allocating recordings with an ISRC. These characters are always numbers. The easiest way to organise this section of the code is to give the first recording '00001', the second '00002', etc. The sequence can be reset to '00001' when a new year of reference (section three, detailed above) is applicable.


How is the ISRC used and why is it important?

The rights holder will need to provide their mastering engineer with a unique code for each recording being mastered.  Your engineer will embed the ISRC into the metadata section of the sound recording file – this will stay with the recording wherever it goes, be it processed into an MP3 file and distributed digitally or pressed onto a CD. Downstream users of that final product can then read the ISRC in a similar way to how your computer reads the title/artist information on a CD or MP3 you listen to. It is forever embedded into the background file information of that recording.

It is also important to ensure that ISRCs are used correctly. Once a specific version of a recording has been allocated an ISRC, it should not allocated a new one. For example, if you release a single and that same version is then included on a later album release or compilation, you should ensure that the SAME original ISRC is used each time.

That said, it is also important to ensure new codes are allocated when necessary. The industry guidelines state that any recording that is more than 10 seconds different in duration should be allocated a new code – for example, a radio edit and an album edit of the same recording should have a new code if their durations differ by more than 10 seconds.  Similarly, remixes, alternative version, re-records and live recordings should all be allocated unique ISRCs.

Once allocated and released, the ISRC can then be used to track sales and airplay. If somebody buys your recording from iTunes, iTunes will report the ISRC to the Official Charts Company (OCC) and your distributor. OCC then reference the ISRC to find out what recording has been bought - this process is how the Official UK Singles Chart is produced each week. Your distributor will match the ISRC back to the specific recording to ensure money is correctly allocated.

The ISRC is especially vital to PPL, the UK’s sound recording licensing company. PPL licenses recorded music played in public or broadcast and then distributes the licence fees to its performer and rights holder members. With nearly 6 million unique recordings on the PPL Repertoire Database, the ISRC is the most efficient way to identify what a recording is and when it is being played.  A rights holder member of PPL cannot register a recording without an ISRC - because the ISRC is the unique identifier, PPL use it to de-duplicate registrations of the same recording (e.g. from compilations) to identify recordings as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

PPL does not retain a profit for its services. Every penny, after administration costs, is passed onto its registered members, thousands of performers and record companies who receive the royalties they deserve for their recorded music. The ISRC helps to keep these administration costs to a minimum – without it, PPL would have to manually identify recordings using title and artist information. Using ISRCs to do this not only speeds up the process but increases the accuracy of the resulting payment – no ISRC (or the wrong ISRC) could in some instances lead to the wrong people being paid.

How do I get an ISRC?

PPL provide ISRCs to rights holders in the UK. There is no cost involved in obtaining an ISRC or becoming a PPL member. Please visit the PPL website to find out how to get an ISRC.

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