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ISRC Codes: What Are They And Why Do I Need Them?

ISRC is an acronym for International Standard Recording Code. It’s a serial number given to every song released to the public for sale or for streaming. The codes are administered by the Recording industry association of America (RIAA). Still, the code numbers themselves can be issued by anyone that has applied for and received a company code.

Here’s the official definition from the RIAA:

ISRC, the International Standard Recording Code, is the internationally recognized identification tool for sound and music video recordings.

An ISRC uniquely and permanently identifies the recording to which it is assigned – regardless of the format on which it is used and independent of any changes in ownership. ISRCs are increasingly being used by major download sites, digital distribution companies and collective management organizations as a tool to manage digital repertoire and track commerce.

The reason ISRC codes are used is so each stream and each performance can be tracked and immediately attributed to your song. This way, performance royalty organizations do not have to try to match the songs by content manually.

Codes on CDs are optional but recommended. ISRC codes are embedded in the CD master file and are delivered with the CD master to the CD pressing plant. ISRC codes are embedded in the CD master file and are delivered with the CD master to the CD pressing plant. All digital delivery services, including Apple and Spotify, require codes. Codes are not embedded into .WAV files. When you upload a song to a digital distribution service, you will be asked to specify the ISRC code.

How do you get codes?

  1. Masterdisk is an authorized provider. We can give you one code or many. It is your code and will never be reassigned to another song.

  2. You can apply to be a code provider yourself. This is not a difficult process, but it takes a few weeks to complete. I think this option is the right thing to do if you are an avid music producer, a record label, or work with many other artists in creating and direct releasing your music. You must maintain archives of the codes you provide, and you have to pay an annual license fee for the privilege. You can apply at the US ISRC Agency website.

  3. Your CD pressing plant or your digital distribution service May assign ISRC codes on your behalf. You would need to find this out in advance. They may charge you for these codes, or they may be included in the fees you pay them.

When should a derivative work get a new code?

The RIAA says that the ISRC code should remain with the song even if it’s being used on a collection or released by another label or service.

In my experience, that guideline is often not followed. Some labels prefer to have all of their ISRC codes generated by them, making it easy to maintain their archives.

The code can remain with your song for the life of the recording. It never needs to be updated. But, when you release a version of your song that is distinctly different, you should assign a new code. If it’s a different length, mix, featured artist, recording or performance, or if it’s an instrumental version or a clean version, new ISRC codes should be assigned. Cover songs (compulsory license via Harry Fox Agency) should have a new ISRC code assigned since the recording is a new performance.

The format of the ISRC code.

There are four parts to the ISRC code, and it is always 12 characters (i.e., CN-CO-YR-00000). Note: The hyphens in the example are not part of the code.

  • The first two digits signify the country of issue.

  • The next three digits signify the company (assigned by RIAA).

  • The next two are the year of issue.

  • The last 5 are the serial number (numeric only).


You need ISRC codes for every commercial release, physical or virtual. You need unique codes for any alternate versions. Usually, the record label issues the codes, but you can apply for your own company code if you have a lot of music to administer. You do not need ISRC codes for instrumental versions or other versions that are not for sale or for streaming. Note: traditional radio stations also use ISRC codes to track plays.

For more information, here are some helpful links:

Deep knowledge base from the experts.

Find an ISRC CODE.


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