What are ISRC codes and how do they work?

ISRC Codes – Everything you need to know.

What Are ISRC Codes & What does ISRC Stand For?

ISRC stands for ‘International Standard Recording Code’. It is a system for marking and identifying sound and video recordings.

ISRC codes act like digital fingerprints, uniquely identifying recordings in which one of them is permanently embedded.


How Are ISRC Codes formatted?

The ISRC system formats codes using a combination of 12 characters (letters and numbers). Every ISRC combination must have each of the following four codes in the order below:

  • Country Code: the two letters issued by an ISRC agency identifying a country.
  • Registrant Code: three characters (an ISRC agency will issue this).
  • Year of Reference: the year, in two-digit form, associated with the track. The person or organisation (Registrant) registering the track chooses the year.
  • Designation Code: a 5-digit code the Registrant chooses. It must be unique in a calendar year.
example ISRC Code Format
ISRC Code Format Image Source: PPL UK

How to get ISRC Codes and where do they come from?

The IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), based in the UK, allocates ISRC codes. However, most countries also have their own ISRC agencies. Almost all distributors will assign ISRC’s to your recordings automatically for for free, so it’s unlikely you will have to apply for an ISRC code yourself!

Why Are ISRC Codes Useful / Important?

The code allows registrants, whether major record labels or independent artists, to track and identify their recordings’ ‘lives’. Registrants use IRSC codes to track sales.

Actually, retailers and distributors won’t distribute any music not embedded with IRSC codes. IRSC codes are the technology used to track the playback of music, so all songs released to the public for consumption have an ISRC code. This applies to any song appearing on a single, EP or album, whether studio or live.



ISRC vs UPC Codes

ISRC’s are assigned at the track level, each individual song has it’s own code. UPC’s (Universal Product Codes) are assigned at a product level. They are used to track sales of the entire product, (single, LP or EP)

UPC’s are like barcodes and need to be assigned to al digital and physical music products. Your distributor will usually do this for you automatically (and free!).