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Unravelling the many Codes and Acronyms of the music industry. Part 1 – Cracking the Codes

You just found out you need to register your tracks with a CMO like PPL… They will give you an ISRC, you also need an EAN but all you have is a UPC!?You might also need an AP2 from MCPS. A PRO like PRS will give you an ISWC, but what’s the difference between a PRO and a CMO? Are you confused by all the codes and acronyms in the music biz? You’re not the only one! Read on and I will explain all.

Let’s start with the codes and other bits of data you need. This is essential for making sure they are registered correctly. Make a spreadsheet of all your compositions and recordings, so you can keep track of your catalogue.

ISRC – International Standard Recording Code.

ISRC was developed in 1986 and implemented in 1989, first for just music videos. In January 1992 it became standard for all audio and video recordings. The global body for ISRC is IFPI who have then delegated the task to local agencies.

ISRC is used to identify individual recordings, rather than songs. If there are multiple recordings of the same song then each one would have its own unique code. Once a recording is assigned a code it keeps that code forever. If a recording is “remastered” then the new master would have its own code. Music videos also have different codes to the audio recordings of the same song.

ISRC can be embedded into the audio data file during the mastering process. This is not essential as most usage reports only contain the artist name and the song title. Most online distributors embed the meta data, including ISRC during the distribution process.

Most online distributors can assign your tracks ISRC or will have a section where you can provide your own. It doesn’t matter who assigns the code as this doesn’t make them the owner. It is the person who registers the code with the relevant organisation that owns it.

ISRC is always 12 characters in total. The first two characters denote the country of origin of the person or organisation who assigned the code. The next 3 characters are the “first registrant” code, this denotes the person or organisation who assigned the code.

The combination of the country code and the first registrant code is known as the ISRC “Stem”(highlighted in yellow). In most cases, your local ISRC body will assign you with a 5 digit stem. You will need to create your own codes by adding the last 7 digits.

After the stem, the next two digits are the “year of reference”. This denotes the year the code was assigned (not the year it was released or recorded). The final 5 numbers can be anything you choose. The simplest way to do it is to start at 00001 for the first code and then increase incrementally. 00002, 00003 and so on. When the year changes, go back to 00001 and start again. This way you can do up to 99,999 codes per year with one stem.

Once you have created your codes, or been assigned them, you need to register them with a Recording Rights CMO, such as PPL or Sound Exchange. This should be done in advance of the release or any promotion. It should be no later than the end of the calendar year of the release or promo to ensure there is no lost revenue.

Quick video guide to ISRC

Barcodes (EAN and UPC)

Barcodes are used to identify products, these barcodes are usually on the back or side of physical products and are scanned at the point of sale. This can be used for both stock management for the vendor but also, in the case of music products, can be used to track sales and compile charts.

All barcodes consist of a sequence of numbers, that is then converted into a series of black bars that can be scanned. Non-tangible products such as digital downloads are also assigned “barcodes”, but just as the sequence of numbers.

The two most commonly used barcodes are UPC (Universal Product Code, also referred to as UPC-A) and EAN (European Article Number). UPC-A is always 12 digits long, and EAN is usually 13 digits long. (There are also 2, 5 and 8 digits long EAN, but these are never used for music). Adding a 0 to the start of a 12 digit UPC makes it compliant with EAN codes. This allows you to use a UPC where an EAN is requested.

EG. You wish to register your product with PPL, they require a 13 digit EAN, but you only have a 12 digit UPC, simply add a 0 to the start of your UPC.

There are various places that will sell you barcodes, but I think this is unnecessary for self-releasing recording artists. You will be assigned a barcode by your distributor, sometimes for a fee. If you only have an online distributor then you may need a separate barcode for any physical CDs you press. If these are only sold at gigs or from your own website then in most cases they will be very hard to get included in chart eligible sales, so a barcode would be unnecessary.

The barcode, along with the ISRC and some other data usually need to be registered with the local chart compilers prior to release in order to be eligible for a chart position.

Catalogue Number

Catalogue numbers are created and assigned by the record label. There is no standard length or composition of these codes. They can be entirely down to the labels to choose. Their main purpose is to give each release a short reference code to identify them rather than using the full title and artist name. They usually consist of the initials of the record label, the format and then sequential numbers.

EG. If ABC records were releasing the 1st CD they had ever released the catalogue number could be ABCCD001, the next CD would be ABCCD002 and so on, if they also released the same product as a download it would have its own catalogue number such as ABCDL001, where DL is short for “download”.

PDate, PName and PLine

When registering sound recordings you may be asked to provide a PName, a PDate and a PLine. The “P” in all these stands for “phonogram”. The ℗ symbol provides notice of copyright in a sound recording. The PDate is the date (expressed as a year in 4 digits, Eg 2018) the recording was first released. This is also the date that the copyright in the sound recording was established.

The PName is the owner of the sound recording at the time of the release. The PLine is the PDate followed by the PName. Eg 2018 ABC Recordings. If you look at CD and Vinyl covers you can see the “PLine”, it will start with the ℗ symbol. (See example below, PLine highlighted in red)

ISWC – International Standard Musical Work Code

An ISWC is a reference number for the identification of musical works. In nearly all cases it is the responsibility of a PRO like PRS to assign ISWC. You may see that some of your works in PRS have an ISWC and others don’t. This is because ISWC can only be assigned when certain data is complete such as all the composers, authors and arrangers of the work have to be identified by their IPI numbers and role codes.

You can contact your PRO and provide any missing information to enable an ISWC to be assigned but this is probably unnecessary as tracks without an ISWC can still be allocated revenue. You can find more information about ISWC here.

In the next article, I will be breaking down acronyms and explaining the roles of the societies they refer to.

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