ISRC Codes Explained

Over years of working with Independent Artists, Sage Audio has found the same topics are brought up time and time again.  So, we’ve decided to shed some light on questions we’re most frequently asked.

One of the more confusing aspects of music distribution is the role of an ISRC.

In this post we’ll answer the most common questions:

  • What is an ISRC?
  • When do I need an ISRC?
  • Can ISRC’s be encoded in the master wav. file?
  • What about ISRC’s with digital or physical distribution of my recording?
  • Where can I get an ISRC?

What is an ISRC?

ISRC stands for International Standard Recording Code and contains a series of 12 letters and numbers laid out from left to right.

These codes are assigned to an artist’s recording for the purpose of cataloging, and tracking a song. Simply put, it’s a code that’s unique to YOUR recording. A digital finger print that helps identify ownership.  An ISRC is structured as: country code/ the registrant code/ the year of reference code/ the designation code.

ISRC’s  are one of the tools that performance royalty companies like BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC use to track your sales and radio play as well as catalogue your songs.

Example ISRC:

When do I need an ISRC?

You need an ISRC if you’re ready to release your recording to the public.

If you’re ready to promote, if you’re ready to sell, or if you’re ready to distribute. That’s why these codes were created.

To provide a documented record of your song once it’s released out into the public. And yes, you WILL need a different ISRC for each version of the song you may want to release.

This includes remixes, shortened versions, TV versions, or instrumentals.

Remembering that each ISRC can be thought of as a fingerprint, can help you understand why need  you an original code for each unique version.  It ensures that each song can be cataloged and tracked individually.

Can ISRC’s be encoded in the Master Wav File?

In traditional .WAV formats the short answer is no. Individual Wav files do not store ISRC’s.  Your mastering engineer can however store ISRC’s on a master CD or DDP file as a separate reference.

It all sounds more complicated than it so let’s simplify it.  Whether mastering your recording for digital release, physical release,  or even both, these are the simple steps you need to take.

When you’ve finished mastering your recording.  If it’s an album or even just one song,  our clients have found it easiest to attach and register ISRC’s is through a Digital Distribution Company.  During the process of uploading and preparing your songs for distribution, most of these companies will automatically register and associate an ISRC for each of your songs.

After the mastering process is complete, most of our artists plan on releasing their album both online and on CD.But even in the case of just releasing your album on a physical CD, our artists have still found the easiest route is to first register your songs with a digital distribution company, and obtain the ISRC’s.

After, you can  provide your ISRC’s (along with your other pertinent album information) to your mastering engineer who can encode them onto a Master Disc or DDP file. And you can now send your recording to the CD duplication company of your choice.

Where do I go find a Digital Distribution Company? Where can I get an ISRC?

With no particular order, here are the top 4 digital distribution options our clients have most often used.

There are many other distribution companies out there, and we can’t claim one to be better than the others, however these are the ones we most frequently hear about from our artists.

Even though our artists have found it easier to work with a digital distribution company to obtain their ISRC’s you have do have the option of purchasing a block of ISRC’s directly.

If  you’d like more information on buying ISRC’s and how to reference/attach them to your songs, you can visit the International Standard Recording Code’s website Facts and Questions section at

Sage Audio – Wise. Sound. Mastering.