ISRC Coding of Music Tracks: IFPI / PPL

ISRC coding is a way of giving music tracks a unique identifying code, which can be an aid in detecting piracy, and also be useful in facilitating radio-play royalties. The ISRC coding scheme is administered internationally by the IFPI (the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), and by the PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited) in the UK . Here’s a brief description of how it works, but for further details click the link on the right…

How does the ISRC code system work? 

The idea is that an artist or record label applies to the PPL and is given a series of codes – free of charge, I understand. These take the form of a 12-character alphanumeric string, such as GBXXX0600123 – where..

  • the first two characters are letters indicating the country, eg. GB for Great Britain…
  • the next three are letters representing the unique reference given by the IFPI to the label/artist…
  • the next two characters are numbers indicating the current year…
  • and the final five are numbers which are free to be allocated by the label/artist to their tracks as they wish.

So the label/artist allocates a unique code from their series to each track on any album it releases (including a different code for different versions, eg. remixes or edits, of the same track). If the label then licenses the same track to different companies in different countries, the ISRC code still remains the same and is always tied to that track. If the track turns up on some strange album without its ISRC code, or with a false code, then it’s a good indication that piracy may have taken place.

Radio-play royalties 
Many radio stations nowadays operate automated playout systems where tracks from CDs are automatically cued up and played out on computer controlled equipment. This equipment can extract the ISRC codes from the tracks played in order to produce an automated schedule of royalties payable. So having ISRC codes can be an advantage in those circumstances where radio play is likely.

Get your ISRC codes before mastering!
With CDs, the ISRC code has to be inserted into the subcode data during the mastering process. So if you decide that you need ISRC codes, make sure you get your series from the PPL before doing the mastering!


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