Whenever you release new music, you need a UPC for the album or single, and an ISRC for each individual track. 

 UPC stands for Universal Product Code.

ISRC stands for International Standard Recording Code.

But what do these codes do, and why do you need them? Let’s decode the mystery!

What are UPC codes?

UPC codes are unique identifiers assigned to individual music releases, much like the barcodes you find on products in a store. 

A UPC consists of 12 digits, which play a vital role in tracking and managing your catalog in the realms of retail and music distribution

When you distribute your music to platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, each unique release requires its own UPC code. 

If your music is available on CD or vinyl, the UPC barcode can be printed on the back cover of the jacket, jewel-case insert, or digipack. It should NOT be displayed on the front of the album artwork. 

If your music is only available in digital format, you won’t need the barcode image displayed on your cover art. Instead, the 12 digit code info will be included in the metadata that your distributor delivers to music platforms.

Why do you need UPC codes?

There are four primary reasons each music release requires a unique UPC:

  1. Global Recognition and Differentiation

UPC codes are internationally recognized, allowing your music to be easily identified across different regions and platforms. This global standardization facilitates efficient communication and transactions in the music supply chain. And because different versions of a release require different UPCs, it’s easier to distinguish between a remaster, a deluxe edition, etc.  

  1. Sales Tracking

UPC codes enable accurate tracking of sales and distribution. This is important for monitoring the performance of your releases, and is what facilitates…

  1. Royalty Collection

Proper UPC coding is essential for the accurate collection and payment of royalties. It ensures that each sale or stream is attributed to the correct artist and rights holders, preventing revenue discrepancies.

  1. Inventory Management

For physical releases, UPC codes assist in inventory management. They streamline the process of tracking and restocking CDs, vinyl, and other physical formats.

Where can you get a UPC code? 

If you don’t have a UPC already assigned to your release by a label or mastering engineer, you can often acquire one for free from your distributor when you prepare your new music for release. 

For example, ReverbNation provides UPCs for all new releases we distribute. If you need an image file of the barcode to include on physical media such as vinyl or CD, you can take the numerical code we assign and use a barcode image generator such as BarcodesInc.com or Barcoding.com.

What are ISRC codes?

ISRCs  are unique identifiers assigned to individual tracks within a release. These codes help track the usage and performance of specific recordings across different platforms.

If a song comes out as a single, and then later appears on an album, each of those track appearances should have the same ISRC, assuming it’s the same exact recording. 

A radio edit, acoustic demo, or remix of the song will require a different ISRC.

Why do you need ISRC codes?

There are a few important reasons for these track identifiers. 

  1. Tracking Usage:

ISRC codes allow for granular tracking of individual tracks, providing insights into the popularity and performance of each song within an album or EP.

  1. Royalty Distribution:

Similar to UPC codes, ISRC codes are crucial for accurate royalty distribution. They ensure that the right parties are compensated for the use of specific tracks in various contexts.

      3. Catalog Consistency:

In the earlier example, where the same track was released as a single and then on an album, keeping a consistent ISRC for both appearances is what tallies stream counts together on music platforms. It also helps platforms like Spotify maintain a consistent listening experience on playlists if artists remove the single from distribution, but keep the track on the album available. 

Where can you get ISRCs?

If your tracks haven’t already been assigned ISRCs by a label or mastering engineer, you can often acquire ISRCs from your distributor.

For instance, ReverbNation provides ISRCs for free when you set up the new music for delivery to popular streaming platforms.

Conclusion:

UPCs and ISRCs aren’t the most thrilling thing about releasing new music. But they’re important to understand.

As you prepare your music to meet the world, make sure you follow the above guidance about UPCs and ISRCs.

Those cold little numbers help you track your streams and sales, and assures that you get paid properly for all activity. 

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