What are ISWC and ISRC codes?

One of the biggest topics of discussion in the music industry concerns metadata and guaranteeing appropriate parties are compensated for their works. ISWCs and ISRCs are two key pieces in the conversation, both assisting the process of cataloging business transactions and ensuring everyone gets paid for those transactions.

Here, we’ll discuss what ISWCs and ISRCs, how to obtain these codes, and why they are important to rights holders.

What is an ISRC?

An ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) is a unique code assigned to a specific sound recording (CD, audio file, video, etc.) performed by an artist or band. Essentially, it is a recording’s identification number and is used to track and verify specific information about a recording, including:

  • Artist name
  • Track title
  • Album title
  • Label name
  • UPC

There should only ever be one ISRC assigned to a recording and it should never be reused for another recording.

Who needs an ISRC?

If you intend to sell your music, then you’ll probably need an ISRC. ISRCs can be issued and assigned by independent artists, record labels, and music distributors for each unique sound recording released on CD, download, or made available via streaming. So if an independent artist records an album with ten tracks, that artist would assign ten unique ISRCS (one per track), which would be linked to those specific recordings forever.

ISRCs are commonly used by digital music services, like iTunes, and by collecting societies, like SoundExchange. An ISRC can also be permanently encoded as a ‘digital fingerprint’ which allows music services to identify sound recordings in order to distribute sales and royalty payments to artists, record labels, and music distributors.

Where and how can an ISRC be obtained?

In the U.S., you can obtain an ISRC by visiting USISRC.org. The site is accessible to any independent artist or band, record label, and music distributor. You simply fill out an online form and pay a one-time $80.00 fee. You then have access to an online account with a “Registrant Code” and “Country Code.”

What is an ISWC?

An ISWC (International Standard Musical Word Code) is a unique code assigned to a specific musical work or composition written by the songwriter(s). Like an ISRC, you can think of it as an identification number that’s used to track and verify specific information about a composition, including:

  • Song title
  • Songwriter(s)
  • Music publisher(s)
  • Ownership share(s) or Music publisher(s)

There should only be one ISWC assigned to a musical work and it should never be reused to represent another.

Who needs an ISWC and how do ISWCs relate to ISRCs?

ISWCs can be issued and assigned by music publishers and songwriters for each unique musical work. For example, if a songwriter is signed to a music publisher and writes ten songs, the publisher would assign ten unique ISWCs (one per song), which would be linked to those specific songs forever. An ISWC, however, can be linked to an infinite number of ISRCs. This is possible because there can be several recorded versions of a song (i.e. remix, cover, etc.), each with their own unique ISRC, all linked to the same ISWC.

ISWCs are used by music distributors, digital music services like iTunes and Spotify, and collection societies like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. An ISWC can also be permanently encoded as a ‘digital fingerprint,’ allowing music services to identify recordings embodying musical works and distribute royalty payments to music publishers and songwriters.

Where and how can an ISWC be obtained?

You can obtain an ISWC by visiting the ISWC International Agency. In the U.S., ASCAP is the official ISWC issuance agency, but even if you are not a member of ASCAP you can still get an ISWC. All you need to provide is the following information:

  • Title of the work
  • Names of all composers, authors, and arrangers with their role and their CAE/IPI number (assigned by ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC to songwriters and music publishers in the U.S.)
  • Work classification code (from the CIS standards list)