I’m new to Gearslutz and I’m glad that one of the regulars alerted me to the thread on ISRC because I am the Executive Director of both the International ISRC Agency and the US National ISRC Agency. I do this on contract to the bodies that have been appointed to these roles: IFPI (appointed by ISO) and RIAA (appointed by the International ISRC Agency) respectively. I’ve been doing the international job for 15 years and the US one for five.
I wanted to note here that we disagree with Jeff Price on much of what he says – either as a matter of opinion or of fact. I haven’t wanted to set up a slanging match in a public forum as Jeff and I are due to chat informally but that hasn’t happened yet.
The ISRC is the ISO standard identifier for sound recordings and music video recordings. That doesn’t itself
mean it’s useful but it is widely accepted that it is the preferred identifier for such recordings. Don’t confuse them with musical works (songs or compositions) which have their own identifier – ISWC – which is administered by CISAC (not to be confused with SESAC) and its network of music rights societies.
ISRC does date from a time when there was a little more self discipline in the industry and does not have good checks against abuse. That is something we are working on (see below). However it is basically sound and works while people don’t try to break it, whether through ignorance or mendacity.
I’m very happy to answer specific questions whether posted here or sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
. However let me address a few of the points that have come up. Costs
The US National ISRC Agency has never to my knowledge charged by the code. RIAA used to swallow the entire cost of operating the agency but the launch of the iTunes Store created a massive demand for registrant codes and we reluctantly introduced a $75 fee to issue a prefix. That prefix allows you to assign 100,000 codes a year without further cost so we’re proud that it’s the least expensive media identifier out there.
Many countries operate their agencies without making a charge. Typically it is the Music Licensing Company (the entity that collects from radio stations, clubs, bars etc and distributes to recording owners). It says something about their enthusiasm for ISRC that they do this.
Other countries make a nominal charge to cover costs. Note that ISO does not permit charges that do more than recover costs. Implementation
Most music services and licensing entities will accept an ISRC as part of the metadata record for a track. Typically they do not use it as a primary identifier (just as a retailer may know your home address but will still allocate a customer number to you). It does become very useful in de-duplicating multiple registrations – for instance when a track is registered with Music Licensing Companies in several places.
Services will almost always report your sales against the ISRC of the track – which is easier for your computer to deal with than track names, and will avoid ambiguity when there are radio edits, live versions etc.
We expect that in time more services to place more reliance on ISRC - and we believe that will be good for discovery (finding new music that your friends have recommended), efficient royalty processing and interoperability. Many big names in music are pushing for global registries of music right now and while some of what they are proposing is controversial, the “identity management” layer of having a unique identifier for each recording is widely accepted. ISRC Managers
We recognise that small labels and independent artists are much better at making music than at doing the admin. For this reason we authorise a number of entities to assign ISRCs for them. This works really well though we are always a bit worried that new codes are being assigned to tracks that already have them.
To make sure no-one is a free-rider, we make a charge for this facility on a sliding scale that accommodates neighbourhood studios and multinational aggregators. Because the charge is reasonable and the small labels are saving the $75 fee, this is all pretty equitable. Tunecore
I first came across Tunecore when they started assigning their own “ISRCs” without reference to the folks who run the ISRC system. Unfortunately they decided to allocate codes using “US-TC1”, “US-TC2” etc. without realising that this trampled all over some legitimate indie labels that had already been allocated them. We sorted that mess out by apologising to the affected labels and giving them new codes. At that point our lawyers talked to their lawyers and asked them to “play nice”. I don’t know how a “please get your tanks off my lawn” message was received as a “shakedown” threat. I was much more concerned to get them to stop colliding with legitimate users, though they were of course free-riding on the ISRC Manager system.
Tunecore agreed to stop calling its codes “ISRC” and to change the code syntax to avoid confusion. They did the first but their actions on the second meant that instead of trampling on a few indies, their landing craft occupied the whole of the Turks and Caicos Islands! They used the same syntax with a “TC” prefix where the ISO country code lives. That is allocated by ISO to the Turks and Caicos Islands. Now I’ll be happy to meet fellow Gearslutz members in the Turks for a "fact finding" visit
but that proud territory has a great musical tradition in ripsaw music. We cannot now issue registrants in the Turks and Caicos with the correct country code because Tunecore has polluted that part of the country code namespace.
I don’t know why Tunecore see ISRC as “the man”. Nothing could be further from the truth and even though RIAA provides the service in the US, it does so on the basis of non-discrimination. I work closely with indie organisations and take their views very seriously. We do not get complaints from actual indies. Evolution
For years I have been pressing for a central registry of ISRC codes and I have now got approval for a revision of the ISO standard to implement one. I’ll be happy to explain this to anyone interested but it will not be a rights management database – it will just record the ISRC and some basic data about the track so that the assignment is clear and unique. Other people who want to track ownership, royalties etc., can do so using the code, secure in the knowledge that everyone is using the code to refer to the same track.
Finally, as well as taking questions here or by email, I am happy to be invited to industry events (especially the interesting ones) to give a tutorial on ISRC, though it sounds as if most of the good folks here are already well briefed.
Best regards for the festive season,
Executive Director, International ISRC Agency
Executive Director, US National ISRC Agency