As an indie songwriter, you may have heard of different sorts of codes related to music like ISWC, ISRC, UPC and EAN.

This post will clarify:

1- What’s the difference between ISWC vs ISRC

2- Why you might want to get these codes

3- Where you can get ISWC and ISRC numbers

4- How you can embed these codes in your MP3 and/or WAV files

5- Other Frequently Asked Questions about ISWC, ISRC, UPC and EAN numbers

Ok. Let’s just get right into the thick of things!

1- ISWC vs ISRC, What’s the Difference?

ISWC stands for International Standard Musical Work Code. It identifies a composition.

1 ISWC number = 1 Composition

ISRC stands for International Standard Recording Code. It identifies a sound recording.

1 ISRC number = 1 Sound Recording

1 Composition can be related to multiple ISRC numbers if there are multiple Sound Recordings of that 1 Composition.

Here’s an opportunity to brush up on the difference between a composition and a sound recording if you need it 😉

ISRC codes and ISWC codes are two VERY distinct things.

2- Do you need an ISWC number or ISRC code or both?


In theory, both the ISWC and ISRC numbers are meant to help Performance Right Organizations (PROs) and music distributors respectively identify when your compositions and sound recordings are played.

IF it worked 100% of the time, you’d get paid properly every time one of your composition or sound recording is played.

In practice, the music industry is a little bit broken in places and revenue leaks continue to happen.

However, it can’t hurt to have those codes embedded in your files metadata. I’ll explain how in a little bit. But first….

3- How do you get these codes?

If you’re a signed artist, your record label will take care of ISRC numbers for you (tracking the sound recording) and your publisher will take care of the ISWC codes (tracking the composition).

How to get an ISWC code?

If you don’t have a publisher, you should be registering your compositions with a PRO yourself. Your PRO will then provide you with one ISWC number per composition.

Examples of PROs include ASCAP and BMI in the US, SOCAN in Canada, PRS in the UK and SACEM in France.

Wikipedia is your friend if you’re looking for a more complete list of Performance Rights Organizations 😉

How to get an ISRC code?

For ISRC numbers, indie artists have a couple of options.

Option 1- Choose a digital distributor that will automatically embed ISRC numbers to the digital recordings it distributes for you.

Examples of digital distributors include Distrokid (my favorite!), CD Baby, TuneCore to name but a few.

This is most suitable for indie artists who are looking to digitally release their albums on streaming platforms like Spotify, Pandora, Google Play, etc.

Option 2- Request a batch of ISRC numbers from your local ISRC Agency and embed those ISRC codes in your digital files.

This is interesting for indie musicians who are planning a physical release and music producers who are pursuing sync licensing opportunities where it is common to cut multiple versions of a single composition (remember: 1 recording = 1 ISRC number, 5 recordings = 5 ISRC numbers, even if it’s the same song/composition/musical work).

4- How to embed ISWC and ISRC codes in your audio files?

Working With a Music Distributor

If you chose option 1 above, your digital distributor will take care of the embedding for you.

Your distributor will already have the information for the ISRC code (1 recording = 1 ISRC) and UPC code (1 album = 1 UPC code) because they provide those.

You’ll just need to make sure you give your distributor accurate information for the rest of the metadata you want them to include in your audio files, such as the song title, artist name, publisher’s name if there’s one and… wait for it…. ISWC number!

Doing it Yourself

If you are going the DIY route, you’ll need to make sure you embed all those codes yourself.

Kid3 is the tag editor I recommend to embed metadata in WAV files as well as MP3s.

If you need to embed data on a physical CD or DVD, the company pressing the physical support should be able to do that for you. Just make sure you give them the information they need and double check their work afterwards to ensure they did it properly.

5- Quick-Fire Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about ISWC and ISRC numbers

Having an ISRC number is not a requirement to submit music to most sync licensing opportunities (or publishers and producers for that matter). But it can’t hurt to have that information embedded in your audio files anyway.

It’s highly recommended that you register your composition with a PRO and get an ISWC number before you make your music public.

UPC or EAN numbers are codes that identify an album, as opposed to a single recording that is identified by an ISRC number.

If you are commercially exploiting 4 different recorded versions of the same song, you will need 4 different ISRC numbers, 1 for each recording. To see how “different” the versions need to be to require their own ISRC, refer to section 4.9 of the ISRC Handbook.

Have a question that’s not been answered?

Let me know in the comments section.

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