ISWC vs ISRC, What You Need To Know

//ISWC vs ISRC, What You Need To Know

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 😉

ISWC vs ISRC
ISRC codes and ISWC codes are two VERY distinct things.

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

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 any other questions related to ISWC and ISRC numbers?

Let me know in the comments section. I’ll get back to you asap! 😉

2018-10-19T15:02:31+00:00

10 Comments

  1. Daniel November 13, 2018 at 8:28 am - Reply

    Can a distributor assign ISRC codes without also doing a full-on distribution of a song, ie I just want to send the track off to a library (and not Spotify, etc)?

    • Joyce Kettering November 13, 2018 at 3:57 pm - Reply

      Hi Daniel, a music distributor is there to distribute your music to Spotify, iTunes Store, etc. so it doesn’t make much sense paying them to NOT distribute.

      If you just want an ISRC number to send a track off to a library, you might as well purchase the codes and add them to your audio files’ metadata yourself.

      You can purchase codes from your national ISRC agency and use the Kid3 Audio Tagger to add the information in your audio files’ metadata.

  2. Daniel November 13, 2018 at 9:37 pm - Reply

    Thank you! Great info, as always. To clarify, some of my songs (or “songs”) I would consider appropriate for library submission, but may not be ones that I’d consider appropriate for mass availability. But this makes me wonder: Do you distribute all of your production music?

    • Joyce Kettering November 13, 2018 at 10:47 pm - Reply

      My pleasure 🙂

      Nope, I have a few albums on platforms like Spotify but really, considering I do nothing to grow my streaming or album sale numbers (not a priority for me), one could argue I might as well take those albums off these platforms.

      Most of my production music is only available on production music libraries.

  3. keasungs December 5, 2018 at 6:10 pm - Reply

    Great article. i have a very confusing question and hopefully i will explain well,
    A song i distributed with CDbaby didn’t deliver to some stores the submitted to. One of it is Pandora Radio and i really want it to be LIVE on Pandora. I have contacted CDbaby about it and they said Pandora Radio is a curated site and there is no guarantee i will be accepted.

    i submitted another release using another distributor and also didn’t make it to Pandora. i released another song using the new distributor but this time, i had my label logo attached to the artwork and it was accepted on Pandora. i went back to the previous release with the new distributor, did some edit on the artwork and resubmitted and it was also approved by Pandora.

    i tried going back to CD baby to do some edit but i wasn’t allowed to unless i take the release down and re upload again.

    Fast-forward. Can i use the ISRC and UPC code for the release on CD baby to upload same release with the new distributor? but this time, i will only select stores that failed on CD baby . So since the release didn’t get approved on by Pandora, can i just use the same ISRC and UPC on my new distributor but then, will tell it to deliver only on Pandora. I hope this question is clear.

    • Joyce Kettering December 5, 2018 at 7:29 pm - Reply

      Hey there,

      By default, if you upload the same release with the new distributor, your new distributor will attach different ISRC and UPC numbers to the audio files it distributes.

      In theory, this is not ideal because one sound recording should only have one ISRC number attached to it.

      In practice, I don’t think it’s a big deal.

      If it’s important for you that the ISRC and UPC numbers stay the same, you may want to reach out to the new distributor to expose your problem.

      Good luck with this!

      Joyce

      PS: I re-read your question and I’m not sure I got it so hopefully my answer is clear anyway! :))

  4. Leon December 6, 2018 at 5:32 pm - Reply

    Hey,

    I do have two questions about the ISWC number. What about classical works like Symphonies? For example; Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is basically one composition, but it contains four movements within that composition, which act like four compositions within a composition. My question is; should the whole Symphony get one ISWC number, or should all those individual movements of that Symphony get an ISWC number each? And my second question; So basically an album that contains 50 songs, should get 50 unique ISWC numbers?

    Thanks!

    • Joyce Kettering December 6, 2018 at 8:02 pm - Reply

      Hey Leon,

      Love the question about symphonies! 🙂

      I’m not sure there’s a right answer, really. Your Performance Rights Organization will give you an ISWC number for each musical work you register with them. Whether you want to register each movement as a separate musical work is your choice really.

      Did you have something specific in mind when you asked the question? Some concern about registering the symphony as a single composition?

      Regarding your second question, yes, 50 songs/compositions/musical works = 50 unique ISWC numbers. If those 50 songs are on 1 album, the distributor of that album will attribute the album 1 UPC (Universal Product Code).

      • Leon December 7, 2018 at 4:25 pm - Reply

        Thank you for the answers!

        I was wondering, if it is going to be confusing when multiple movements (compositions) get assigned to a single ISWC number? In the classical music genre there are opus numbers, each opus number represents a musical work, and within that opus number multiple compositions can exist, for example; 3 String Quartets Opus 9 by Beethoven; 3 string quartets (basically 3 compositions) under one opus number, but those three compositions also contains four movements each. As a classical composer myself, this gives me quite a headache in terms of how to assign ISWC numbers, haha.

        Also, should an EP also be treated as an album in terms of giving every single composition within that EP a unique ISWC number? As an EP contains maximum 6 compositions, I was wondering if it would be easier to register the whole EP to a single ISWC number.

        Thank you!

        • Joyce Kettering December 7, 2018 at 7:05 pm - Reply

          You’re welcome! 🙂

          I can imagine the headache!

          Since I don’t have any personal experience registering symphonies (yet!), I did a little bit of research and had a look at Philip Glass’ work in ASCAP’s ACE Repertory.

          And what I found is interesting to say the least….

          For Symphony No 10 that includes 5 movements, ASCAP lists SIX ISWC numbers! 1 ISWC for the full Symphony + 1 ISWC for EACH of the 5 movements!

          Regarding your EP question, you may be overcomplicating things a little bit. In my opinion, it’s easier to think of 1 composition = 1 ISWC, irrespective of whether it’s part of an album, an EP or released as a single.

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