Over 100,000 new tracks are produced every day. The importance of proper metadata for song identification cannot be overstated. When tracking the success of your music, a small typo can prevent your streams and royalties from getting to the right person. 

The crucial elements of metadata are UPCs (Universal Product Codes) and ISRCs (International Standard Recording Codes). While they both look like they belong at the bottom of a bowl of alphabet soup, their similarities stop there. Let’s unpack the differences and why they both matter.

What are UPCs?

If you’ve ever been shopping, you’ve encountered UPCs. Those familiar black-and-white striped patterns you scan at self-checkouts. UPCs serve a similar purpose in music but are specifically assigned to a release. A release can be a single, EP, album or even a multi-disc project. Basically a release can go from one song to how ever many until your heart is content. Each release must have a UPC even if there is no physical counterpart. 

UPCs function as unique identifiers for music products, facilitating inventory management, sales tracking, and royalty distribution. When a release is consumed, the UPC is attached to the transaction, making sure the proper person gets paid. This data is then used by record labels, distributors, and artists to analyze the performance of their releases and make informed business decisions. Sometimes the same song can be on multiple releases which creates the need for individual song identification.

What are ISRCs?

ISRCs were created specifically to identify individual songs. While UPCs identify the release as a whole, ISRCs identify the individual songs of a release. Think of ISRCs as digital fingerprints for songs. Each unique track is assigned its own ISRC, allowing it to be tracked and identified independently, even if it’s included on multiple albums or compilations. 

ISRCs play a crucial role in digital music distribution and streaming. They enable accurate reporting of song usage and ensure that artists and rights holders receive proper compensation for their work. Without ISRCs, tracking the performance of individual tracks would be a nightmare and lead to inaccuracies in royalties and rights management.

In addition to the ISRC, metadata includes essential information about each track, such as the title, artist, album, and copyright information. Having the ISRC as a unique identifier makes it easier to identify individual tracks to link to other important metadata. Properly formatted metadata helps ensure that songs are correctly labeled and credited, enhancing the overall user experience for listeners.

Why Do These Codes Matter?

While UPCs and ISRCs offer numerous benefits to artists and industry professionals, their effectiveness relies on proper implementation and management. This includes accurately assigning codes to releases and tracks, ensuring that metadata is correctly formatted and up-to-date, and regularly monitoring sales and usage data for discrepancies or errors. 

As technology continues to reshape the music industry, our reliance on accurate metadata is only expected to grow. With the continuing rise of streaming platforms, social media, and digital distribution channels, accurate tracking and identification of music content have never been more critical. By understanding the role of UPCs and ISRCs, artists and industry professionals can stay ahead of the curve and unlock new opportunities for success in the dynamic world of music.