Wednesday, August 1, 2007

ISRC Police

I got a call from RIAA yesterday. The name RIAA, perhaps most famous in the last few years for their aggressive litigation against filesharing, including suing a 12-year-old girl, might strike fear in your heart (especially if you've got Kazza or Limewire running on your machine), but this phone call was friendly.

The call was about how XO Wave comes up with a default ISRC code. If you are unfamiliar with ISRCs, you should definitely read up -- every day that passes will make it harder for musicians to get paid without them (in fact, I believe all songs sold on all the major digital music stores must have ISRCs associated with them). ISRCs are used for tracking royalty payments, tracking sales, and so on, and each recording of every song must have a uniquely assigned ISRC for it to work.

Without going into detail, an ISRC code consists of four parts: the country code, the registrant, the two-digit year, and the designation. By default, XO Wave assigns some values to these things, but unless you manually set the registrant, it won't burn to disk. RIAA was concerned because the default country code was derived from the computer, and you might accidentally associate the country code with the wrong registrant. For example, say you work for Tripple-A records in the UK, and have been given the registrant code 'AAA', your ISRC codes might look something like this: ISRC UK-AAA-07-00000, but if you're running XO Wave in the US, it will default to: ISRC US-AAA-07-00000, which might actually belong to another label (AAA Records registered in the US). Though this is an unlikely scenario (especially since you'll probably have to enter the ISRCs by hand which gives you another chance to check it over), I concede it does unnecessarily increase the risk of error, and anything that does so is bad.

Since RIAA's right about all this, we'll be fixing it in a future release by making default country code a preference. In the meantime (and, heck, even after it's fixed), be sure to be careful about how you use those ISRCs -- always make sure they are correct when burning your masters or someone else may be getting your royalties!


  1. It's funny you mention that... Back when the webcast provisions of the DMCA were just going into effect, there was a lot of concern over a requirement that the ISRCs for every song played be captured and reported to SoundExchange. Manufacturers had come out with new, fancy, *expensive* CD players, and radio engineers far and wide were wringing our hands over how to deal with this. We were months away from the deadline, but virtually no one at any station had made real movements towards capturing those ISRCs. Keep in mind that this was three years after the DMCA was passed--we'd already had plenty of advance warning.

    I was in just that position myself, wringing my hands and trying to figure out how the hell we'd manage to webcast legally without dropping crazy dollars that we didn't have on new equipment, when it occurred to me to sample several new, post-DMCA releases from major labels (read: RIAA members) to see how many of them actually had the per-track ISRCs that we were required to start reporting. I don't remember the exact ratio, but it was pretty absurd--something like 70 or 80% of the WEA/BMI/Sony/etc. discs I tested had no ISRCs! The RIAA's members apparently didn't want to eat their own dogfood.

  2. Nowadays, most majors take ISRCs pretty seriously, although there are still tons of releases without ISRCs -- even some on major labels. Sony requires not only ISRCs on all their CDs, but also MCNs (essentially a number with the same information as a UPC barcode) and CD Text -- this is less surprising when you consider that they invented these standards, but many other labels use them, too.

    Sadly, it is mostly the large releases that get the ISRCs and the small ones, who many think are underrepresented by SoundExchange, would probably benefit the most.