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What are ISWC and ISRC Codes and Why are they Important?

Metadata may be an intimidating word, but as an independent artist, metadata is your best friend. Metadata helps ensure your songs fall on the ears of your target audience, increases the chances of your music getting found, and helps you get $paid$ when your music is played.

It’s easy to get lost in the confusing web of music industry terminology. At times, it feels like learning a new language, as you try to digest the meanings of the various acronyms and codewords in the biz. 

Don’t worry, we know this, and that’s why we are untangling two metadata-related acronyms that are very important for independent artists to understand: ISWC and ISRC

What are they and do I need them?

ISWC stands for International Standard Musical Work Code. It’s a unique 11 character code used to identify an individual musical composition (ex. T-123456789-Z). For one musical work (or “song”), there can be only one ISWC.

ISRC stands for International Standard Recording Code. It’s a unique 12 character code used to identify an individual sound recording (ex: CZ-S1Z-99-00001). There can be many different ISRC’s for one song, for example – the original, remix, cover, and karaoke track would all have unique ISRC’s, but would reference only one ISWC.

To be clear, you need both. Artists must input these codes when they release new music onto the internet, as they are meant to help Performance Right Organizations (PROs) and music distributors identify when your compositions and sound recordings are played, which helps calculate the royalties that will be paid to you (yay money!).

OK, you’ve convinced me I need them… how do I get them?

As an independent artist, this can seem tricky. We’ve broken it down into simple steps below.


  1. Register your songs with the PRO you are affiliated with, through your distributor, or your label. To identify the PRO in your region, check out this link
  2. Provide them with the a) the title of the work, b) the names of all composers, authors, and arrangers with their role and their CAE/IPI number, c) the work classification code (from the CIS standards list), and most importantly d) the percentage share of everyone involved in the making of the work (ie. 2 songwriters may share rights to the composition on a 50/50 basis)


  1. When you ship a song through your distributor, they automatically embed the ISRC the digital recordings they distribute for them.
  2. This is the simplest option for artists looking to release albums, singles, EP’s, etc on streaming platforms.


  1. Request ISRC numbers from your local collective management society (CMO or PRO) and embed the codes in your digital files. If you are not sure how to do this, contact us or search for a software that can do this online. 
  2. Ideal for independent artists planning a physical release and music producers who are pursuing sync licensing opportunities with multiple recordings of a single composition.

I’m still confused…

At BrainZone Sync & Publishing, we’re dedicated to helping independent artists like yourself navigate the rough seas of the music industry. If you’re still scratching your head about all this and find that you’d rather just focus on making music and have someone else take care of the administration, reach out to us. We’ll be happy to arrange it for you. Below you can find a calendar and book a free assessment to chat about our digital distribution, publishing and sync services.

Written by Pavel Czernek