Indie Artists & ISRC
Indie Artists & ISRC
An article by Tony Miro
ISRC (International Standard Recording Code is a 12 digital alphanumeric code. It is used to clearly indentify the country of origin, record label, year when ISRC is assigned to a recording, album and track number. The first part of the code (country and record label ID) is provided by the relevant PPL for a record label - in the UK this is done free but in some countries, like the USA, there is a charge. The second part is for the label to assign to ID the recording and track/s.
The ISRC has been used on commercial CD releases since around 1989 and has been applied to back catalogue when they are re-released. IF you have a CD writer capable of reading and verifying ISRC you can check them on commercial releases. As a unique code for each release broadcasters can use it as a means to unambiguosly identify and pay performance rights for material that they broadcast. Without it the chance of you receiving any PR is slim. The vast majority of countries have signed up to and use ISRC. There is no other international standard (ignoring barcoding but that's entirely different) despite the claims made by one digital distributor - any other code would be ignored by a broadcaster.
ISRC is embedded as part of the metadata in to a redbook PMCD at mastering as part of the TOC. To be able to do it you need a DAW and a CD writer that are capable of both doing this and verifying that it has been done. Any mastering DAW can write ISRC and a few mixing daws can as well - however mastering daws verify code accuracy. Very few CD writers are able to encode and verify the metadata - as far as I'm aware you need a Plextor to do this.
Until very recently it was only possible to encode ISRC as part of the redbook PMCD becuase it is embedded in to the TOC. However, the latest release candindate software from my DAW means that I can now apply it to, and verify, individual digital broadcast WAVs meant only for digital release.
I have to say that a reputable mastering studio would ask you for your ISRC. It's one of the very first things we do with clients. If they don't and do not apply your ISRC I would have doubts about what they are doing and how much experience and knowledge they have of mastering. There are far too many 'online mastering studios' who are a bit clueless and think that mastering is only about making things loud and have no knowledgeof the technical standards etc.
I also have reservations about the mastering provided by digital distributors. Whilst thee are usually professional mastering studios you need to read the contract carefully as in many cases you are not the client - the distributor is. That means if you don't like the demo master the studio doesn't have to listen to you and change anything. Also, some services here run overnight where the mastering is done on large batches - your work is placed in a batch by genre and all of that batch is then processed together in a kind of 'cookie cutter' manner. It's rather like using presets on a vst - it may work for our project but it probably won't be great.
My biggest reservation is with the mastering service that embedded code provided by the digital distributor instead of proper bona fide ISRC. This was done by the way not just on projects that didn't have ISRC but on many that did but where there was no redbook PMCD, so the code was supplied separate to the recordings. That was done on an awful lot of digital only releases for a long period and I find it hard to believe that neither the digital distributor and/or mastering service did not know that this was not ISRC and therefore useless. As a consequence there are a lot of small, indie labels and bands who will probably never recieve their PRS monies.
To answer your question about what an indie artist should do:
1/ Apply for the ISRC through the relevant PPL.
2/ Once they have it use it appropriately to identify their releases.
3/ Use a mastering service that understands and abides by the technical specifications and is able to embed ISRC. If the mastering studio doesn't ask for the ISRC when you book the project - consider going elsewhere.
4/ For digital distribution only - as 3 but use a service that is able to apply ISRC to individual broadcast WAVs.
If the artist wants to embed ISRC themselves then they need to get and use a daw and CD writer that can read, write and verify ISRC and embed it accurately as part of the TOC. As far as I am aware the only daw that meets this requirement at present is Prisms and costs about £3000, there is however a standalone TOC read/write/verify software from Sonoris that does a similar function. The only CD read/write drive that I know that is appropriate are Plextor Premium II, sadly Plextor no longer however make these so it's not possible to buy a new one off the shelf. For digital only broadcast WAVs they need to get hold of a daw that is compliant with the forthcoming EBU standard.
Final bit - as a word of advice - on-line mastering caveat emptor. Cheap is not always best.