Header for The Acronyms That Protect Your Music Rights

If you’re digging into all the ways you can collect money from the use of your music, you might’ve noticed that the music industry seems to love acronyms and initialisms (did you know there’s a difference? Neither did I until writing this!) almost as much as the military.

What ARE all these letters? Even music veterans are sometimes confused. But it’s important to understand the difference between your ASCAP and your UPC, because they all play an essential role in earning revenue from your music copyrights.

We’ll go in chronological order of the life of a typical song, starting with the songwriter who wrote it:

What is a PRO?

The songwriter affiliates with a PRO, which stands for Performing Rights Organization. These are (mostly) not-for-profit organizations who collect revenue for the use of compositions.

Most countries only have one PRO, but the U.S. has two major ones:

  • ASCAP: The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers
  • BMI: Broadcast Music Incorporated

What do ASCAP and BMI do?

Both of these PROs do the same thing: namely, they collect publishing royalties in the form of fees paid to them from radio stations, performance venues, TV, film, etc. They then split that revenue between songwriters and publishers who are affiliated with them.

What is SESAC?

There is a third PRO in the U.S. that’s invite-only. They’re called SESAC, which stands for the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers. That name stems from the organization’s origins as a means for European songwriters to collect performance revenue in the U.S. It now collects for American songwriters as well.

How is SESAC different from ASCAP and BMI?

There are two main differences between SESAC and its siblings:

  • It’s invite only, meaning songwriters must either be invited by the organization itself or recommended by a member.
  • It’s for-profit, which means it tracks down royalties more actively to earn its share of the revenue.

What are some other PROs around the world?

Here are a few other major PROs that collect publishing royalties in their respective countries:

SOCAN: Canada

PRS: U.K.

GEMA: Germany

SACEM: France

JASRAC: Japan

ABRAMUS and UBC: Brazil

What is an IPI?

Once the songwriter is affiliated with a PRO, they are assigned an IPI number, which stands for Interested Party Information. Think of this number as a social security number for songwriters. Each songwriter is assigned an IPI from their PRO that is unique to them.

What does an IPI do?

An IPI identifies the songwriter in the PRO’s database. Its main purpose is to ensure revenue is paid to the correct individual for their share of the songwriting credit. This amount is paid according to the split percentages entered when the song is registered.

This is important due to the sheer number of songwriters in the repertoires at each PRO. Search BMI’s rep for “John Smith” and see how many results it gives. Each one of those Johns gets their own IPI so when they register a song to their listing, their royalties aren’t paid to one of the hundreds of other songwriters with the same name.

How do I get an IPI?

Once you’re affiliated with a PRO, that organization will generate your IPI and attach it to your songwriter listing.

What if I’m affiliated with a PRO under a few different names?

It’s not uncommon for songwriters to be affiliated with their PRO under a few different names, such as their first and last; first, middle initial and last; and first, full middle name and last. In this case, each listing will receive its own IPI since a name can only have one IPI number.

How do I find my IPI?

If you need your IPI for any reason (such as entering your songwriter information for CD Baby Pro publishing administration), you have two options:

  • Search your PRO’s public repertoire, if they have one.
  • Log in to your songwriter account and your IPI should be next to your songwriter name.

Do publishers also get IPIs?

Yep! If you affiliate your own publisher with your PRO, that publisher listing will also be assigned its own IPI.

What is an ISWC?

Here’s where we descend into the deeper depths of music rights acronyms. An ISWC is an International Standard Musical Work Code. (No, I don’t know why they left the “M” for “Musical” out of the acronym.) ISWCs are unique identifying numbers assigned by a PRO to each composition. Think of them as the composition’s equivalent to an IPI.

What does an ISWC do?

PROs use ISWCs to identify each individual composition that’s registered to them. This allows them to accurately track and pay royalties for a song.

The ISWC is linked to the composition when it is performed in any way that would generate a performance royalty. That revenue is then matched to the ISWC in the PRO’s database so they know which composition generated the revenue and which songwriters and/or publishers should be paid.

How do I get an ISWC?

After you register your song with your PRO, that organization will generate an ISWC for the song.

How can I find my song’s ISWC?

If you need an ISWC for one of your songs when filing cue sheets or for any other reason, you can:

  • Search the song in your PRO’s public repertoire.
  • Log in to your songwriter account and locate your registered works.

What is an ISRC?

Now that you’re affiliated with a PRO and you’ve registered your song, the next step is recording it. That’s where an ISRC comes in. An ISRC is an International Standard Recording Code. It’s different from an ISWC in that the ISRC is for recordings and not for compositions.

What does an ISRC do?

Your recording’s ISRC is used to identify that particular recording. Think of it as a digital watermark for the recording once it’s mastered and ready for distribution.

Digital platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and iTunes use a track’s ISRC to, uh, track streams and downloads. They report the resulting revenue back to the label or distributor who distributed the song, and that company then matches the report with the ISRC in their database to make sure the revenue is for the correct track.

How do I get an ISRC?

You could complete an application with one of the organizations that generates ISRCs, pay the fee and wait for them to create one for your track.

Or you could let your distributor generate an ISRC for you. Most reputable music distribution companies (like CD Baby!) generate ISRCs for tracks at no extra charge as part of their services. This is because an ISRC is required to distribute to any digital platform.

Should I embed my ISRC onto my CDs?

If you’re distributing CDs as well as digital, you’ll want to embed those ISRCs for the corresponding tracks as part of the metadata when you’re manufacturing the CDs. This is so the CD matches what’s in the CD databases when someone inserts it into their computer or car CD player.

Do I need a new ISRC if I remastered or remixed my track?

Any change made to an already mastered recording means the new recording needs a new ISRC. Remember this is for that unique recording. If you remix or remaster an existing track that’s already been distributed, that new version is now a new recording and needs its own ISRC to track plays.

What if I use the same track on a single and album?

If you distribute the exact same recording on an album that was previously distributed as a single, you’ll want to use the same ISRC. The recording didn’t change at all, so the platforms are tracking its plays the same on both releases.

What is a UPC?

Here’s where distribution can get confusing. A UPC is a Universal Product Code, and you also need one to distribute your release with the platforms.

What does a UPC do?

A UPC tracks sales of a product. In the music business, UPCs are assigned to singles or albums so platforms can correctly match the full release with the company that distributed it. This is different from an ISRC, which is for each recording.

Think of it this way: each individual track on an album gets an ISRC, but the entire album gets one UPC. Because the album is one collective product.

How do I get a UPC?

You can certainly buy a UPC from several online sellers, but be warned some are less reputable than others. It’s not uncommon for one of these websites to assign a UPC that’s already been used on another product, or generate an invalid code altogether.

Your best bet is to buy a UPC from your music distributor (again, like CD Baby!). This costs about the same as buying from an unproven third party, and has the added guarantee of the distributor generating a valid code that has not been used before since those companies (like CD Baby!) have a database of releases with their UPCs.

Do I need a UPC for my single and album?

You sure do! Even singles need their own UPC, because those releases still count as products. If you release a song as a single, it has an ISRC and the product itself has a UPC. If you release that song on an album, you keep the ISRC for the song but need to buy a new UPC for the entire album.

Whew, that was a lot of groups of letters! Thankfully you can refer to this handy guide anytime you need a refresher. And if the biz decides to add something new, we’ll update this glossary accordingly.