The Digital Publishing Standard for Audio Recordings

Welcome to Stonebridge Mastering’s  guide for digital publishing of audio recordings.

After sending files in for mastering, many people are left in the dark about what’s next.  This is the most complete resource on this subject available online.  To ensure it is comprehensive, it has been reviewed by Sébastien Mamy of CISAC and Arlene DiBenedetto of ASCAP.

1.  Preparing for Physical Media Manufacturing.   You may choose to release a physical product such as a CD or vinyl album.  If so, select a manufacturer, and contact them to find out what formats they accept from the mastering engineer.  WAV files are very common today, especially when independents use Discmaker’s duplication services.  Other duplicators and replicators may require other formats including a DDP file, or a physical CD, and the mastering engineer should be aware if these are necessary.  If you are having vinyl albums created, it should be discussed with your mastering engineer.

2.  Preparing for Digital Distribution.  Digital distribution means getting your music into iTunes, and other online stores and services.  To submit your recordings for digital distribution, your WAV format recordings are uploaded to a digital distributor.  Independents commonly use CD Baby or Tunecore for this service.  Some record labels use specialty companies or perform digital distribution themselves.

  • Getting your files into the popular online stores is as easy as uploading them to a digital distributor.  More on this later in the guide.
  • Special Mastered for iTunes versions of your recordings can be prepared for the very best sound on iTunes, or you can use your regular masters.
  • You can have MP3 files prepared that may be used for your own personal distribution on your website or by other means

3.  Obtain ISRC Codes. ISRC is an abbreviation for International Standard Recording Code.   These codes are like serial numbers for songs.  This code standard was created by an international organization called the IFPI(International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), who work with creative societies across the globe.  In the USA, it is the RIAA that oversees the administration of ISRCs.  Each track (i.e. song, recording, CD Track) will need it’s own unique ISRC. These codes should be provided to mastering studios before mastering is complete because they are normally embedded into the master. You need ISRCs because:

  • These codes are the primary way to track songs so that royalties may be paid
  • Most radio stations simply will not play songs that do not have ISRCs.  The codes should always sent to radio stations on paper, because very few stations use automated systems which extract the codes from CDs
  • ISRCs are required for iTunes and other music stores
  • ISRCs are a standard, so present day technologies and future technologies are designed with them in mind

Ways to obtain the codes:

4.  Obtain a UPC Code. UPC Codes (also called bar codes) are an international standard administered by the GS1.  CD duplication/replication companies often offer a bar code included in the price of pressing CDs.  They can also be obtained by joining CD Baby or with other online sellers of UPC codes.  Otherwise, they can be obtained directly from the GS1, although at a much higher price ($760.00).  UPC codes/bar codes are normally printed on the reverse side of a CD packaging unit.

5.  MCN number.  A Media Catalog Number (MCN) (sometimes called a catalog number, matrix number or release number),  is often embedded into CD-Text, printed in the CD packaging and often directly on CDs.  The MCN number is a 13 digits code which can be created by adding a zero (0) to the beginning of an album’s 12-digit UPC/Barcode number.  EAN (European Article Number) codes are 13-digits and are common in Europe.  EAN codes can also be used as an MCN and without a zero added.

6.  Embed CD Text.  CD-Text contains information about an album that is released on CD.  It is usually recommended, but not absolutely necessary, to embed CD-Text.   With large releases, CD-Text may be left off to avoid the cost of CD-Text format licensing from Sony/Phillips.

7.  Register your UPC Code with Nielson SoundScan. The billboard charts are created directly from SoundScan data.  Also, there are many music industry insiders who watch the SoundScan reports including major record labels seeking new talent.  Obtaining a bar code does not automatically register the album with SoundScan.

8.   Submitting to databases. Some CD players show CD Text, but most software music players and music services do not.  Most software music players draw artist and song information from Internet databases.  For example, iTunes draws from the Gracenote database. Windows Media Player and the PS3 player draw from the AMG Lasso database.  The AMG Lasso database requires that you send in a physical copy of your CD from which they enter the information.  AMG Lasso is infamous for incorrectly entering information, so we recommend typing out a sheet to include with your submission with your song titles and other information with a large, easy to read font.    Other databases provide different information to different sources, and we recommend registering with all of the below:

9.  Obtain copyrights. Registering a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office can now be done electronically.  Otherwise, paper Form CO must be filed, which replaces Forms SR and PA that were commonly used in the music industry.

10.  Register with ASCAP or BMI. When a recording  is played over mass media, its royalties can be collected through ASCAP or BMI for those in the USA.  A person may choose one or the other but cannot be a member of both.  Also, SESAC is a private creative society in the USA, with membership by invitation only.  These organizations represent artists and can help advance music into mass media.  Artists in other countries may contact the performance rights organization in their country, which can be found by searching the list of members of CISAC.  You can watch the following video below to find out more about the USA performance rights organizations, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC:

11.  Independent artists often register with a digital distributor.  CD Baby,  Tunecore and SoundExchange are three of the most popular digital distributors.   CD Baby offers a variety of artist services.  Tunecore has fewer services than CD Baby, but offers a less expensive and easier plan.  SoundExchange helps with royalities for digital non-interactive play (cable music channels, internet radio, satellite radio, etc.).

12. Musicians Release Agreements. If session musicians, or guest musicians are hired to play on an album, then musicians release agreements or a similar release form may be advised.  These agreements state that the musician has agreed to work for the amount they were paid, and not for royalities or other benefits.  This usually isn’t needed if the musician has been offered royalties or if a band is releasing an album themselves.  Entertainment attorneys can help to create these agreements. Standard online versions may not address specific situations.

13.  Songwriter / Artist / Publisher Agreements. These agreements define how earnings will be distributed.  Again, entertainment attorneys can help to create these agreements, as standard/online versions may not address specific situations.

14.  Obtain ISWC Codes.  ISWC  (International Standard Musical Work Code) codes are not embedded in a master disc for replication/duplication, so they are not needed before mastering is complete.   These codes are mostly important for referencing musical works in contracts and correspondence, collecting royalties, licensing,  and cataloging musical works in libraries.  ISWCs are for musical works, while ISRCs are for recordings.  For example, different edits, remixes and recordings of a song will have a different ISRC, but the same ISWC.  If you are in the USA, the work will need to be submitted to ASCAP, BMI or SESAC to obtain a ISWC code, IPI number and work classification code.   They will take care of submitting the application for these codes.  For those outside of the USA,  there is a list of agencies responsible for assigning ISWC codes linked below:

15.  Create a Selection Number. Looking at the spine of a commercially released CD, will usually provide an example of this number.  It normally starts with letters and ends in numbers.   Just like an album title or artist name, these letters or numbers can be whatever the artist, producer or publisher wishes them to be.  The intention is to help organizations to internally refer to works.

16.  Keep all metadata information easily accessible. Metadata is descriptive information about a digital file, which in this case is a recording and usually includes at least the following: Artist name, Album Title,  Song Titles, Song Time Lengths, Genre, ISRCs and UPC. Entering this information consistently, every time, everywhere, can boost sales and result in more exposure.   Entering it inconsistently can hurt sales for years to come.  All metadata should be saved in a way that is easily accessible.   Emailing a copy of this information to yourself , or perhaps saving it in a Google Document can help make it easy to retrieve.  However it is kept, entering it the same way every time can be a tremendous boost.  We suggest copying and pasting it from wherever the information is saved, to avoid the possibility of a typo.

Confédération Internationale des Sociétés d´Auteurs et Compositeurs (CISAC) (International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers), founded in 1926, is a performance rights organisation, which coordinates the protection of its member creators’ rights. As of June 2009, CISAC numbers 225 authors’ societies from 118 countries and indirectly represents more than 2.5 million creators within all the artistic repertoires: music, drama, literature, audio-visual, graphic and visual arts.

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