Why Are CD Barcodes Needed to Sell Music Online?

Frequently asked questions about barcodes and digital music sales

Just like barcodes found on consumer products, CD barcodes identify music products (usually an album) with unique codes. If you've ever looked at the back of a music CD then you will have noticed a barcode, but you will still need one even if you intend on selling your music online (as downloads or streaming media).

However, not all barcodes are the same.

UPC Barcode For Music

UPC vs. EAN

In North America, the barcode system you have to use is a 12-digit code called a Universal Product Code (UPC). In Europe, the barcode system is called a European Article Number (EAN) and is 13 digits long.

Regardless of your location, you'll need a barcode if you want to sell music on physical media, online, or both.

Do I Need ISRC Codes?

When you purchase a UPC (or EAN) barcode for your music, ISRC codes are also usually required for every track you intend to sell. The International Standard Recording Codes system is used to identify the individual components that make up your product. So, if your album contains 10 tracks, then you'll need 10 ISRC codes. These codes are used for tracking sales so you can be paid accordingly.

Incidentally, companies like Nielsen SoundScan use UPC and ISRC barcodes to aggregate sales data into meaningful music statistics and charts.

What Are the Best Ways to Get Barcodes in Order to Sell Music Online?

If you are an artist and want to sell your own music on a digital music service, then there are a number of options at your disposal.

Use a Self-Publishing Digital Distributor

These are services that help you to self-publish your music on popular music sites such as the iTunes Store and Amazon Music. If you are an independent artist then this is probably the best route. As well as providing you with the necessary UPC and ISRC codes, they generally take care of the distribution too. Examples of services that you can use include:

When choosing a digital distributor check their pricing structure, what digital stores they distribute to, and the royalty percentage they take.

Buy Your Own UPC / ISRC Codes

If you want to distribute your own music as an independent artist without using a digital distributor, then all you'll need to do is use a service that sells UPC and ISRC codes. Here are some well-known services you can use:

If you are a company and want to generate thousands of UPC barcodes then the following route would be the best to take:

  1. Obtain a 'manufacturer number' from the GS1 US (formally the Uniform Code Council).

  2. Once you have done that, a product number must be assigned to each SKU. One thing to keep in mind is that for each of your products, you will need a unique UPC barcode.

The fee for initially registering with the GS1 US organization can be steep. There's also an annual fee to consider, but you'll able to release multiple products with unique UPC barcodes.

When selling music online, remember that you will most likely need an ISRC code for each track as well as a UPC barcode. Companies such as Apple and Amazon require you to have both in order to sell music in their stores.

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