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What is an ISRC

As consumers take advantage of technology to stream and download music across a growing assortment of applications, it has become harder to keep track of all of those exchanges. With services like YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora (just to name a few), there are more options than ever to choose from.

Things get more complicated as smartphones become the norm in more and more countries each year, which means there are more consumers who are able to use these apps. All of this activity in the marketplace makes music-tracking a problem. To address this, the Recording Industry Association of America partnered with the International Organization for Standardization to come up with a code to improve this process. The result: the International Standard Recording Code, or the ISRC.

This guide will explain how this foundational identifier works with the music business, its history, and how to get these codes for a record.

Check out some of our other guides on music industry topics at Exploration Learn , or subscribe to our YouTube channel for more information.

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In 2023, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) reported record-breaking revenue of $17.1 billion, marking an 8% increase from the previous year and the eighth consecutive year of growth. Streaming dominated, constituting 84% of the revenue at $14.4 billion, with paid subscriptions reaching an all-time high of 96.8 million.

The Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC), based in Nashville, has achieved a significant milestone by surpassing $2 billion in royalties distributed to publishers and songwriters since its full operations began in 2021. With a significant increase in payouts over the past five months alone, the MLC anticipates exceeding $1 billion in blanket royalties for the year 2024.

Since its inception in 2003, SoundExchange has distributed over $11 billion in digital performance royalties, marking the third consecutive year of surpassing $1 billion in 12-month distributions. Over its 21-year history, SoundExchange has advocated for creators, achieving significant increases in satellite, subscription, and non-subscription royalties before the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board.

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Exploration Weekly - March 29, 2024
Compiled by Ana Berberana

RIAA Releases 2023 Recorded Music Revenue Report

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has released its 2023 recorded music revenue figures. This year saw an 8% growth for a total of $17.1 billion, the highest figure in the report's history and the eighth consecutive year of growth. Streaming made up 84% of the total revenue, totaling $14.4 billion. This year also saw an all time high of on-demand service paid subscriptions, totaling 96.8 million. “Recorded music keeps reaching new heights as labels’ ‘all of the above’ commitment to meet fans everywhere they want to be continued to pay off for the entire music community. Licensing of social networks, fitness apps, and short form video are adding new value […] and physical sales once again boomed, with vinyl records delivering yet another double-digit increase,” says RIAA Chairman & CEO Mitch Glazier. He continues, “For artists, songwriters, and fans, this strong and sustained growth signals a time of incredible opportunity—with new formats, styles, and sounds rising up across innovative platforms and emerging ways to listen. As new services continue to get fully licensed at rates reflecting music’s incredible value, revenue for artists and songwriters will only continue to grow.” The revenue from paid subscriptions in 2023 increased to $11.2 billion, making up 78% of streaming revenues and almost two-thirds of total revenues. Physical formats are continuing to trend upwards, marking an 11% growth totaling $1.9 billion. Vinyl outsold CDs (43 million vs 37 million) for the year and grew 10%. This is the second time since 1987 vinyls outsold CDs.

The MLC Has Distributed Over $2BN to Songwriters and Publishers Since 2021

Nashville-headquartered non-profit organization The Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) just reached a significant milestone. The org has confirmed that it has exceeded $2 billion in royalties distributed to publishers and songwriters since launching full operations in 2021. The MLC has come a long way over the past five years. In 2019 it was designated by the United States Copyright Office (USCO) as the entity tasked with licensing and exclusively administering rights after the Music Modernization Act (MMA) was first signed into US law. It then started to administer blanket mechanical licenses in January 2021 to music streaming services in the United States like Spotify and Apple Music, who have since been required to pay large sums of mechanical royalties to MLC. The job of the MLC is then to pay these royalties to music publishers, administrators, CMOs outside of the US, and self-administered songwriters, composers and lyricists whose songs have been streamed. This month, The MLC completed its 36th monthly royalty distribution, every one of which, it said, “has been completed on time or early”. MLC CEO Kris Ahrend told MBW today (March 27) that this latest distribution, which took the MLC over the $2 billion threshold, “is significant to The MLC as an organization because it shows that the systems and the processes we have built are working effectively, allowing us to fulfill our mission for the benefit of our members.” He added: “For the songwriters and music publishers we serve, reaching $2 billion in total royalties distributed shows that we are having a significant and positive impact on rightsholders. More rightsholders than ever before are receiving their mechanical royalties, and the amount of those payments is higher than ever.” The previous distribution update from the MLC arrived in October 2023, when it announced that it distributed $1.5 billion in royalties to publishers and songwriters, which means the MLC’s total payout figure to date has risen by $500 million in the past five months alone. Kris Ahrend told MBW that “just under $1 billion” (roughly $980 million) in total blanket royalties was processed by the MLC in FY 2023. This year (2024), the MLC expects its total blanket royalties for the year to exceed $1 billion.

SoundExchange Royalty Distributions Pass $11 Billion

Cumulative SoundExchange distributions have now passed $11 billion in digital performance royalties since its launch in 2003. This marks the third time in a row that 12-month distributions have exceeded $1 billion. During its 21 years, SoundExchange has advocated on behalf of creators before the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board, helping to achieve increases of 711% in satellite royalties, 294% in subscription royalties, and 215% in non-subscription royalties. SoundExchange’s advocacy also extends to Washington, D.C., where it’s pushing for the American Music Fairness Act, legislation to pay performers when their music is played on broadcast radio, as well as laws that would regulate artificial intelligence and how it affects creators. “We continue to be driven every day by the guiding principle of putting more money into the hands of creators and rights holders,” said Michael Huppe, President and CEO of SoundExchange. “The continuing growth in royalty distributions to a billion dollars a year is reflective of a healthy digital music ecosystem, but it’s not something we take for granted. Our dedication to the community of creators we serve is unshakable, and we will continue to advocate tirelessly for artists to receive fair and equitable compensation for the use of their work on all platforms.”

The ELVIS Act Has Officially Been Signed Into Law — First State-Level AI Legislation In the US

Just weeks after its introduction on January 10th, the bipartisan Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security (ELVIS) Act was signed into state law on March 21st by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee in Nashville, furthering the state’s leadership as an advocate for creatives’ rights. The ELVIS Act establishes strong protections for individual voice and likeness against unauthorized artificial intelligence-derived deep fakes and voice clones. State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-27) and House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-44) presented the ELVIS Act to unanimous General Assembly passage with a 93-0 vote in the House and 30-0 in the Senate. Throughout the legislation’s process, country guitarist Lindsay Ell, vocalist Natalie Grant, Evanescence co-founder David Hodges, Contemporary Christian artist Matt Maher, singer Chrissy Metz, songwriter Jamie Moore, RIAA SVP of Public Policy Jessie Richard, and Christian artist Michael W. Smith helped lobby for support, speaking to the potential harms of unchecked AI deep fakes and voice clones. Also playing a critical role in the shaping of the legislation was Sound Credit CEO Gebre Waddell, who drafted an initial framework that evolved into the ELVIS Act. “Fittingly named after one of the world’s most iconic voices, the ELVIS Act marks a history-defining moment — protecting us all from irresponsible and unethical AI. The Human Artistry Campaign applauds this strong, bipartisan effort to stop unauthorized AI-generated deep fakes and voice clones that steal essential parts of our individuality,” said Dr. Moiya McTier, Human Artistry Campaign Senior Advisor. “The life’s work and irreplaceable contributions of the creative community to our culture deserve safeguards that allow AI technology to be used responsibly without violating anyone’s rights or appropriating their art.”

Music Biz Conference Moving to Atlanta in 2025

The annual Music Biz Conference will move from its current Nashville home to Atlanta in 2025. Specific dates and venues for Music Biz 2025 will be announced later. The conference will continue in its usual May timeframe. Music Biz, which attracts more than 2,300 music business professionals each year, has been held in Music City for nearly a decade, and returns this year, from May 13-16. “We’ve had a wonderful 10 years in Nashville. We love Nashville,” Music Business Association president Portia Sabin tells Billboard. “It’s been such a great place for us to grow and we are so appreciative and are very much looking forward to this year’s conference in Nashville.” The move was inspired by the September 2022 launch of the Music Biz Roadshow program, which has traveled to cities including Atlanta, Dallas and Miami. “With the Music Biz Roadshow, we bring our members to different cities across the U.S. for free educational programs for artists and musicians,” Sabin says. “We got inspired by doing that because there are so many great music cities out there in the U.S.” Atlanta felt like a natural evolution for Music Biz. “When we first brought the conference to Nashville, it was a smaller version of what it is now. We feel like Atlanta has that growth potential,” Sabin adds, noting that music industry professionals from more than 30 countries attend Music Biz each year. “Atlanta has that great international hub airport, which will make it easier for people from abroad to get to [the conference]. We are excited to showcase another great American music city.” In 2013, the organization formerly known as the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) rebranded as the Music Business Association. Following a four-year stint in Los Angeles from 2011-2014, the Music Biz conference has been in Nashville since 2015. The Music Business Association headquarters continues to be located in Nashville. Beginning in 2025, the Music Biz event will revert to the way it was scheduled in its NARM days when the conference frequently moved to a new city.

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