20 Questions for New Artists: ISRCs/Unions/Side Projects


 “ISRC” stands for International Standard Recording Code.  An ISRC facilitates the exploitation of certain recording rights and can be integrated into any form of digital medium.  However, the ISRC is not required by law and does not grant any rights in sound recordings.   A sound recording copyright owner can apply for their own Registrant Code that will allow them to generate their own ISRC at the US ISRC Agency (http://usisrc.org/).  There are also ISRC Managers who are permitted to issue Registrant Codes as listed on the US ISRC Agency website (https://usisrc.org/managers/index.html ).  Information about commercial data exchanges among online retailers in the DDEX standard (which utilizes the ISRC in some instances) is available at http://www.ddex.net/.   Some digital retailers have required ISRCs and some CD duplicators have also required ISRCs.  We advise artists to obtain their own ISRC, but you should inform yourself and decide if it is right for you.


The two principal music industry unions are the American Federation of Musicians (“AFM”) for musicians and the American Federation of Television and Recording Artists (“AFTRA”) for vocalists. Any artist who has recorded a major label album has likely already joined one or both unions. Knowing whether a musician is a union member is important because union membership carries with it various restrictions such as a minimum fee to perform at recording sessions (i.e., union scale), as well as payment of royalties such as the Music Performance Trust Fund and the Special Payments Fund. If any band members play or sing on union sessions with any great frequency, you probably are or should be members of one or both unions. AFTRA in particular has very good health insurance available for near-free if the AFTRA member does over a certain threshold of work through the union (currently approximately $40,000 per year). AFTRA has also developed an “indie” membership. It is also important to know whether any “side artists” who have played on the band’s recording are members of a union and were paid the appropriate rates. (See also Interview with Randy Himes of AFTRA)

Side Projects

All major label deals and many independent record deals require the exclusive services of their recording artists. You should know what other recording projects, if any, the individual band members have committed to and if there are any restrictions. This issue may also come up when a musician signs an artist management contract or a merchandising deal.

See Also: Pre-Existing Contracts and Aggregators

See Also: Band Administrator/Split Sheets

See Also: Social Networks and Domain Names/Trademarking the Band Name

See Also: Performing Rights Society Affiliations

See Also: Bank Accounts/Tax Returns/Accountants

See Also: Have you Registered with SoundExchange?