The push for music tagging using ISRC codes
TT BEGAN distributing its own country specific international standard recording codes (ISRC) in September 2020. Since then, 396 rights holders have been issued registrant codes, with 200 of these registrants signing up in the first six months.
The Copyright Organisation of TT is the official agency for the distribution of TT-ISRC codes. An ISRC is a unique 12-digit number comprised of a country abbreviation (TT), a three-digit registrant code, a two-digit year code and a file-specific designation code.
The registrant is always the master rights holder, the owner of the master file of the sound recording. It can be the author, performer or producer, but it's normally the person who has paid for the services of producing, recording, mixing and mastering the musical work, according to Maarten Manmohan, a project officer at MusicTT.
Each registrant can request up to 100,000 codes per year, but each code is issued for and tied to a specific recording. MusicTT has itself registered 16 codes for music released on its two artiste-teaser albums created through the Project Spotlight I and II initiatives and will issue eight more for the third album to be released for the project.
Having a national ISRC country code makes the geographic origins of recorded music clearer and makes it easier for payment agencies to allocate royalties for the use of recorded works.
Any work released by a TT artist before September 2020 on any digital platform already has an ISRC embedded on it, but it’s most likely going to be a platform-owned code. It's not possible to replace that code, but remixed, remastered (with changes) or new compilations can be released with new codes.
How has this worked out in TT's art first, business later creative environment?
"Most of the artists who are operating at a high professional level and have worked with recording labels or international management would be familiar with ISRCs, metadata and digital music monetisation," said Manmohan.
"In a traditional music eco-system, the music/record label would be the master rights holder and the one to issue codes and manage the digital streaming platform (DSP) revenue on releases, but our ecosystem is made up of many independent artists who have to manage all of these items on their own.
"There is a gap in the knowledge base of the mid-level and beginner artists and producers, but we have seen increased numbers of artists accessing our educational offering on digital distribution, metadata and music monetisation through MusicTT's RVRB webinar series."
Given the feeble understanding generally of the importance of file metadata in digital creative works, what's the value proposition for a local ISRC?
"ISRCs are usually issued by digital distribution companies like Tunecore and Distrokid who then push the music to the DSPs like Apple Music and Spotify," Manmohan explained.
"The problem is that ownership of these codes belong to the distribution company and not the artist or label. This makes verifying your digital streaming and sales data very difficult and may reduce your potential revenue from these activities."
The most common distribution method for mainstream local music tends to be a music video released on YouTube, and a music video counts as a separate recording and requires a separate ISRC.
Effective embedding of an ISRC code on a video streaming platform should be part of a larger strategy to encode file metadata to identify authorship and monetise views.
Manmohan suggests services like DistroVid, Vevo and Symphonic as examples of services that streamline uploading videos for streaming. If an artist's music is used without permission in another video, this data empowers either a takedown or monetisation of the ancillary use.
File metadata is a fussy but essential aspect of digital art. While thieves can remove metadata from digital files, creators should clearly identify their work through tagging to lubricate the legal use of creative works.
A search using a tool provided by the PPL music licensing agency in the UK turns up 105 songs attributed to Machel Montano, of which seven have no ISRC data. None of them have a TT ISRC listing, after being registered by a range of international distributors.
MusicTT suggests the services of MusicMotif (motifmusicservices.com) to plan their embedding strategy.
While the code can be embedded in an MP3 or MP4 file, coding each file on a commercial CD or preparing the code for digital streaming requires a bit more work.
MusicTT has a subject specific webpage for ISRC explanations and resources at https://musictt.co.tt/isrc/.
Mark Lyndersay is the editor of technewstt.com. An expanded version of this column can be found there
"The push for music tagging using ISRC codes"