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Music Matching Identifiers: ISWCs provides standardization for streaming data

International Standard Musical Work Code (ISWC) is a unique identifier for musical works. The first ISWC was assigned in 1995, for the song “Dancing Queen” by ABBA

Oleg Ivanov On Unsplash
Oleg Ivanov On Unsplash

Globally streaming is now the preferred way people listen to music, surpassing all other formats with music lovers. IFPI reported that streaming accounted for 56.1% of all global recorded music revenues in 2019, translating into a colossal streaming revenue figure of $11.4 billion (IFPI, 2020).

As streaming continues to rise in popularity, the challenges associated grow also. While it provides new global audiences and increased visibility for artists, due to inaccurate streaming data these artists often receive low earnings. In their latest Collections Report, CISAC’s former president Jean-Michel Jarre shared that just 1 in 5 collections paid to creators is from a digital source (CISAC, 2019). This is a significant discrepancy.

For artists, earnings per stream are at a fraction of a cent. With the revenue per stream so low there is no margin for error. This is particularly true for independent artists. However, due to bad metadata, inconsistencies and complexities there are millions of dollars in royalties which never get paid to artists. This is a global issue. However, global music organisations are rising to the challenge, creating centralised solutions using music identifier codes.

The development of ISWC

As fair payments for artists is a priority for music rights organisations, many are turning to technology. CISAC is one such organisation. Representing societies in 121 countries, CISAC developed the ISWC (International Standard Music Work Code) system to bring standardization to the processing of digital and streaming music data. A permanent link is established between the work and the artist, unique for each musical work. No longer is there a reliance on titles, which may feature human errors or special characters.

Approved by the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO 15707:2001), these codes are unique identifiers specifically for musical works. The ISO has documentation sharing how these ISWCs should be structured, removing ambiguity. These codes allow for the efficient and accurate identification of musical works so the correct revenues are distributed. Since its establishment, tens of millions of ISWCs have been assigned to songs globally (CISAC, 2019). shares what information an ISWC contains about a musical work. Without this information the ISWC cannot be issued (

  • the title of the work
  • all composers, authors and arrangers of the work identified by their IPI numbers and role codes
  • the work classification code (from the CIS standards list)
  • in the case of ‘versions’, for example arrangements, identification of the work from which the version was made.

Fixelgraphy On Unsplash
Fixelgraphy On Unsplash

Spanish Point Technologies, the creator of the Matching Engine, was chosen by CISAC to build the Next Generation ISWC. With 10+ years of experience building solutions for CMOs, our team understands the complexities of the music industry and streaming. The Next Generation ISWC system uses Matching Engine technology to manage and issue the ISWCs.

The system can process the streaming data of global music societies, match to existing works and issue new ISWCs for new works. With 50+ million songs available on Spotify to its 286 million monthly active users (March 2020), the volumes of data to process are extremely high (Spotify, 2020: Each day this system processes over 1 million transactions per day from a variety of streaming platforms

Speaking of the improved ISWC system, CISAC Director General Gadi Oron shared:    

“Investing in improved ISWC systems helps music creators and publishers, authors societies and digital services navigate their way better in the rapidly growing digital music market. The ISWC is the leading music industry identifier and it plays an important role in facilitating the identification of musical works. Our project with Spanish Point increases the speed, accuracy and efficiency of the system in a way that is complementary with our members’ systems, and which keeps pace with the explosive growth of music streaming.” (CISAC, 2019).