Do You Really Need To Invest In Your Own Barcode?

Musicians like to spend money on equipment: new instruments, new amps, or some new digital device they think will make music making easier for them. Musicians do not like to spend money on anything to do with protecting, promoting, or selling their music. So, when I bring up the issue of investing in a barcode for your independent record release, I can already hear the a lot of whining about the huge investment they might have to make in getting a barcode.

It costs $750 to get your own barcode. There I said, some of you might remember that just a few years ago it cost $300 for the barcode. That is true, (ever heard of inflation?) and believe me, there was just as much whining then as there is now. may not need to invest in your own barcode, for a while anyway.

A few years ago Disc Makers (to my knowledge) became the first CD manufacturer to offer their clients a free barcode when they ordered a specific number of CDs. Today, several other pressing companies offer them as well.

What these companies do is apply to the Uniform Code Council for their own barcode number, and just change some relevant numbers in the codes ascribed to each barcode, so that the novice independent label or entrepreneurial musician putting out a limited number of records can use their barcode, and yet still be perceived as a legitimate label by distributors and stores who stock music CDs, tapes, and vinyl.

Remember, the manufacturing company is the registered owner of the first five digits of the barcode number, and each barcode assigned to one of their customers is a unique 10-digit number (with two additional check digits). Disk Makers, for example keeps a numeric log on their computer system, which automatically assigns a unique barcode number to each customer who wants one. Apparently, it is not possible to duplicate a number, so you can relax about that issue. Each customer is guaranteed a unique number. When a distributor or retailer scans the record's barcode number into their inventory they scan the whole barcode number, which really is a unique number, and can be handled by the store's inventory systems. The recording artist owns that unique barcode sequence for their release. No one else will be using it.

The main purpose of having a barcode is so the Soundscan company, which tracks retail music sales with their trademarked system, can track your particular release properly. If a manufacturing plant offers a barcode to a customer, that customer's product may start tracking on Soundscan but, the default record label that shows up is Disc Makers. (They bought the original code, remember?) But again, relax, there is a Soundscan form available that the recording artist can fill out and submit which changes the barcode registration on that specific 10-digit number to the recording artist. The recording artist will be listed as a "sub-label," by Soundscan, but all their contact information will register with SoundScan. In case you are interested, you can download the relevant Soundscan form from, if you want to.

Now, having said all this, I feel taking advantage of this type of deal is a band-aid. In other words, if you are just releasing a few records, as a vanity project, or as a hobbyist, this may be a great, money saving deal, and you should do it. However, if you are trying to run a real record label, and have the intention of releasing many records over time, then you have to face the music, and invest $750 in getting your own barcode. You can only play at being a real record label for so long.

There now, don't you feel a whole lot better? (Hmmm. any whining that I did hear in the background has subsided. I like it when I can make you feel good.)

Throughout his fprty year career in the music business, FourFront Media & Music's Christopher Knab has shared his experience at many industry conventions and conferences, including the New Music Seminar and the Northwest Area Music Business Conference.

Knab was owner of a San Francisco music store, co-owner of the 415 Records label, and station manager at KCMU Radio in Seattle.

He currently provides a unique consultation and education service for independent musicians and record labels. His new book is entitled "Music Is Your Business".

Christopher Knab