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Music Industry

What Is UPC?

Photograph of the blog post author, Carla Johnson

Carla Johnson


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What Is UPC

What Is UPC?

You need to ask yourself – what Is UPC – when selling products through traditional retailers or online marketplaces. These can be places like Amazon and eBay. It’s necessary to have the correct product identification.

UPC music barcodes (or Universal Product Code) is the way in which products get identified. It is what enables products to be sold, tracked and reordered through supply chains. Without the correct product identification, it will cause issues with the supply chain.

The UPC barcode is the starting point to ensure product identification is right. The barcode symbology is broadly used throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand. Additionally in other countries for tracking trade items in stores.

But, do music artists need a UPC music barcode when selling music online or in-store? The answer is simply yes!

Read on as we cover some of your most common questions about music barcodes.

What Is A UPC Music Barcode?

What Is UPC

So, let’s start off by finding out what is a UPC music Number and where is the UPC music code found?

UPC is the abbreviated form of ‘Universal Product Code’ but also known as UPC and EAN (International Article Number). It is often used to define the UPC symbols which is ultimately a barcode with a 12-digit number called GTIN-12. The GTIN-12 is usually used to collect the UPC music data originated from a GS1 Company Prefix and Item Reference.

The unique code can be found on a product such as an album or single so it can be identified. Unlike an ISRC code which represents individual tracks and sound recordings, the UPC code tracks your music as an entire physical or digital product.

Why Do You Need A UPC Music Code?

You may decide to sell your record as a CD in a shop or as a digital version on iTunes. A barcode is still needed in order to track those sales.

Stores (digital/physical) can’t sell your music without the barcode so it is really important you have one. Every release (single/EP/album) requires a unique barcode. For physical copies, there will be a barcode graphic used which is usually placed on the back of a CD. When it comes to digital releases the UPC music number is the number used to track sales.

How Many Barcodes Do You Need For A Release?

In the UK you’ll need a different barcode number for both physical record release and digital copy.

Will You Need A Different Barcode For Each Release?

Simply, yes. For each individual product, you are planning to sell it will need its own unique code.

UPC music barcodes are needed for sales tracking. Therefore each variant of product needs to have its own unique UPC. This is so different products can be characterised with an individual UPC music barcode. 

Having two releases under the same code, you wouldn’t be able to easily track which one had the most sales. In addition which to count the sale towards.

Should You Make Up A Barcode?


The numbers cannot be created by you as unfortunately the UPC music code is calculated using a complicated formula.  The start of the code is a company’s own unique number, this is for security purposes and enables a store to detect any fake barcodes. 

The next part is a unique code to your record release, without this, it could mean your sales go to another artist if you both happen to pick the same barcode.

Why Do UPC Music Codes Have 12 Digits?

What Is UPC

A fun fact is there are two types of barcodes, UPC and EAN13. UPC is generated from North America and requires 12 digits in the identification number for the UPC barcode. EAN13, on the other hand, is usually from the UK and this requires 13 digits. 

Either form of a barcode can be used throughout the world. Online store identification systems are able to accommodate 13 digits in a barcode and a 0 digit can be added to the start of a UPC, any physical barcodes would remain as 12 digits.

A 12-digit code is built up of three sections. Each section has a group of numbers classifying a different purpose. The first six numbers relate to the manufacturer, the next five digits of the UPC are a specific item number, and the final number is the check digit.

The manufacturer’s section of the barcode is known as the UPC Company Prefix, the manufacturer will be assigned a number when they apply for a UPC barcode. Each item produced by that manufacturer will start with the allocated number.

Are UPC Music Codes Ever Shorter Than 12 Digits?

If you have some particular smaller item of merchandise then it can be difficult to fit along with a 12-digit UPC barcode on the small packaging. So, this doesn’t become a problem, it is possible to compress the zeros in a UPC to save on space, this will result in less than 12 digits appearing in the barcode.

What Is UPC

How Do You Get A UPC Music Code?

Most retailers, wholesalers and online marketplaces (such as Amazon) will need a unique identifier assigned to all retail products. Dissimilar to the manufacturer’s section of the number, the product identifier has to be globally unique as well as follow a worldwide standard.

Lots of music distributors such as CDBaby will assign you with a UPC music code for albums and singles when you begin to work for them. GS1 US is in the United States and is a neutral, not-for-profit information standards organisation. They work to improve business processes and are a responsible establishment which ensures barcodes work everywhere, in every supply chain in every country.

If you would like to create your own UPC code for better control, you are required to get it through GS1 US.

Take the 4 simple steps to obtain a barcode:

  1. Apply for a GS1 Company Prefix.
  2. Assign a unique product number.
  3. Determine how your product will display barcodes.
  4. Order your UPC barcodes.

Check out the GS1 US website to access more information about Bar Code Graphics as well as watch a quick video which details information about numbering and USP barcode requirements. At the end of the easy tutorial, you will be given details about obtaining UPC barcode with a unique GS1 Company Prefix assigned to your company.

What Happens If You Do Not Have A UPC Code?

If you do not have a UPC music code, you will not be able to purchase the music online. The UPC code is used to uniquely identify a specific album or song and is used to facilitate the purchase and sale of the music. Without the code, it is not possible to purchase the music online.

Summary – What Is UPC?

In summary, it is really important you get this right as any barcode mistakes can be very costly if not properly implemented. UPC barcodes are important for musicians because they provide a unique identifier for their music.

This makes it easier for retailers to track and identify the music, which helps them to ensure they are selling the correct version of the artist’s music.

Additionally, UPC barcodes help to protect the rights of the artist, as they can be used to identify the original source of the music and can help to prevent the sale of unauthorized copies.

You can also search for your ISRC codes easily with the Music Gateway ISRC Finder tool.


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