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  • imazed
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Why is reading ISRC so difficult?
This is my first post so apologies if it is not in the right place.
I plan to convert totally to digital replay keeping all my files on a media server and using a dedicated quiet PC for playback - nothing unusual about that.
I wanted to ensure that when I rip my CD collection I only do it once, that the audio is bit perfect, and the metadata is as compete and informative as possible.
I have spent a lot of time trying various ripping programs, validating metadata against Freedb, MusicBrainz, GD3 and I am now at the stage I can proceed with ripping my music collection EXCEPT that it seems to be almost impossible to get a reliable method of reading and storing the ISRC.
I have tried EAC, DBPoweramp, J rivers, MBRipper and Cuetools.
I have some CDS which will always give a valid ISRC, seven  out of twelve, and the remaining five  which I am unable to read.  This is with any of the programs, any of three different drives, and two computers one running XP and one Windows 7.  I repeat results are entirely consistent either ISRC is always there or it is never there.

YES, I do realise the seemingly obvious conclusion is that no ISRC exists but these are mainstream CDs by popular artists from labels like EMI and Columbia. As the entire music industry is paranoid about collecting royalties and the main identifier of who is playing on any track is linked to the ISRC I do not believe that the "obvious" conclusion is correct.
Interestingly the wikipedia article on the Red Book standard states:
The basic specifications state that

    Maximum playing time is 79.8 minutes[5]
    Minimum duration for a track is 4 seconds (including 2-second pause)
    Maximum number of tracks is 99
    Maximum number of index points (subdivisions of a track) is 99 with no maximum time limit
    International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) should be included

If this is right then ANY compliant CD must have an ISRC encoded on each track.

On scouring this and other audio forums there are four alleged reasons why the ISRC  cannot be read and these are:
1 - Your drive cannot read them - well if that was the case I would not see any of them.
2 - You have not set up the ripping program correctly - same response as point one.
3 - The ISRC does not exist on the tracks - I have no evidence to the contrary other than that previously stated.
4 - The ISRC cannot be transferred to the metadata and can only be seen in a cue sheet - I have tried writing Cue sheets and get identical results 7 out of 12 work.

The ISRC website states:
In the case of Compact Discs the ISRCs and other PQ-data are encoded in the disc sub-code (Q channel) in the disc mastering process. For this reason, ISRCs must be encoded for each track in the Pre-Master for CD. Most commercial mastering software applications have a field dedicated for ISRC.  For electronically distributed formats, the ISRC of each track should be associated with it in the metadata of the file.

Does anyone have a set-up where they can reliably read ISRC?
Is there more than one method of encoding the ISRC on the CD?  My understanding is that ISRC is 12 digits,  case insensitive and is the first thing in the Q channel.
Is there any explanation as to why some codes are not detected by any of the programs I have listed?

  • chi
  • [*]
Why is reading ISRC so difficult?
Reply #1
The basic specifications state that
    …
    International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) should be included

If this is right then ANY compliant CD must have an ISRC encoded on each track.


You are jumping from “should” to “must” here. See, e.g., RFC 2119 for a common interpretation of these terms.

Quote
Is there more than one method of encoding the ISRC on the CD?


Yes, it can also be included in CD-TEXT data (if so, it is usually in addition to the PQ subcode).

  • imazed
  • [*]
Why is reading ISRC so difficult?
Reply #2
The basic specifications state that
    …
    International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) should be included

If this is right then ANY compliant CD must have an ISRC encoded on each track.


You are jumping from “should” to “must” here. See, e.g., RFC 2119 for a common interpretation of these terms.

Quote
Is there more than one method of encoding the ISRC on the CD?


Yes, it can also be included in CD-TEXT data (if so, it is usually in addition to the PQ subcode).


Fair comment Should does not equal must but as the requirement was built in to the specification to satisfy the music industry can we agree "should"="probably, or at least better than 7 out of twelve"

Thanks for pointig out the CD text, I did know that and realise I phrased my question badly. It should be:

Is ther more than one method of encoding the ISRC in the Q channel?

  • chi
  • [*]
Why is reading ISRC so difficult?
Reply #3
Fair comment Should does not equal must but as the requirement was built in to the specification to satisfy the music industry can we agree "should"="probably, or at least better than 7 out of twelve"


In my experience, younger CDs from major labels almost all have ISRCs. Many older releases do not. Which twelve albums did you check?

As an example, I own a CD (“I’m your baby tonight” by Whitney Houston) that was released in 1990 on Arista, though the pressing is probably from 1995 or so. This CD does not have ISRCs.

Quote
Is ther more than one method of encoding the ISRC in the Q channel?


No, there is only one way to do that.

  • Porcus
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Why is reading ISRC so difficult?
Reply #4
We are talking about an industry who intentionally screwed up the error correction of the CD format and didn't mark the discs as such until the P of the S/PDIF put their lawyers at work. But certainly, the incentives were different.

There is a “Media Catalog Number” (MCN) as well. cdda2wav can report that: http://linux.about.com/library/cmd/blcmdl1_cdda2wav.htm

Also: http://forums.musicbrainz.org/viewtopic.php?id=1908
  • Last Edit: 17 December, 2012, 08:16:48 AM by Porcus

  • imazed
  • [*]
Why is reading ISRC so difficult?
Reply #5
Fair comment Should does not equal must but as the requirement was built in to the specification to satisfy the music industry can we agree "should"="probably, or at least better than 7 out of twelve"


In my experience, younger CDs from major labels almost all have ISRCs. Many older releases do not. Which twelve albums did you check?

As an example, I own a CD (“I’m your baby tonight” by Whitney Houston) that was released in 1990 on Arista, though the pressing is probably from 1995 or so. This CD does not have ISRCs.

Quote
Is ther more than one method of encoding the ISRC in the Q channel?


No, there is only one way to do that.


Sorry I did not keep a note of the CDs with No ISRC so I have just repeated my test using ExactAudioCopy v1.0b3 and with a different batch of CDs. This time I got a slightly higher proportion with ISRC, ten out of fifteen. Again they are quite consistent either always providing ISRC or never.  The five CDs not returning any ISRC information were:
These five CD consistently give CATALOG 0000000000000 and do not show any ISRC field.
Pink Floyd - The Division Bell - EMI 724389842 - 1994
Keb Mo - Just Like You - OKeh 48411723 - 1996
Seasick Steve - Dog House Music - Bronzerat BR04 - 1999
Tom Waits - Mule Variations - Anti/Epitaph 6547-2 1999
The Verve - Urban Hymns - Virgin/Hut 45 - 1997


  • imazed
  • [*]
Why is reading ISRC so difficult?
Reply #6
Porcus, Thank you for the links, I'm a bit slow so didn't quite understand what I was reading with the first.  I will have another look this evening.
Regarding the Musicbrainz link  the windows utility written by simonf is the same thing as MBripper which I downloaded directly from his site.  I got the same results as using EAC. 
The crucial point for me is that if these results are to be believed then ISRC and UPC(EAN or Catalog No) do not exist on 33-42% of CDs.  Are you saying this is likely to be the case?

  • Porcus
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Why is reading ISRC so difficult?
Reply #7
Are you saying this is likely to be the case?


Don't know. I assume it depends on whether you buy mainstream music from IFPI member companies (they are the ones issuing it). Myself I only find ISRC tags in a few of my rips, but it might be due to software and settings.

  • tgoose
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Why is reading ISRC so difficult?
Reply #8
The crucial point for me is that if these results are to be believed then ISRC and UPC(EAN or Catalog No) do not exist on 33-42% of CDs.  Are you saying this is likely to be the case?

This is certainly should not be the case for CDs released within the last few years. I've worked in a couple of mastering houses and visited a few others from around 2007 onwards, and 99% of CDs I've seen were sent out with ISRCs included (majors, remasters, independents, self-releases, everything! The exception is probably some independent musicians who bypass a mastering engineer and go straight to the plant.)

That doesn't guarantee that all pressing plants are actually encoding those ISRCs onto the discs, but they should, and I don't see why they wouldn't! I don't have copies of any of the CDs you mention to check though.

Going back to the '90s and earlier, you would be more likely to find missing ISRCs.
  • Last Edit: 18 December, 2012, 11:12:45 AM by tgoose

Why is reading ISRC so difficult?
Reply #9
FWIW: I explicitly do a full subcode check with cdrdao on every disc I rip and include the full results in the cuesheets, including all flag settings (set/unset) and the presence/absence of UPC/EANs and ISRCs. In the roughly 1000 or so discs I've ripped with this workflow, just over 45% have ISRCs, 4% have all-zero ISRCs, and the remainder have no ISRC whatsoever.

My collection skews older, but in my experience it's unusual for a recent CD (say, post-2000) not to have ISRCs, and those where they ARE missing seem mostly to be either true indie releases (nothing I own from Italians Do It Better have them) or DJ mixes/compilations (including soundtracks in the latter category).

Weirdly, I also come across titles with Digital Copy Permitted that you wouldn't expect. The Yello remasters all have it set, for example.

  • imazed
  • [*]
Why is reading ISRC so difficult?
Reply #10
FWIW: I explicitly do a full subcode check with cdrdao on every disc I rip and include the full results in the cuesheets, including all flag settings (set/unset) and the presence/absence of UPC/EANs and ISRCs. In the roughly 1000 or so discs I've ripped with this workflow, just over 45% have ISRCs, 4% have all-zero ISRCs, and the remainder have no ISRC whatsoever.

My collection skews older, but in my experience it's unusual for a recent CD (say, post-2000) not to have ISRCs, and those where they ARE missing seem mostly to be either true indie releases (nothing I own from Italians Do It Better have them) or DJ mixes/compilations (including soundtracks in the latter category).

Weirdly, I also come across titles with Digital Copy Permitted that you wouldn't expect. The Yello remasters all have it set, for example.


Thanks very much for that information. It certainly looks as if ISRC is far from the universal, definitive identifier of a track that I had been led to believe.
I have now contacted EMI and Columbia marketing departments and asked if they could give me any indication of when they implemented ISRC for all tracks.  If I ever get a response I will post the answer here.

I will also have a look at cdrdao  and see if that produces the same results on my small sample.

  • imazed
  • [*]
Why is reading ISRC so difficult?
Reply #11
The crucial point for me is that if these results are to be believed then ISRC and UPC(EAN or Catalog No) do not exist on 33-42% of CDs.  Are you saying this is likely to be the case?

This is certainly should not be the case for CDs released within the last few years. I've worked in a couple of mastering houses and visited a few others from around 2007 onwards, and 99% of CDs I've seen were sent out with ISRCs included (majors, remasters, independents, self-releases, everything! The exception is probably some independent musicians who bypass a mastering engineer and go straight to the plant.)

That doesn't guarantee that all pressing plants are actually encoding those ISRCs onto the discs, but they should, and I don't see why they wouldn't! I don't have copies of any of the CDs you mention to check though.

Going back to the '90s and earlier, you would be more likely to find missing ISRCs.


Very useful, Many of my CDs are pre 2000 as I have gone out of my way to avoid remasters which have been compressed so they are TOO LOUD (another topic altogether). I have now scrapped my idea of relying on ISRC as the definitive identifier of a track  Thanks for the helpful information guys.  I realise that I have simply wasted a lot of time trying to read ISRCs which are not there!

Why is reading ISRC so difficult?
Reply #12
I have now scrapped my idea of relying on ISRC as the definitive identifier of a track.
Good idea! ISRC is not a reliable way to identify audio content. There is no central repository of ISRC's that are assigned that can be used to track anything. It was supposed to end up that way, but never happened.
Up-to-date ISRC info can be found here on the ifpi website (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry). I was quite surprised to read that the only software they advise to read ISRC codes from CD is Mac drutil (command line), nothing for Windows or Linux. This is not going to encourage the use of ISRC.
I include ISRC's in my cd rips, they can be useful, but would never rely on them as a definitive identifier.

A colleague mastering engineer once joked: "I've always been tempted to set up my own label and apply my own ISRC to a Michael Jackson compilation... would anyone notice (apart from my Bank Manager?)  "

Why is reading ISRC so difficult?
Reply #13
To sidetrack a bit, I have noticed that ISRCs are frequently wrong.

For example, in the recent 2011 Queen remasters, both track 8 (These Are the Days of Our Lives) and track 9 (Delilah) of 'Innuendo' have the same ISRC. After checking musicbrainz, the latter track of the two (track 9) is wrong.

Track 7 (In the Lap of the Gods) and track 8 (Stone Cold Crazy) of 'Sheer Heart Attack' have the same problem.

Similarly for track 7 (Modern Time R n R) and track 8 (Son and Daughter) of 'Queen S/T'.

Also track 6 (Breakthru) and track 7 (Rain Must Fall) of 'The Miracle'.

There are a few other similar situations in the 2011 remaster series, where duplicate ISRCs are present, with the latter ISRC wrong.

Does anyone have the same issue? Or is it just my CD drive which is giving problems? I have tried re-ripping and get the same results. (Don't have another drive to test at the moment) I have the US versions of the remasters by the way.
  • Last Edit: 23 December, 2012, 11:11:51 AM by Boiled Beans

  • chi
  • [*]
Why is reading ISRC so difficult?
Reply #14
There are a few other similar situations in the 2011 remaster series, where duplicate ISRCs are present, with the latter ISRC wrong.

Does anyone have the same issue? Or is it just my CD drive which is giving problems? I have tried re-ripping and get the same results.


Yes, there are known problems with drives reporting the wrong ISRC at track transitions. See, e.g., this part of the thread mentioned above: http://forums.musicbrainz.org/viewtopic.php?pid=17516#p17516