Barcodes and the UCC

The UCC stands for Uniform Code Council, the organization responsible for the distribution and management of standardized UPC symbols (barcodes) worldwide. Use of barcodes is vital to the distribution of recordings on a local, national and international scale. Barcodes are used to track inventory, identify legitimate record labels, and play an essential role in data collected by SoundScan, which has a direct impact on ranking in Billboard and CMJ music charts and other forms of recognition from these and other companies.

Without a barcode, it is practically impossible to distribute your recording on a national level or beyond. Without one, you may have to resign yourself to a local or very-restricted market. Still, a barcode is not required for you to be successful. However, it is strongly advised and can open a lot of new doors to success.

A barcode number can be obtained from your record label (if you are signed to one) or by your parent label (if you are a sub-label) because these organizations already own a UCC Membership Number and will simply issue you a specific barcode number within a series of numbers which they are authorized to distribute. If you are not signed to a label or you wish to start you own record company, you can obtain your own UCC Membership Number very easily. The problem is that most people don’t know how to go about getting started. Once again, comes to the rescue, free of charge!

Click here to see UCC Membership Fees, contact the Uniform Code Council, or obtain a UCC Membership Number. IMPORTANT: Do not contact the UCC for individual barcode numbers. They do not offer individual numbers, only UCC Membership Numbers. To obtain individual barcode numbers, click here. Please note that in providing barcodes for your release, we do not submit forms to SoundScan, you must do that yourself. Therefore, you control who is listed as the parent label in your SoundScan form submission. Turn around for barcode registration is usually 24 hours.

Please note that the UCC sometimes distributes series that do not take the release type into account. If you receive codes from series owners where the second to last digit does not correlate with this diagram, do not panic. Your barcode should still work without a problem.

Technical Information:

If you are not familiar with print design and production, this section will not make much sense to you. If you are familiar with print production and the differences between RGB, CMYK, Process and Pantone, this section will help with the proper creation and use of a barcode.

  • Barcodes should always print on the Black Layer of CMYK only! Black builds (black comprised of a richer combination of CMYK) will not scan properly and will be rejected by most barcode scanners.
  • Vector-based barcode generation is recommended. This allows less opportunity for the image of the barcode to be corrupted as it is manipulated in your image editor. Bitmapped images of barcodes, however, should function just fine as long as they are created at 300dpi, are never enlarged from their original size, and are saved as a grayscale (black) format only. Vector-based barcode generators are preferred because they can be recede without corruption, provided the original proportions are maintained and the reassign is within a reasonable range. Never resize any vector-based or bitmap version of a barcode without keeping the image proportionally correct.
  • Recommended height for barcodes is .25 of an inch to 1 inch. When a barcode is scanned, the laser moves across the “bars” in a horizontal pattern. The only advantage to having a taller barcode is to make it easier for the laser to move across all the bars. Theoretically, the barcode could be an eighth of an inch high and still allow the laser to do it’s job, but this would be impractical for obvious reasons. UPC barcodes should not be printed much smaller than 1.125 inches from the left end of the bars to the right. Anything smaller and you’ll be risking an improper or impossible scan.

Dealing with barcodes in the correct manner for graphic design is tricky business and probably best left to the experienced professional (of course we can help you in that department). But obtaining ownership of a UCC Membership Number is easy and essential for music business professionals involved in distribution. So even if you’re not an experienced graphic design professional, you can still take care of your business and work with a designer when you are ready to place your barcode in your album cover art work. Good luck!


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