UPC Barcodes: An Overview

We will define the basics of a upc code and detail the different aspects that make up a UPC code.

We will explain how upc codes are utilized in the united states by retailers and companies.

We will show you the different ways to get your own upc codes for your products.


Vyral University: UPC Barcodes: An Overview

UPC Barcodes: An Overview

But how do they work? We will try to explain the basics of UPC codes, show you how retailers utilize the data encoded in them, and how you can obtain your own codes for your products. UPC stands for Universal Product Code. It is a 12 digit code used by retailers and companies to track products sold in stores and through online retailers. A UPC is generally represented by a unique image known as a barcode. You see them on everything you own. The barcode is scanned by lasers in stores so that they can keep an accurate track of every product sold. One of the great benefits of a UPC code is that it is universally accepted throughout the US and most of Canada. A UPC code is an absolute must-have for anyone wishing to sell and distribute music.

For many, a barcode represents the very idea of capitalism. For others, it is a work of art. For you it can represent anything you wish, but above all it is a representation of your product, and in turn a symbol of the professionalism of your company.


A Barcode has an anatomy? In a relative sense, yes. Each UPC barcode is broken down into four different parts. Let’s go through the different parts that make each UPC barcode unique.

The first 6 numbers are the vendor code. These are the numbers assigned by the UCC ( Uniform Code Council) to identify each company. All products from a single company would have the same 6 numbers on their UPC barcodes.

Product CODE:
The next 4 numbers make up the product code. This code is assigned by the vendor for each product. It is usually the catalog number or selection number of a release.

Product Type:
The next to last number designates the type of product. There are specific numbers for each type of medium. (ex: CD’s - 2, Cassettes - 4)

Check Digit:
This last number is known as the check digit. It is basically a number that is generated using a specific formula using the first 11 numbers.


Barcodes a basically symbols that can be read by machines equipped with barcode scanners to access information about the product. Retailer’s use this code to store tracking and inventory information, as well as access pricing information stored in the retailer’s POS (point-of-sale) system. The beauty of this system is that is is universally accepted, and that make’s the barcode a powerful tool for sales and reporting for both the retailer and the distributor of the product. In music, barcodes are used to track sales through a company called Nielsen SoundScan. SoundScan is a system that tracks music sales in the US and Canada by counting the number of “scans” of a particular product. You must register each barcode with SoundScan in order to take advantage of this process. UPC Codes allow retailers to accurately report sales to each vendor, and also track the performance of each product in their retail outlets. Most (if not all) stores will not carry your release without a UPC barcode).


Product is Scanned
Each time a product is purchased, it is scanned by the cashier using a barcode scanner.

Product is found and saved. POS Systems use barcodes for locating product info.
After it is scanned, the POS system saves that information for tracking and reporting.

Reports are compiled.
SoundScan collects this data from retailers and compiles sales reports. These reports are used by vendors and also by sales charts such as Billboard.


There are a few different ways to get a UPC barcode for your product. Let’s go through some of the different options. No matter which you choose, make sure that you do your research to insure that you are getting a unique code, as many unreliable companies re-use old UPC codes.

Uniform Code Council:
The first, and most difficult way to obtain a barcode for your products is to register with the UCC and get your own unique vendor code. This would allow you to then generate your own codes using a barcode generation software and assign your own product codes. I do not recommend this method to anyone who is releasing an independent record without major financial backing as it is very costly to register and also very time consuming.

Get it from your Manufacturer:
Since we are discussing obtaining a barcode for your physical/digital release, it is likely that you will be using a manufacturing company to make your CD’s. Almost all of these companies offer UPC barcode services along with their manufacturing packages. (Usually there is an extra fee involved from $10 - $30 dollars). This is by far the easiest way to get a UPC barcode for your product and many manufacturers will create and place the artwork for free along with their service.

Use a 3rd Party Vendor:
If you to an internet search for “UPC Barcodes” or “Obtain a Barcode” you should find a ton of companies that offer services for creating UPC barcodes at a small price (usually between $10 -$20 dollars). If you are not planning on manufacturing your CD’s with a CD replication company, or if you wish to save a little money, you can hire one of these companies to generate your UPC barcode. I recommend doing a little research on the company before spending any money.


Barcodes are used in almost every music purchase in the United States. The legitimacy of your release can be enhanced with the simple use of a barcode. But other than looking professional, why do you need a barcode. Almost all CD’s have a UPC Barcode.

If you plan on distributing or consigning your release...
If you have any plans for putting your CD in a retail store, whether by using a distributor, or by consigning with a local retailer, you will need a barcode. It is the only way that the retailer can add your product to their system and it is the only way that you can expect to get paid accurately for the purchases made in each store.

If you plan on digital distribution...
Even if you do not plan on producing a physical product, digital retailers such as iTunes and Amazon use UPC Barcodes for their online stores. If you are planning on releasing your music digitally, you will need to have a UPC Barcode.

Other lesser-known benefits...
There are other reasons for having a barcode. Many licensing companies require barcodes for you to register works, as well as streaming radio services such as Pandora. You cannot get your music on Pandora without one. The important thing to remember is that this is a small investment relative to the cost of producing your music and manufacturing and distributing your CD’s. Even if you think you don’t need one right now, there may be a time in the future when you wish that you had obtained one in the beginning.

• Preparing Your Release • Digital Distribution 101 • Tunecore: An Overview • ISRC Codes • Neilson Soundscan: An Overview

Obtain a UPC Barcode
for more detailed information on music publishing i recommend checking out our bookstore for some great guides to UPC Codes and Distribution!

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