04 Nov

How do I get a barcode for my CD?

Music CD

We’ve had a few Barcode Basics users ask us this one recently. Especially things like, “How do I enter the title, artist and price for my CD and get a barcode”. The short answer is that you don’t. At least, no barcode software is going to do that for you. The artist, title etc isn’t encoded in the barcode.

What is encoded in a barcode is a unique number that identifies the CD, or any other product. That’s the numbers printed underneath the barcode.

When someone in your local record store scans your CD, the only information they get is the barcode number. It’s then up to their computer system to look up that number (probably in some kind of database) and identify what CD it is.

Retailers will usually ask you to fill in a form when they agree to stock your CD. On that form you’ll enter your barcode number and the rest of the information about your CD. They will enter that info into their database system and, hey presto, when they scan your CD the right details should come up. So, how do you get a barcode number for your CD? You can’t simply make one up – if you did then you might accidentally choose one that someone else is using for their CD or even a can of baked beans. It must be unique to your CD.

For the purposes of this article, I’m assuming you’re an independent artist, otherwise your record company would be dealing with all this for you. So you need to get a barcode number allocated somehow. You could contact GS1 directly (who allocate barcode ranges internationally for CDs and other products), but that may be too costly and a little daunting. Luckily, there are organisations who will act as a middle man between you and GS1 and will offer some discounts. For example, it might be worth becoming a member of the Indie Artists Alliance or similar organisation.

Once you have your unique number, it’s easy to create the barcode. Most of the world uses EAN13 barcodes except the USA which uses UPC-A. The USA is supposedly transitioning to EAN13 but they’re taking their time… If you’re printing commercially (that’s to say, on a printing press) then the printing company should be able to tell you some of the specs for the barcode e.g. BWR, magnification. It’s a good idea to check whether the intended retailers of your CD have any special requirements too.

Once you have your number and your barcode specs you’re ready to go, and an app like our very own Barcode Basics makes generating barcodes very simple for the Mac OS X users among you.

So, here’s a quick check list:

  • Get a unique barcode number allocated for your CD (GS1 or an organisation like Indie Artists Alliance can help)
  • Produce the barcode using something like Barcode Basics (check specs with printers and intended retailers)
  • Make sure retailers add your barcode number and associated info to their database
  • Good luck, and remember us when you’re a rich and famous rock star!