Nielsen SoundScan and BDS

We’ve all heard of the Nielsen Ratings, which are used to measure television watching habits. Most people are familiar with Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks music sales. But few know of Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems, which tracks song plays on radio, television and the internet using a patented digital pattern recognition technology. Performing rights organization SESAC relies on BDS to calculate royalty payments, while ASCAP and BMI use their own digital fingerprinting technologies. In the United States, Nielsen publishes Billboard Magazine, which combines SoundScan and BDS statistics to create their Hot 100 Chart.

It will come as no surprise to you that Color Theory is not, and will probably never be, on that chart. Nor am I looking to impress a major label with my sales numbers. Still, I went through the motions and submitted my stuff for tracking. For those of us who dare to dream big, let me tell you how it’s done.

Registering your CD with SoundScan couldn’t be easier. Just go to this page (no longer valid – see update below), download the appropriate form (they track US and Canada sales separately), and e-mail the completed form to [email protected]. You must have a UPC barcode, which makes sense, because you’re not going to be selling at many retailers without it. If you’re with CD Baby, my understanding is that they’ll report to SoundScan automatically, though I don’t know if that registers your album for sales through other outlets. You might as well spend the ten minutes to submit the form yourself.

Submitting music to Nielsen BDS is a little trickier, but they’ve clearly put some effort into making the process user-friendly. Rather than mailing in physical product, I used their online service, called Virtual Encode. First you have to e-mail their client services department with “Virtual Encode” as the subject to get a username and password. In a couple days, you’ll receive an e-mail explaining how to log in and install their software. Then it’s as easy as inserting your CD and waiting (longer than you’d think) for it to rip, encode, and compress your songs. If your album is in CDDB, it’ll pull the song titles in automatically. If not, you’ll need to enter them manually, along with the UPC and catalog number. After all the songs are uploaded, you review the information and submit the album. I went ahead and encoded all seven of my CDs. You never know!

If any of you lovely readers have access to SoundScan, could you look up Color Theory? I’ve always been curious.

UPDATE 8/10: You no longer have to download a form to register your release with SoundScan. You can do it all online here. Unfortunately, you’ve still got to go through the same hoops in order to submit to BDS.

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash


  1. ok. so if im recoring only 3 new songs & promoting them w/5 older songs already coded copywritten etc….what do i do? just encode those 3 songs? how would i get a barcode for 3 songs only?

    1. Seems like we’re talking about three different things here:

      1. Copyright – You can submit the three new songs to the Library of Congress as a set.

      2. BDS Encoding – I believe you’d just do the three new songs. I wouldn’t worry too much about it either way though.

      3. Barcode – The barcode is for the collection, not the individual songs. Since this is a new collection, you need a new barcode. Just like if an artist releases a greatest hits collection, it gets its own UPC.

  2. ok yeah, that was my main inquiry. So id have 2treat the 3 new songs as a new project? fine. but that was kind of a worry i had, ’cause a barcode is like $750 right? or would i need 2register the new songs w/CDbaby & get a barcode like that? Ugggghhh, now what? thanks Brian!

    1. You really paid $750 for a UPC? Yeah, just use CD Baby or TuneCore or whatever. It’ll be somewhere between free and $20. You’re not treating the 3 new songs as a new project, you’re treating the 8 songs (old + new) as a new project. If I’m understanding you correctly?

  3. oh hell no, i ddnt pay that! haha, i use CDbaby, i was just sayin a barcode normally is $750 i thought. but yeah, u got it the old songs plus the 3 new ones ARE gonna be a new project…..thanks!

  4. Hey, I've read several of your articles and I think they are a great resource. Any idea how the College Music Journal tracks plays? Is there a specific service I should make sure my music is registered with? Thanks!

  5. Thanks Tyson! I haven't kept up with CMJ for years, but once I charted on the RPM Chart (think that's what it was called). Nobody noticed but me ;). As far as I know, your music doesn't need to be registered anywhere in particular for chart consideration, but of course you'll want it registered with your PRO to collect any airplay royalties.

  6. Does anyone know with whom I should register my music *video* ISRC code? Music ISRC codes can be registered with Neilson BDS, who will electronically track your music across platforms such as radio. However, if a video gets broadcast on Much Music, who is tracking it?

  7. Hello there, please, how could I know if my CD is encoded with BDS, Sound Scan… I submitted my music more than 20 days ago but I still didn’t get any result or reply.
    I followed all the procedure spefified on BDS website, applyied all on line document and sent the Login and password inquiry as requested, but I didn’t get any answer in this case as well..

    Can You help me?

    Thank You so much

    1. I’m surprised BDS is still around! It’s been… 8 years? Since I wrote this article, and I haven’t gone back.

      I can’t imagine it would be worth the trouble these days. Sorry I can’t be more help!

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