ISMN was developed by and for the music publishing sector as a separate system to complement the ISBN. The ISMN identifies printed and notated music as a distinct category of publication within the global supply chain and for the development of trade directories and similar services to the specialized market for music publications.

ISO 10957:2009 specifies the assignment of a unique ISMN on editions of notated music so as to distinguish one edition of a title, or one separate component of an edition, from all other editions. The standard also specifies the construction of an ISMN and its location on editions of notated music.

In addition, the ISMN can also be used to identify editions of notated music that are presented with other media to form an integrated whole (e.g. an edition that, together with a sound recording, forms a single product). However, the ISMN is not suitable for the identification of material in other media that are issued separately, such as sound or audiovisual products, including CDs and DVDs, for which other standards such as ISO 3901 (International Standard Recording Code) and ISO 15706 (International Standard Audiovisual Number) are applicable.

The revised standard also includes information on assignment of an ISMN and administration of the ISMN system.

Hartmut Walravens, Convenor of the ISO working group that revised the standard, comments: "The ISMN offers the options of a complete rationalisation of music publishing and the music trade as well as music libraries. The revision of ISO 10957 became necessary on account of the change in the ISBN. As many of the applications, especially in the distribution area, follow the needs of the ISBN community, ten-digit numbers had become problematic. So the 13-digit format ensures the compatibility with the trade applications. The process of revision was necessary in order to make them as useful as possible and adapt them to the current needs."

ISO 10957:2009, Information and documentation – International standard music number (ISMN), was developed by ISO Technical Committee ISO/TC 46, Information and documentation, Subcommittee SC 9, Identification and description. It is available from ISO national member institutes (see the complete list with contact details). It may also be obtained directly from the ISO Central Secretariat, price 80 Swiss francs, through the ISO Store or by contacting the Marketing, Communication and Information department (see right-hand column).