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In the United States, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) awards certification based on the number of albums and singles sold through retail and other ancillary markets.[1] Other countries have similar awards (see music recording certification). Certification is not automatic; for an award to be made, the record label must request certification.[2] The audit is conducted against net shipments after returns (most often an artist's royalty statement is used), which includes albums sold directly to retailers and one-stops, direct-to-consumer sales (music clubs and mail order) and other outlets.

Description and qualifications

A platinum award for the album GHV2 of Madonna

A Gold record is a single or album that sells 500,000 units (records, tapes or compact discs). The award was launched in 1958;[3] originally, the requirement for a Gold single was one million units sold and a Gold album represented $1 million in sales (at wholesale value, around a third of the list price).[4] In 1975, the additional requirement of 500,000 units sold was added for Gold albums.[4] Reflecting growth in record sales, the Platinum award was added in 1976, for albums able to sell one million units, and singles selling two million units.[4][5] The Multi-Platinum award was introduced in 1984, signifying multiple Platinum levels of albums and singles.[6] In 1989, the sales thresholds for singles were reduced to 500,000 for Gold and 1,000,000 for Platinum, reflecting a decrease in sales of singles.[7] In 1992, RIAA began counting each disc in a multi-disc set as one unit toward certification. Reflecting additional growth in music sales, the Diamond award was instituted in 1999 for albums or singles selling ten million units.[3] Because of these changes in criteria, the sales level associated with a particular award depends on when the award was made.

Nielsen SoundScan figures are not used in RIAA certification; the RIAA system predates Nielsen SoundScan and in

A Gold record is a single or album that sells 500,000 units (records, tapes or compact discs). The award was launched in 1958;[3] originally, the requirement for a Gold single was one million units sold and a Gold album represented $1 million in sales (at wholesale value, around a third of the list price).[4] In 1975, the additional requirement of 500,000 units sold was added for Gold albums.[4] Reflecting growth in record sales, the Platinum award was added in 1976, for albums able to sell one million units, and singles selling two million units.[4][5] The Multi-Platinum award was introduced in 1984, signifying multiple Platinum levels of albums and singles.[6] In 1989, the sales thresholds for singles were reduced to 500,000 for Gold and 1,000,000 for Platinum, reflecting a decrease in sales of singles.[7] In 1992, RIAA began counting each disc in a multi-disc set as one unit toward certification. Reflecting additional growth in music sales, the Diamond award was instituted in 1999 for albums or singles selling ten million units.[3] Because of these changes in criteria, the sales level associated with a particular award depends on when the award was made.

Nielsen SoundScan figures are not used in RIAA certification; the RIAA system predates Nielsen SoundScan and includes sales outlets Nielsen misses.[citation needed] Prior to Nielsen SoundScan, RIAA certification was the only audited and verifiable system for tracking music sales in the U.S.; it is still the only system capable of tracking 100% of sales (albeit as shipments less returns, not actual sales like Nielsen SoundScan).[citation needed] This system has permitted, at times, record labels to promote an album as Gold or Platinum simply based on large shipments. For instance, in 1978 the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band soundtrack shipped Platinum but was a sales bust, with two million returns.[8] Similarly, all four solo albums by the members of Kiss simultaneously shipped Platinum that same year but did not reach the top 20 of the Billboard 200 album chart.[9] The following year, the RIAA began requiring 120 days from the release date before recordings were eligible for certification, although that requirement has been reduced over the years and currently stands at 30 days. Sony was widely criticized in 1995 for hyping Michael Jackson's double album HIStory as five times Platinum, based on shipments of 2.5 million and using the RIAA's recently adopted practice of counting each disc toward certification, while SoundScan was reporting only 1.3 million copies sold.[10] A similar discrepancy between shipments and sales was reported with The Lion King soundtrack.[11]

In the digital era, changes in the way music is consumed resulted in changes in the certification criteria. Actual album sales had dropped significantly, while digital download followed by streaming became increasingly dominant. On-demand audio and video streams started to be counted towards Digital Single units consumed in 2013.[12][13] Track downloads and audio and video streams were then included in album certification in 2016 using formulas converting downloads and streams into the album units for certification purpose.[14]

List of certifications

R

Nielsen SoundScan figures are not used in RIAA certification; the RIAA system predates Nielsen SoundScan and includes sales outlets Nielsen misses.[citation needed] Prior to Nielsen SoundScan, RIAA certification was the only audited and verifiable system for tracking music sales in the U.S.; it is still the only system capable of tracking 100% of sales (albeit as shipments less returns, not actual sales like Nielsen SoundScan).[citation needed] This system has permitted, at times, record labels to promote an album as Gold or Platinum simply based on large shipments. For instance, in 1978 the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band soundtrack shipped Platinum but was a sales bust, with two million returns.[8] Similarly, all four solo albums by the members of Kiss simultaneously shipped Platinum that same year but did not reach the top 20 of the Billboard 200 album chart.[9] The following year, the RIAA began requiring 120 days from the release date before recordings were eligible for certification, although that requirement has been reduced over the years and currently stands at 30 days. Sony was widely criticized in 1995 for hyping Michael Jackson's double album HIStory as five times Platinum, based on shipments of 2.5 million and using the RIAA's recently adopted practice of counting each disc toward certification, while SoundScan was reporting only 1.3 million copies sold.[10] A similar discrepancy between shipments and sales was reported with The Lion King soundtrack.[11]

In the digital era, changes in the way music is consumed resulted in changes in the certification criteria. Actual album sales had dropped significantly, while digital download followed by streaming became increasingly dominant. On-demand audio and video streams started to be counted towards Digital Single units consumed in 2013.[12][13] Track downloads and audio and video streams were then included in album certification in 2016 using formulas converting downloads and streams into the album units for certification purpose.[14]

Starting from February 1, 2016, each album unit may be one of the following:[14][15]

  1. One digital or physical album sold or shipped;
  2. 10 tracks from the album downloaded;
  3. 1,500 on-demand audio or video streams of songs from the album.

Multi-disc

Multi-disc albums are counted once for each disc within the album if it is over 100 minutes in length or is from the vinyl era. For example, the Smashing Pumpkins' the Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (running time of 121:39) and OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (running time of 134:56), both double albums, were counted twice, meaning each album was certified diamond after 5 million copies were shipped. Pink Floyd's The Wall and the Beatles' White Album, both vinyl-era, are also counted as double even though their running times are under the minimum requirement. Rules may or may not apply depending on most recent staff within the Distributions position.

Spanish

Since 2000, the RIAA also awards Los Premios de Oro y De Platino (Gold and Platinum Awards in Spanish) to Spanish) to Latin albums which are defined by the RIAA as a type of product that features at least 51% of content in Spanish.[16]

As of December 20, 2013, the award levels for Latin certifications are:[17]