There’s a New Way to Measure Commercial Success in Music and It Involves Music Streaming

For the longest time, the height of commercial success in the US was having a gold record: selling one million copies of a single or 500,000 of an album. It was a tradition going back to big band era of the late 1930s.

When music sales really took off in the late 60s and early 70s, a new sales acknowledgement was required: the platinum album. To get the Recording Industry Association of America to give you one of those, you had to sell a million copies of an album. To go “multi-platinum” was to have sales that were a multiple of a million. Hence “6x platinum” meant sales of 6,000,000 copies in the US.

Even that wasn’t enough. In the music industry’s boom times, it was descided that super-successful albums needed to be anointed with a diamond certification: sales of 10 million. Green Day’s Dookie is an an example of a diamond record as it Metallica’s black album.

Beyond that was multi-diamond, a truly mind-boggling level of commercial success. Few records are genuine multi-diamonders, although you probably own most of them: Back in Black, Thriller, Jagged Little Pill, Rumours, the first greatest hits album from the Eagles, Dark Side of the Moon.

But in an era of falling record sales–Adele’s 25 will probably be the last pure diamond certification will ever see–the RIAA needed to do something when it came to trumpeting commercial success. So what have they done? Created a formula involving streaming. Amber Healy from sister site Geeks&Beats explains.

Check the calendar: February 2016 is the time the Recording Industry Association of America woke up and embraced–or at least acknowledged– streaming music in a serious way.

On Monday, the RIAA announced it would start including the number of times a song is streamed when it certifies an album as gold or platinum. This is a radical change from the old way of doing things, in which streaming was something nice for an artist to point to, but didn’t count for anything in terms of album or single sales.

1,500 streams = 10 track sales = 1 album sale

As of February 1, RIAA will tally “on-demand audio and video streams and a track sale equivalent in Gold and Platinum Album Award,” the organization says. This change follows a move made in 2013, in which on-demand streams were included in consideration of its Digital Single award. Now, an artist that reaches Gold (1/2 million records sold), Platinum (1 million) and multi-Platinum (2 million) benchmarks will represent both sales and streams for singles and album certification.

“For nearly six decades, whether it’s vinyl, CDs, downloads or now streams, the Gold & Platinum Program has adapted to recognize the benchmarks of success in an evolving music marketplace,” said Cary Sherman, chairman and CEO of RIAA, in a statement:

We know that music listening – for both for albums and songs – is skyrocketing, yet that trend has not been reflected in our album certifications.  Modernizing our Album Award to include music streaming is the next logical step in the continued evolution of Gold & Platinum Awards, and doing so enables RIAA to fully reward the success of artists’ albums today.

As a result of this change, 17 albums are receiving album awards, including Alt-J “An Awesome Wave,” as Gold; Kendrik Lamar‘s “To Pimp a Butterfly” as Platinum; Elle King‘s “Love Stuff” as Gold; Hozier‘s self-titled album as Platinum; Michael Jackson‘s “Thriller” as 32-times Multi-Platinum; and The Weeknd‘s “Beauty Behind the Madness” as 2X Multi-Platinum, among others.

150 on-demand streams = 1 download

“After a comprehensive analysis of a variety of factors—including streaming and download consumption patterns and historical impact on the program—and also consultation with a myriad of industry colleagues, the RIAA set the new Album Award formula of 1,500 on-demand and/or video song streams = 10 track sales = 1 album sale,” the organization explains. “Also effective today [Feb. 1], RIAA’s Digital Single Award ratio will be updated from 100 on-demand streams = 1 download to 150 on-demand streams = 1 download to reflect streaming’s enormous growth in the two plus years since that ratio was set.”

Read the full article here.

It’ll be interesting to see if Music Canada, our organization for awarding sales milestones, will follow suit.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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