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. Other countries have similar awards (see music recording sales certification). Certification is not automatic; for an award to be made, the record label must request certification. 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
Presently, an American RIAA-certified Gold record is a single or album that has sold 500,000 units (records, tapes or compact discs). The award was launched in 1958; 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). In 1975, the additional requirement of 500,000 units sold was added for Gold albums. Reflecting growth in record sales, the Platinum award was added in 1976 for albums selling one million units, and singles selling two million units. The Multi-Platinum award was introduced in 1984, signifying multiple Platinum levels of albums and singles. 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. 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. 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. 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). This system has allowed, at times, for 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. 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. 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 roundly 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. A similar discrepancy between shipments and sales was reported with The Lion King soundtrack.
For further information, see Music recording sales certification.
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, each copy of The Smashing Pumpkins's 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 double even though their running times are under the minimum requirement.
Since 2000, the RIAA also awards Los Premios de Oro y De Platino (Gold and Platinum Awards in Spanish) to Latin albums which are defined by the RIAA as a type of product that features at least 51% of content in Spanish.
For Latin albums certified beginning on December 20, 2013, the award levels are:
For certifications made before December 20, 2013, the award levels are:
Note: The number of sales required to qualify for Oro and Platino awards was higher prior to January 1, 2008. The thresholds were 100,000 units (Oro) and 200,000 units (Platino). All Spanish-language albums certified prior to 2008 were updated to match the current certification at the time. "La Bomba" by Bolivian group Azul Azul is the only single to receive a Latin certification based on shipments before the creation of the Latin digital singles awards in 2013. The Disco de Diamante award was introduced after the RIAA updated the thresholds for Latin certifications in December 20, 2013. The Disco de Diamante is awarded to Latin albums that have been certified 10× Platinum.
It is estimated that there have been about 2,550 combined single certifications. Standard singles are certified:
Note: The number of sales required to qualify for Gold and Platinum discs was higher prior to January 1, 1989. The thresholds were previously 1,000,000 units (Gold) and 2,000,000 units (Platinum).
Digital singles are certified:
From 2004 through July 2006, the certification level was 100,000 downloads for Gold and 200,000 for Platinum. When the RIAA changed the certification standards to match retail distribution in August 2006, all Platinum and Multi-Platinum awards for a digital release were withdrawn. Gold certifications, however, were not, meaning a song that was downloaded over 100,000 times and certified so by the RIAA during that time frame retains its Gold status.
Starting May 9, 2013 RIAA certifications for singles in the "digital" category include on-demand audio and/or video song streams in addition to downloads at a rate of 100 streams=1 certification "unit". On January 2, 2016, this rate was updated to 150 streams = 1 certification unit.
Latin digital singles are certified:
The Latin Digital Single Awards began on December 20, 2013. As with the digital sales, 100 streams count as one download sale.
Along with albums, digital albums, and singles there is another classification of music release called "Video Longform." This release format includes DVD and VHS releases, and certain live albums and compilation albums. The certification criteria is slightly different from other styles.
Lists from RIAA site showing current status holders of RIAA Certifications:
Artists with the most album certifications
Albums that have been certified Gold might receive additional certifications for achieving Platinum and Multi-Platinum levels.
Artists with the most single certifications
Singles that have been certified Gold might receive additional certifications for achieving Platinum and Multi-Platinum levels. For example, Eminem has had 13 singles certified Gold, 8 of which went on to achieve Platinum certification as well.
This list includes the RIAA formats 'Single','12 inch single' and 'Video Single'. This list includes singles of the RIAA types 'standard' and 'digital'.
This table tracks artists with some number of singles that have received at least twelve total certifications.
RIAA Diamond certifications
Diamond (10+ million) certified albums and singles
RIAA Diamante certifications
Diamante certified Latin albums and singles (1+ million for Latin albums certified before December 2013 and 600,000+ for Latin albums and singles certified after December 2013