Music Sales Are Music PR
Platinum and Gold certifications now reflect streaming figures, but it’s still very hard to quantify a musician’s commercial success.
The announcement that the Recording Industry of America will now count on-demand streaming figures when doling out Gold and Platinum certifications for albums means such certifications will better reflect the first aforementioned category: actual listenership. Over the past few years, more and more people have stopped paying to download or physically own albums and started instead consuming music on platforms like Spotify, YouTube, and Apple Music (Pandora, too, but because you don’t get to pick individual songs its data still won’t factor into RIAA certifications). The RIAA’s rule change means those people can push an album to Gold or Platinum status, and that’s a good thing if certification is meant to capture real marketplace interest in a musical work.
But the rule switch-up also makes understanding what exactly Gold or Platinum status means more difficult than ever before. Until now, Gold indicated at least 500,000 copies sold in stores or through platforms like iTunes, while Platinum indicated a million. Now, those numbers are the sum of sales and the equivalent of sales. The formula for equivalency: “1,500 on-demand audio and/or video song streams = 10 track sales = 1 album sale.” The question of whether that’s a “fair” calculation is inherently unanswerable. What’s clear is that certifications will go from being a cut-and-dry benchmark to an approximation.
Gold & Platinum recognition is often among the most celebrated news in an artist’s social media feed. The RIAA utilizes a myriad of social media platforms – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flipagram, and a YouTube page – to market and publicize artist award achievements. The RIAA also recently unveiled a new RIAA.com and Gold & Platinum database where fans can more easily search and share the award recognition.
That third version of commercial success, how much money a song or album has made, remains hard to talk about. Remember, RIAA awards are a marker of thresholds—an album can sell anywhere between 1,000,000 and 1,999,999 copies and still be Platinum. The other widely used commercial metric in music, Nielsen Soundscan, does keep precise sales and streaming totals, but much of that is only available to subscribers. The Billboard charts simply use those totals to render success in the relative terms of a ranking. And even when the public does know the full consumption figures for a work of music, that’s far from a full portrait of financial success.
Take the case of Rihanna’s new album, Anti. On Friday, The New York Timesreported that by Nielsen’s count, only 460 copies had been sold. That’s a shockingly low number, but as the reporter Ben Sisario wrote, it’s surely so small only because of quirks of rules and timing. As I wrote the same day, the RIAA certified Anti platinum within 14 hours of it hitting the Internet—apparently because Samsung, with whom Rihanna’s signed a reported $25 million marketing deal, bought up a million album copies that were then gifted to fans who typed in a download code. Nielsen doesn’t count such free promotions in its numbers; the RIAA does, on the theory that they still reflect consumer demand for an album. One measure of counting is certainly better for Rihanna’s publicity machine. Neither tells anyone how much money she’s made.
Published By EMPIRE GENIUS