Description and qualifications
A Gold record is a single or album that managed to sell 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 able to sell 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 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. A similar discrepancy between shipments and sales was reported with The Lion King soundtrack.
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. 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.