How the RIAA Works


The RIAA's Gold and Platinum Records

R&B/hip-hop artist Akon once said "Going Platinum makes me feel, certified. I'm a legitimate artist" [source: RIAA]. It's the RIAA that tracks and certifies record sales for the purpose of awarding coveted Gold and Platinum awards.

The idea actually goes back to 1942, when band leader Glenn Miller was awarded an informal "gold" record by his label, RCA, for selling a million copies of "Chattanooga Choo Choo" [source: RIAA]. In 1958, the RIAA established an official Gold Record program, making the designation a trademark. Perry Como's "Catch a Falling Star" was the first Gold single. Since then, more than 8,000 recordings by artists ranging from Aretha Franklin to Shania Twain have received Gold certification. Possessing a Gold Record has become a coveted achievement for musical artists.

The criteria for the awards have grown more complicated over the years [source: RIAA]:

  • A Gold Record is awarded for 500,000 singles or albums sold.
  • The Platinum Record, introduced in 1976, is for sales of 1 million or more. Johnnie Taylor scored the first Platinum single with "Disco Lady."
  • Multi-Platinum awards began in 1984 for recordings shipping 2 million or more. The biggest selling album of all time is the Eagles' "Greatest Hits," which has reached 29 times Platinum.
  • Diamond Records are given for shipments of 10 million records. The award was initiated in 1999.

Record companies that think they've earned Gold have to request and pay for an audit by an accounting firm hired by the RIAA. The auditors count up the sales of CDs, vinyl records and cassettes through stores, record clubs, mail order houses and Internet fulfillment.

New forms of music have meant new awards. Music videos were honored with Gold and Platinum awards beginning in 1981. In 2001, special Oro and Platino awards were created to honor top selling Spanish language recordings, signifying sales of 100,000 and 200,000 records, respectively. An award for digital singles releases got its start in 2004. And in 2006, the RIAA added a Gold award for top-selling ringtones as music went mobile [source: RIAA].

The vitality of the Gold and Platinum Program, with some albums reaching Gold status within a month of issue, indicates that in spite of its problems, the music industry, as represented by the RIAA, is still alive and kicking.

Author's Note: How the RIAA Works

Researching this article was interesting to me because I'm both a holder of copyrights -- on books, articles and e-books -- and a pirate. Without thinking, I've made music compilations for friends and copied CDs that I've borrowed. I've never gone in for file sharing or uploading, but I'm not entirely innocent.

Since I stand on both sides of the fence, I can see both sides. Everybody likes to get something for nothing. Some hold that free sharing of music and other material makes for a more creative environment. At the same time, artists and writers deserve compensation. They can't work for nothing. And the more money that's drained from the market, the less incentive there is to produce high-quality material.

A balance needs to be reached. Music fans have to understand that there's no free lunch. Is paying a dollar for your favorite song really such a burden?

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