Understanding: Billboard BB200 vs US Album Sales

Earth, Wind and Fire

II) Examples of application

E) Commodores and Earth, Wind & Fire

Here is the case of two acts similar to the Jackson 5 in that they were hugely popular on both sides, Pop and R&B. Earth, Wind & Fire are especially interesting as their catalog was audited in full by the RIAA several times between 1984 and 2001.

Their first 6 albums all gained one Platinum higher than calculated sales. Those awards were obtained many years after the initial run though and they make perfect sense once adding their respective catalog sales.

We notice that, although close to the next certification level, Faces, Electric Universe and Touch The World never made reached it. Those are precisely the only 3 albums among this list with no single reaching even 1 million streams on Spotify, which explains their non-existent catalog sales since the end of their respective promotion. This also confirms that unlike Teddy Pendergrass, and in spite of being a black act, Earth, Wind & Fire was fully regarded as a cross-over act by then as the Billboard’s panel reflected their sales to perfection.

The Commodores truly crossed over with their 1976 hit Sweet Love. Before that, they were deflated by rankings as shown with Machine Gun which barely charted while it sold past half a million units in two years as per Billboard. Following albums fit perfectly with their certifications until Live!.

For the first time, the formula seems wrong with Natural High, showing 1,9 million sales in 8 months while it did 3 million in less than 2 years. Selling over 1 million outside of chart rankings isn’t realistic. We may jump on the conclusion that it sold a lot via urban retailers however, this isn’t the issue. Let’s check its chart run:

   7. NATURAL HIGH
Produced by: Commodores/James Carmichael
Date: 27/05/1978 – Run: 68-24-15- 10-7-4-*3*-3-5-3-3-3-3-3-3-7-6-8-10-13-12-12-18-31-65-64-64-93-113-179-179-179- (32 wsf)
            06/01/1979: 200 (33/16 wks) UK:#8/23/3

We fell into the anomaly category. At the time charts were always waves. An album was climbing until its peak then dropping. It isn’t natural to be that high for so long without climbing higher, e.g. spending 10 weeks inside the Top 5 including 8 at #3 without ever reaching #1/2. The norm would have been:

   7. NATURAL HIGH
Produced by: Commodores/James Carmichael
Date: 27/05/1978 – Run: 68-24-15- 10-7-4-*3*-3-3-2-1-1-1-1-3-7-6-8-10-13-12-12-18-31-65-64-64-93-113-179-179-179- (32 wsf)
            06/01/1979: 200 (33/16 wks) UK:#8/23/3

The question turns out to be which albums blocked it at #3? During its second 6-weeks run there, it was indeed always the same #1 and always the same #2, meaning it outsold every album minus two for 6 weeks in a row, a true real #1 seller in a standard period. The Top 2 albums were the Soundtrack Grease and the Rolling Stones’ big gun Some Girls respectively, which better explains why Natural High had to settle for #3 in spite of sales worthy of a #1 spot. Assuming it sold enough to be #1 in a normal week for 4 weeks, the calculation climbs to 2,5 million, now in line with 3 million shipped after one more year of solid sales.

22 thoughts on “Understanding: Billboard BB200 vs US Album Sales”

    1. Hi Gus!

      Obviously you are correct, I always think about Kenny G when talking about Michael Bolton and vice versa, don’t ask me why! Now fixed 😉

  1. Hello dear MJD it’s really a very interesting article on RIAA certifications.
    From this article it is evident that some artists such as U2 or Michael Jackson were massively inflated.
    This fact will affect on global sales ? For example the U2 in last year’s article have sold about 192.400.000 equivalent album sales with 12x platinum for The Joshua Tree, 8x platinum for Achtung Baby, 5x platinum for Rattle and Hum and War etc..
    Based on this new article for example their US album sales and their world album sales will be lower ?

    1. Hi Anthony,

      No, it doesn’t impact RIAA certifications. Their awards were achieved thanks to catalog sales and CSPC articles took that into consideration already!

  2. Great job man! Are we getting the 2nd part of your Understanding article about download sales vs. streaming? This is the one I’m most excited about, haha.

  3. Hey MJD,
    You’ve done a lot of work on 90’s and 2000’s artists and I think you should consider looking at Ashanti’s discography. She came out with a strong debut and had hit songs in her time

    1. Hi Luca!

      The factor can be easily calculated for post-1990 years using US Sales Database. I avoided it on purpose for two reasons:
      – Soundscan reflects better ups and downs, runs are much less linear, which corrupts the grouping of positions logic. In the past, a standard run was 152-81-55-38-33-32-33-39-60-121-155-187-out. Now you can have 10-39-101-199-out, which would give a much better result than 11-41-101-out.
      – Internet/pre-orders: they massively frontloaded sales which means now a #1 can sell 30k or 1m. This completely corrupts every possible calculation!

  4. Hi MJD!

    Forgive me for being quite ignorant, but I’ve re-read your article a thousand times, and I still don’t know how you input the Xmas factor in your calculations. I know how to calculate without the Xmas factor, but how do you add in the Xmas factor? Does it depends on which positions it charted during December?

  5. Hi MJD!

    Forgive me for being ignorant, but I still don’t know how you add in the Xmas factor in your calculations. Could you elaborate on how to do that?

    1. Hi Raffi!

      You are two that did this comment (with someone at SHF) so I suppose this part is unclear, I’ll amend the text! In the meantime, here is the answer I made to the other comment:
      The Xmas factor ais roughly the same scale as the chart overall, just slightly lower. Here is the weight you should give to an album depending on its average ranking in December:
      At #1 = weight 15 to 20 (depending on how big it was / how long it remained at 1)
      Charting 2-5 = weight 12
      Charting 6-10 = weight 8
      Charting 11-20 = weight 6
      Charting 21-40 = weight 4
      Charting 41-100 =weight 2
      Charting 101-200 = weight 1

  6. Hey MJD. Can I ask you something? You mention that before the soundscan era, black(R&B) retailers weren’t really covered to the same extent as rock and pop on the BB200. The RIAA situation reminds me of the new edition album certifications but unlike kool and the gang and teddy pandergrass their certifications came years after they reached those sales. Here is a picture of them where their self-titled album new edition is double platinum in 1985 already but on the RIAA site it was only certified 2X PLAT. in 1995 https://www.instagram.com/p/BW4CdtAha4G/?taken-by=neluvforever_nikkiriv Some people say the N.E Heartbreak album sold 3-4 million copies in the usa and bobby’s dont be cruel has also passed the 8 million mark according to billboard even though its still 7x platinum riaa wise. Can you estimate the group’s album sales in the u.s. I ask because their concerts sold really well in the late 80’s http://www.americanradiohistory.com/hd2/IDX-Business/Music/Archive-Billboard-IDX/IDX/80s/1988/BB-1988-11-26-OCR-Page-0028.pdf#search=%22new%20edition%20bobby%20brown%20boxscore%22 . Also on one of their dates they made 600k plus in a single night and that couldn’t have been possible in the 80’s if they just had an r&b/black base. http://www.americanradiohistory.com/hd2/IDX-Business/Music/Archive-Billboard-IDX/IDX/80s/1988/BB-1988-11-19-OCR-Page-0024.pdf#search=%22new%20edition%20amusement%20business%22 Also the charts were still divided in terms of race after the civil rights movement. SMH http://www.americanradiohistory.com/hd2/IDX-Business/Music/Archive-Billboard-IDX/IDX/80s/1989/BB-1989-04-22-OCR-Page-0080.pdf#search=%22new%20edition%20amusement%20business%22

    1. Hi Lunga!

      Please find below the calculations of US sales for New Edition 80s albums:
      Candy Girl 252,000
      New Edition 1,863,000
      All For Love 993,000
      Under The Blue Moon 365,000
      Heart Break 2,126,000

      As shown on previous examples, Billboard charts used to represent roughly 80% of sales for Black music artists.

      As for their RIAA history:
      – they never had a major audit as shown by the absence of mass updates of various albums together
      – All For Love and Under The Blue Moon reached their awards relatively easily in spite of calculated sales under their criteria which evidences the 80%-ish coverage
      – self-titled album did most likely cross 2 million in late 1985. It makes sense, as the lead single for follow up album was released in October 1985 they haven’t cared certifying officially an album they weren’t going to promote anymore.
      – Heart Break did sell well past 2 million especially since it had 3 hit singles with no cross over appeal (#1/3/4 hits on R&B charts that peaked at #44/95/out inside the Hot 100), likely 2,5/2,6 million by the end of 1989
      – both New Edition and Heart Break went 2xP in mid-90s, this still means they were below 3 million. Almost no catalog sales information came out since so it is difficult to gauge their sales since then, although Heart Break sold 1,600 copies in the week following the BET special this year. In all likelyhood, Heart Break did pass 3 million since while New Edition should be close to the mark too.

      As for Bobby Brown, Don’t Be Cruel went 7xP in 1995 after the allowance of all Club sales. For that reason, it could have been anywhere from 7 to 8 million already back in 1995. Once again, we miss Soundscan information for recent although it is doubtful that this album sold well for obvious reasons. It can perfectly be over 8 million now though since it could have been very close by 1995 already. Plus, it must be said that MCA are slow for RIAA awards: Tom Petty’s Damn The Torpedos is the only album their certified multi-plat during the last 10 years. The last time they updated a catalog Urban album on their roster was in 2000 with Mary J Blidge’s What’s the 411?

      1. Hey MJD. Thanks for your insight. They were a big touring group and most artists don’t make the bulk of their money from record sales but rather ticket sales unless they like prince and do most of the writing and producing or mariah who has songwriting and production credits on her biggest hits so maybe that’s why they didn’t care to do a proper audit of their album sales. You should do an article on how royalties work and publishing rights and income. I know the media claims Beyonce has $500 million but her best-selling album took 12 years to go 5x platinum and adele has had two diamond selling albums back to back so Im willing to guess she makes more from her record sales than Beyonce and her tours sell well too —->https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adele_Live_2016. I think Beyonce only has the upper hand on adele in touring https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Beyonc%C3%A9_live_performances But beyonce has a great marketing team behind her

        1. Hi Lunga!

          While Forbes-like figures have their interest, I tend to let them out while judging the popularity of music artists. You will get people like Puff Daddy who’s richer than almost every singer on Earth only thanks to business skills rather than thanks to his music, in a similar way to Floyd Mayweather who grosses way more than any other boxer because he is his own promoter. Beyoncé is a striking example – her main source of revenue so far has been her marriage with Jay-Z, himself immensely rich thanks to several well-powered businesses more than his records sales. This completely corrupts the picture.

          Last but not least, the inflation plays a major role. There is tons of “highest grossing tour” figures going on but they make basically no sense has the ticket price exploded over the years. For example, you will have tons of divas fans fighting on the biggest female tour being owned by Madonna vs Beyoncé vs Taylor vs Celine vs Gaga vs whoever else going on for years while Tina Turner did bigger tours than all of them.

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