Understanding: RIAA / Label audits – The case of Michael Jackson

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This is my first vinyl

IX) Years 2013-2015

Years and years after becoming eligible, Epic finally audited Jackson‘s catalog again in May 2013 to conclude on the following certifications.


Ironically, except the Platinum award of The Ultimate Collection, all those certifications were over-due since the end of 2009. By May 2013 Number Ones was over 4,9 million, nearly on 5xP. The Essential was even already over 2 million, enough for 4xP. Greatest Hits HIStory Volume 1 was over 1,2 million and Bad had scanned 1,4 million units since its 8th award.

The likes of Dangerous, HIStory, Invincible were still some what short of further certification marks to be updated. All in all, this audit from 2013 brings virtually no information, except that post-2003 albums really sold nothing via music clubs.

In August 2013 Motown randomly certified Michael‘s first solo album, Got To Be There. I’ll ignore that Gold plaque as it has nothing to do with Epic.

One more stand-alone certification was the one of Xscape.


The album scanned 459,000 units during 2014 so it isn’t surprising to see it at Gold status. Especially when it sold additional copies bundled with the Cirque du Soleil show, including 9,000 units in its first week, without having them counted into its Soundscan tally. We can expect from 25,000 to 50,000 copies sold the same way.

We can notice that Thriller wasn’t updated in 2013. It has been kept very well updated ever since the 90s, so we can only believe it wasn’t eligible for an update. In fact, it scanned 900,000 units from August 2009 to May 2013 and shipped a bit less due to the huge shipments that occurred after Jackson‘s death. His catalog received no new award for the remainder of 2013 nor during the year of 2014. One new award however arrived in 2015:


Here it is! More than 31 years after hitting the mind-blowing milestone of 20 million, Thriller jumps to over 30 million. This award was slightly late still. The album sold near 1,3 million units since its last certification, but we can’t use this fact as by August 2009 plenty of copies were still on store shelves. We need to use the previous awards, which were all date-specific, to see what happened since:

  • 04/2005 – 27xP – 2,3 million scanned
  • 03/2009 – 28xP – 3,4 million scanned
  • 12/2015 – 30xP – 5,5 million scanned

We can see that Thriller sold 3,2 million units since reaching 27 million. By 2005 it wasn’t shipping much as it was a low period of activity musically for Jackson along with the trial. Conservatively, Thriller was up to 30,15 million by December 2015.

15 thoughts on “Understanding: RIAA / Label audits – The case of Michael Jackson”

  1. wow wow just wow at the detailed analysis. loved reading every bit of that! i guess we now know who the next artist to be posted will be 😉 especially that his US sales are now done, and those generated from his days with jackson 5!

  2. I would like a similar analysis for GARTH BROOKS. Obviously, his team knows how to play with the RIAA rules. Some chart freaks suggest he’s over-certified (plus double albums and box sets rising his total amount of certified units high enough to rival Elvis).

  3. Many thanks for this very, very interesting and informative article!

    There is one thing that I do not fully understand: The Certification method for Multi-Disc-Albums. You wrote: “As a double album with 3,7 million shipped – 200,000 units since its last award, History needs only 300,000 EAS to be eligible.”

    As far as I know 1 EAS equals 10 Digital Song Downloads and/or 1500 Streams. Lets assume that History generated 300 k EAS with Streaming and Digital Single Sales. Would RIAA really count those EAS twice just because the Source Album was a 2-Disc Set decades ago? I do not know – maybe they do but from my point of view this would be somewhat illogical. To evaluate 3,7 Million Double Album Sales as 7,4 Million Units is understandable. Adding in 300 k EAS should result in 7,7 Million Units – not 8 (except the RIAA defines 1 EAS Unit for a Double Albums with 20 Downloads and/or 3000 Streams).

    Speaking of Units and Michaels History Album: I also have it on Vinyl and the set consist of 3 records. Theoretically it would be conceivable that the RIAA evaluates this as 3 units (I’m pretty sure they do not). If History had been published in the vinyl era, that would surely be the case.

    1. Hi Jason!

      It is normal if you are not fully understand – it’s make that’s my error 😉

      I had that in mind while writting the file, I have put the valid number but then extended the formula of the other albums without noticing it broke HIStory’s total. I’m going to fix it right now!

  4. Your best article yet. Please, the international sales for MJ’s music must be done soon! It looks like MJ sold around 30M digital singles from his Epic studio albums, with physical additions and then international sales he must be one of the biggest singles artists ever!

  5. Great analysis. Is its possible if you can do a similar analysis on MJ’s singles? Me and many other MJ fans believe that several of his songs are not properly certified in the US. So it would be nice to see their actual sales.

    1. Hi Angelo!

      All his singles figures (physicals, downloads, streams) are already present as well as the overall sales they generated in equivalent album sales (page 49).

  6. Thanks for this detailed article. I would like an article like this for the worldwide sales of Michael Jackson’s albums. It’s impossible that many worldwide album sales are basically stop in the 90’s and 2000’s like the 30 million copies of HIStory double album (60 million of double albums) or the “only” 13 million copies of Invincible since 2002… As a Wikipedian sometimes I search for new sources to update Michael’s album sales but it seems there are no virtually updates since decades! My opinion is that Epic/Sony doesen’t have any interest in updating sales because Michael Jackson (now his Estate) was the artist with the highest royalties on album sales (about 25% of each album)… What do you think?

    1. Charts and RIAA Certs always had been easy to manipulate

      via OVER CERTIFICATION, payola or giveaway with concert tickets

      in the 90s most albums were over certified. The results are still today visible. IN the US there are still some chains which have 40 or more copies of albums like ACHTUNG BABY by U2 on stock. And believe me or not most of them were manufactured in 1991 haha
      it sold 5,4 million copies but was certified 8xPLATINUM

      prince released MUSICOLOGY in 2004 and it was celebrated as comeback and it was certified 2xPLATINUM by RIAA. actually it was a giveaway with each concert ticket. Some people had bought the album before and got a second copy ”for free”

      2xPLATINUM had an effect in germany and UK because MTV and radio stations here were curious and thought PRINCE new music has success in the US Again
      so they programmed MUSICOLOGY singles in the airplay and thinking ,, WE MUST PLAY HIS SONG BECAUSE HE IS SUCCESSFUL WITH THOSE IN THE US”

  7. double CDS count twice
    i wondered as a child that so many people bought MELLON COLLIE AND THE INFINITE .. by smashing pumpkins

    it was certified 10xPLATINUM =DIAMOND but albums that sold half were higher in the year end charts in the US than that album

    but as a teen i found out that sales were just 4,4 million and that it was counted twice
    in every article it is said that it was their breakthrough. but one moment. SIAMESE DREAM was released in 1993 and was certified 4xPLATINUM and sales stand at 4,6 million

    On the other hand there is THE WALL by pink floyd =24xPLATINUM = ca. 12 million shipped

    but the double cd cost like 2 CDs = between 20 and 30 Euros (in germany) it is only fair to calculate this that people willing to pay so much money

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