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

Michael Jackson Poster - Michael Jackson

III) Years 1991-1993

A lead single topping the Hot 100, a new album from Michael Jackson, the Christmas season and the explosion of the CD format were all reasons that combined to generate massive shipments when Dangerous was released in November 1991. The result was a 4xP award after only 8 weeks.


The big difference with the previous albums is that Soundscan had been introduced that same year of 1991. Music Clubs weren’t scanned, but the panel was still fairly accurate as a whole. By the end of 1991, Dangerous had sold only 1,8 million units. A huge result for anyone else, it was not so good for Jackson as seen with the gap with the anticipation around the album that led it to a 4xP certification.

Those sales explain why it took until March 1993 before reaching 5xP. During the year 1992, the album added 2,2 million sales to break 4 million sales to consumers, plus some Club sales as well (more on that later). On January 31, 1993, the King of Pop performed at the Superbowl and then appeared on an Oprah TV special, sending Dangerous all the way up from #131 to #10. Those elements helped it to sell 1,3 million copies in 1993 to bring its Soundscan tally up to 5,3 million.

This heavy promotion from early 1993 also boosted his back catalog. Thriller catapulted to #2 inside the Catalog Chart, Bad to #10 and Off The Wall to #29. A couple of years earlier, in 1991, sales from the US Military camps were also at last allowed for certification purpose. Both facts together opened the door for an audit of the back catalog, leading to two new awards:


As both albums were certified the same day, at least one of them was likely over the mark for some months. Epic was keeping a close eye on their sales though so for sure they weren’t much higher. Meanwhile Off The Wall failed to hit 7xP,

13 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?

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