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

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VI) Years 2001-2004

The hype in October 2001 was all about the release of the new album Invincible. The truth is that 6 new products were issued at that time. Off The Wall, Thriller, Bad and Dangerous all received a newly remastered edition while the first compilation CD of HIStory was released as a stand-alone disc titled Greatest Hits HIStory Volume 1.

The remasters aren’t that much of a big deal, at least that’s what we think. Labels may consider them as fully new releases though and in the case of Epic / Michael Jackson, it takes on tremendous importance. Below are their certifications for the period 2001-2004:


Only new albums, both with awards in line with their Soundscan sales which is normal with clubs now down to only 4% of the overall market. The question is why no catalog album was certified from 2001 to 2004? There are 3 possibilities:

  • A) None reached the criteria.
  • B) Epic didn’t care to audit catalog albums.
  • C) The original editions were ignored now that remasters replaced them.

From the summary closing the previous page, we know that 3 low selling albums (Dangerous, HIStory and Blood) were barely over their previous award, so it is normal to see no news on them. During the 2001-2004 period, Bad sold 190,000 copies and Off The Wall 230,000 copies. Thus, only Bad was possibly eligible considering its 8,45 to 8,99 million ballpark by 2000. Then there is Thriller, which broke 26 million in 2000, but scanned 830,000 units in 2001-2004. The conclusion is that we can’t rule out scenario A.

As for scenario B, Epic certified plenty of catalog albums in both 2001 and 2002. In 2003, it changed completely. Only two acts, Boston and Pearl Jam, were certified. Their respective Boston and Ten reached 17xP and 10xP, showing they cared only about updating acts with blockbusters overdue an award. In 2004, this new trend continued as the only deep catalog album to be certified during the entire year was AC/DC‘s Back In Black when it reached 20xP. It seems clear that the negative years industry-wise were forcing labels to control their expenses, consequently they stopped certifying old low-key records. In fact, Jackson‘s own Greatest Hits HIStory Volume 1 scanned 794,000 units by the end of 2004 and was still uncertified. After more than 15 years of careful work, Epic switched gears at the start of 2003 stopping the automatic and comprehensive audits and replacing them with cherry-picked certifications of their best gems.

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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