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


VII) Years 2005-2008

The year 2005 was crucial for Jackson as he was acquitted of all charges during his trial that occupied gossip journalists for nearly two years. Even before the jury’s verdict Epic updated Thriller‘s award to 27xP.


As Thriller is the diamond of Epic’s catalog, their aim of keeping it updated day in day out is as clear as water. With indeed nearly 1 million copies scanned since its 26th platinum disc, this update was natural.

In an attempt to focus the attention back on his musical career now that the trial was over, Epic issued The Essential and soon certified both Number Ones and Greatest Hits HIStory Volume 1, respectively Platinum and Gold. The latter album had already scanned 840,000 copies by then which proves the label was really re-focusing on Jackson‘s catalog after letting it go for some years.

From 2006 to 2008, no album from him was certified. Epic as a whole certified less than 10 catalog albums during those years combined. Thriller had added nearly 1 more million in sales thanks largely due to its 25th Anniversary edition, but remained at 27xP. It could have been on 27,9 million so we can ignore this. Off The Wall too was close to a new award, now on a supposed 7,84 million, just like Bad with 700,000 units sold all told since its 8 million plus non-date specific award. Again, we can ignore it as it could have been on 8,8/8,9 million.

What we can’t overlook is the remaining albums. The Essential scanned over 370,000 units by the end of 2008. As a double album, it was eligible for Gold by the end of 2007 already. The Ultimate Collection also was now past 100,000, possibly high enough for Gold as a 4+1 discs box set. Greatest Hits HIStory Volume 1 was also pending its Platinum award by the end of 2008. During those years Epic was once again ignoring the RIAA certifications.

If Epic was as efficient as during the 90s to update awards, we could have understood that Bad had shipped at most 8,3 million by its 1994 certification. Their lack of updates corrupt this information though as we simply don’t know if it was eligible for 9xP or not.

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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