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

Michael Jackson History Statue

V) Years 1995-2000

In June 1995 the album HIStory: Past, Present & Future Book I was released. It wasn’t a standard album. It was one new CD plus one new compilation, which brings two relevant impacts. The first one is to make HIStory eligible for duplicated certifications, the second is to cannibalize catalog sales of Jackson‘s remaining albums. From 1991 to 1994 Thriller scanned on average of 188,000 units per year. Then from 1995 to 2000 it dropped to 114,000 units.

Those sales are still healthy, enabling it to regularly hit new certifications especially with adding club sales as well. During the 90s Epic continued to regularly audit its catalog.

JACKSON, MICHAEL OFF THE WALL 12/06/95 EPIC M(7)
JACKSON, MICHAEL THRILLER 07/07/97 EPIC M(25)
JACKSON, MICHAEL BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR 07/17/97 EPIC G
JACKSON, MICHAEL DANGEROUS 05/30/00 EPIC M(7)
JACKSON, MICHAEL THRILLER 10/30/00 EPIC M(26)
JACKSON, MICHAEL BLOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR 10/30/00 EPIC P

We knew that Off The Wall was close to 7 million. This was confirmed in December 1995. This is a typical date-specific certification. One for which we know it perfectly represents sales to date. Off the Wall had sold 7 million by December 1995, no more and no less, give or take some thousands. You may have noticed I used the word sold instead of shipped. For albums so old, there is no reason to expect big orders from retailers, especially now that HIStory was going to damage catalog albums. Thus, sales to date and shipments are virtually the same thing with only the low ongoing stocks still unsold.

After scanning 400,000 units since its last award plus some sales via clubs, Thriller made it to 25xP in July 1997. This confirms the fact that the 1994 certification wasn’t date-specific as it was most likely at around 24,6 million by then.

While Epic continued to certify a lot of their catalog albums, the next deep catalog item from Jackson to get an award was Dangerous in 2000 at 7xP. Its Soundscan sales were up to 5,76 million at that point with very little ongoing sales and thus irrelevant stocks, implying over 1,2 million sales on music clubs. With 300,000 sales at BMG, it means 900,000 mostly at Columbia House. This follows the same pattern as Jackson‘s label partner Mariah Carey with her early 90s blockbusters like Music Box and Daydream.

Continuing its impressive run, Thriller broke 26xP in 2000. This award is the first one out of all of them that seems weird. Now that most of the paperwork was done to audit old sales and that the rules were stable, why has it jumped by 1 million while scanning only 300,000 plus units? Interestingly, the 1997 release Blood On The Dance Floor went from Gold to Platinum at the same date. It is interesting because that album too had Soundscan sales way under the requirements – only 230,000 units at the time. The RIAA does not make up awards though. Since Blood is absent from the BMG list, the most likely scenario is that Columbia House had a special offer including those two albums in the late 90s, providing them a sizable boost. We now also know that Blood had some 770,000 unscanned sales.

All those 1995-2000 awards tell us one more important factor – Bad was still under 9 million by the year 2000. We didn’t know if its 8th Platinum award was date-specific in 1994 as its certification came along with other albums. Considering its 400,000 Soundscan sales from 09/1994 to 12/2000 plus a few sales via clubs, it sets a maximum of 8,55 million units shipped by the 1994 award.

Above, we are talking about catalog albums, but what about the new album, HIStory?

JACKSON, MICHAEL HISTORY: PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE BOOK I 08/16/95 EPIC G
JACKSON, MICHAEL HISTORY: PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE BOOK I 08/16/95 EPIC P
JACKSON, MICHAEL HISTORY: PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE BOOK I 08/16/95 EPIC M (5)
JACKSON, MICHAEL HISTORY: PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE BOOK I 01/11/96 EPIC M (6)
JACKSON, MICHAEL HISTORY: PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE BOOK I 10/12/99 EPIC M (7)

HIStory was certified for 3 million units shipped by the start of 1996. Its Soundscan sales were up to 1,9 million, which suggests heavy sales at music clubs. It was expected since it moved 730,000 units at BMG alone and was available at Columbia House too. Can we get a smaller figure for clubs as a whole? The 6th Platinum award was too recent to commit on unsold copies, but by 1999 the album’s promotional period was over and hardly shipping anymore. Epic was busy updating certifications by then, so we also know it broke 3,5 million sales very close to the date of the 7xP plaque (double albums count as two discs in RIAA certifications). By then, it had scanned 2,42 million units, giving room for roughly 1,05 million sales on clubs, in line with the decreasing space of Columbia House.

To resume the situation as of the end of 2000:

  • Off The Wall: Reached 7 million by the end of 1995, irrelevant sales via clubs, scanned nearly 500,000 units since, and shipped 7,45 million.
  • Thriller: Reached 26 million by 10/2000, shipped 26 million.
  • Bad: Was between 8 million and 8,55 million by 09/1994, scanned 400,000 copies since, shipped between 8,45 million and just under 9 million.
  • Dangerous: Reached 7 million by 05/2000, irrelevant sales via clubs afterwards, scanned low numbers since and shipped 7,05 million.
  • HIStory: Reached 3,5 million by 10/1999, irrelevant sales via clubs afterwards, scanned low numbers since and shipped 3,55 million.
  • Blood On The Dancefloor: Reached 1 million by 10/2000, irrelevant sales via clubs afterwards, scanned low numbers since and shipped 1 million.

As you can notice, give or take 50,000 units, shipments to date of all albums minus Bad are fully under control.

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Heretis

RIAA makes record labels pay for audits and membership having no set rate. Most labels have reportedly said less than 10% of their releases have been profitable. Same kind of goes for soundscan. How much are these figures subject to manipulation and/or estimation? I’ve also read where Soundscan doesn’t contact every retailer, just the ones they believe are enough to get a good sample for weighted averages, even among its members. For instance, instead of calling all the WalMart stores, they’d call 1 or 2 and calculate the rest based on how many were sold but give less weight to… Read more »

John

A time for an update MJD? Some of these albums were re-certfied last year.

chris

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 ridicolous On the other hand… Read more »

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