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


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.

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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 »


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


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 »