Can you remember the last time you bought a song, or better yet, an entire album? Possibly not for a while. Apps like Soundcloud, Spotify and Pandora make it easier than ever to listen to an infinite amount of songs without the specific commitment of buying them. However, while the plethora of streaming services creates an ease for music lovers everywhere, for the past couple years it has been increasingly more difficult for artists to get their records to go Platinum.
Before, a certified Platinum album was simply defined as one that had sold a million physical units. This is a grand achievement, and a shiny accolade for artists of all genres — rewarded to them by The Recording Industry Association of America. In a recent attempt to “adapt” to the way that people are listening to music, the RIAA has changed the standards to include not only the album sales but the amount of streams it gets. As of right now, 1,500 song or video streams is equivalent to 10 track sales, which is also equivalent to one album sale.
While it’s true that a lot of music nowadays is heard through streaming services, it’s not impossible to get a million units sold. In 2015, Drake was rewarded the first of the year Platinum album for If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. It took him six months, but he still got it done. The years before that displayed the same scarce numbers with only a few artists such as Kanye West, Taylor Swift and Jason Aldean. While the numbers are small, it shows that album sales alone are not obsolete.
In fact, it makes it even more of an accomplishment to be able to sell that many units in an era where streaming is popular. A Platinum album has always been the sign that people are eating up an artist’s new work and more importantly, willing to pay for it. It doesn’t take an economics major to know that a willingness to pay says a lot about a product. With streaming, people don’t have to be genuinely interested in the album or the song to play it. People can play it just for fun, or even for laughs. The commitment that came with buying music is something that made the old way of counting Platinum albums such an incredible feat made by artists.
After the new regulations set by the RIAA, one of the people who benefited the most was Rihanna, who found her newly released album Anti achieving Platinum within the first 48 hours. It took Drake six months to accomplish his own. Does this mean that Rihanna produces better music and better fans? Possibly, but there’s no way to tell. In actuality, her album sales are only around 400,000. In the old terms, this wouldn’t even classify as certified gold — which would have needed 500,000 sales. Did her album get streams because those people thought it was a beautiful piece, or was it only because of the buzz on Twitter that had curious people quickly looking it up? Again, it’s hard to know. It is unlikely that any random person with a microphone and a computer could win one, but ambitious YouTubers with a lot of subscribers could use their following to work up enough streams without having to sell a single copy.
While the RIAA was attempting to do something good and adapt to the modern world, they’ve blurred the lines and lowered the prestige that comes with obtaining a Platinum award.