Credibility Lost: RIAA Includes Digital Streams in Certifications


Rihanna pomo TheLavaLizard
A beast emerges from the shadows of the dying music industry.

In February, the Billboard Hot 100 chart methodology was rightfully changed to reflect online streaming data from authorised YouTube audio and video products. Now, the RIAA has joined the growing list of companies that recognise the rapidly changing patterns of consumer behaviour by announcing a revamped system for the awarding of certifications.

On-demand audio and video streams have officially been incorporated into gold (500K), platinum (1 million) and multiplatinum (2 million+) certification methodology. The so called Combined Digital Single Award now represents digital downloads as well as online streaming data from MOG, Muve Music, Rdio, Rhapsody, Slacker, Spotify, Xbox Music,, VEVO, Yahoo! Music and YouTube. Only official videos and audio count toward certifications while user generated content will be ignored.

In attempt to justify the obviously ludicrous move, Chairman and CEO of the RIAA, Cary Sherman, explained, “Including music streaming in Gold & Platinum awards marks the continued evolution of the industry’s premier program for recognizing artistic achievement, and it reflects the wide spectrum of ways consumers enjoy music from their favorite bands.”

“The music business, along with its incredible array of digital service partners, is offering fans more access to music than ever before,” Sherman continued as she tried to convince herself that the RIAA had not completely lost all credibility. “We’re thrilled that our awards will now more fully recognize artists’ commercial success today.”

Immediately after the proverbial poo hit the fan, dozens of new awardees were announced. Among those titles were Adele’s for “Rolling in the Deep” (8x multiplatinum), J. Cole for “Work Out” (2x multiplatinum), Rihanna for “We Found Love” (7x multiplatinum) and for “Scream & Shout” (3x multiplatinum).

Notably, there is a distinct difference between standard certifications and digital awards. The former is only based on physical single sales and the now defunct club sales, and such honors granted separately. For instance, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” has thus far been certified 4x multi-platinum by the standard methodology whereas the Combined Digital Single Award issued today boasts 2x multi-platinum.

So, what does this chatter all really mean? Basically, RIAA digital certifications will no longer reflect actual sales. Rather, online streaming will pointlessly count toward those awards in a similar fashion to the VEVO Certified honors issued to artists based on their YouTube videos views. This development stresses the point that companies are struggling to adapt to the changing landscape of the Digital Age and have simply lost touch with consumers.

Instead of integrating online streaming into digital certifications, it would have been far more effective to establish a completely different award, therefore maintaining the integrity of the original titles and avoiding any confusion amongst music fans. Additionally, we all know that artists and their labels rarely explain the meaning of their accomplishments so expect to see Rihanna’s future press releases boasting about her 11x multiplatinum “Love the Way You Lie” hit without highlighting that it reached that status primarily because of online streams.

As I continue to build my time machine to return to the 1990s…

What the RIAA just did to the industry.