Exploiting loopholes for Platinum album certifications

The age of digital streaming redefines music industry success and allows for new manipulation.

Has music streaming opened loopholes for artists to exploit? Graphic by Kennedy Dalsing.

The prevalence of digital streaming has transformed the music industry and altered the focus of many musicians. Redefined qualifications for receiving Diamond, Gold, or Platinum status have led many artists to bank on exploiting a loophole in the name of earning prestige. 

The Gold & Platinum awards program was first founded by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 1976. In order to go Platnium, an artist had to sell one million copies of the contending album. 

In 2016, the RIAA added a new conversion system to their award qualifications to account for the popularity of digital streams. It was determined that “1,500 on-demand audio and/or video song streams = 10 track sales = 1 album sale.”

Because musicians are still required to distribute one million copies of their album, per the original 1976 rule, their project needs to accumulate 1.5 billion total streams on paid platforms such as Apple Music or Spotify. 

The revised formula gives each and every track its own value — a game-changing decision. 

Malcolm Manswell, marketing manager for Atlantic Records, told Rolling Stone, “Stacking albums with extra songs is a strategic way to achieve certain goals.” 

Manswell also suggested the possibility that certain artists haven’t quite earned their certificates. “Longer albums that generate more streams can lead to Number One chart debuts and gold and platinum plaques.” He uses Chris Brown’s 45-song album “Heartbreak on a Full Moon” as a prime example as “it was certified gold in less than 10 days, even though none of its singles cracked the Top 40.”

It seems as though the music industry is entering an era in which artists no longer have to rely on their skill to earn revenue and awards. As long as they compose lengthy, track-heavy albums, a platinum certificate is basically guaranteed. Listening to 13 subpar songs one time each holds the same value as repeating one good song 13 times over. 

Rolling Stone reported that the average length of the top five streamed albums on Spotify rose by about 10 minutes between 2013 and 2018. 

For example, rap artist Drake releases an absurd amount of music. In Sept. 2021, he released Certified Lover Boy, a 21-track album with a runtime of almost an hour and a half. He dropped the 53-minute-long album Honestly, Nevermind in June 2022, which featured 14 tracks. Drake then put out another hour of music in Nov. 2022 with Her Loss, a 16-track album in collaboration with 21 Savage. 

Since album certifications are, according to Manswell, the “indication of a great artist,” it’s no surprise that this isn’t the first time loopholes have been exploited in the name of going platinum.  

For instance, before Billboard banned it in 2020, artists could get away with selling their merchandise and concert tickets in bundles. Offering a free copy of their album with every purchase would count as one unit sale, even though customers weren’t technically buying the album. 

Billboard’s change means that artists must promote copies and downloads of their albums as paid add-ons in order to be counted towards their hot 100 or 200 charts. 

When it comes down to it, deserving artists won’t need to release an overwhelming amount of music in order to achieve certain certifications. Nothing can beat good craft and a loyal fanbase. 

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