In the 21st century, a platinum certification for an album still means that a million units were consumed.
It’s just that a million “units” doesn’t necessarily mean that a million actual (whole) albums were downloaded or physically purchased like it used to.
In fact, only a handful of albums even actually sell a million “real” or whole copies anymore (no, literally, you can count the number of albums that were bought or downloaded a million times in 2017 with two or three fingers).
So it’s a big deal when a current album crosses the million-selling platinum plateau, even if it takes a year to do it.
Such is the case for Kendrick Lamar’s hip-hop masterpiece DAMN., which was released last April and just this week, with 4,000 more actual sales added to its tally, crossed the million mark with 1.002M copies sold in the U.S., according to Billboard and Nielsen Music.
The full skinny on Lamar’s album is that it was “officially” certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association Of America (RIAA) a long time ago, in fact it’s been certified double-platinum and is on its way to triple-P status pretty soon with over three million in total album units consumed.
That’s because the streaming numbers on the album (and its individual tracks) on services like Spotify, Pandora, YouTube and Apple Music, among others, count towards certification (as well as Billboard chart position).
In today’s music industry, the concept of streaming equivalent album units uses a 1500-to-1 conversion factor that basically means for every 1500 times that the tracks on an album are streamed, it equals one album sold. In other words, if you played Lamar’s“HUMBLE.” 1300 times on your Spotify playlist and a friend played it 200 times, those 1500 streams equal one album of DAMN. sold.
This formula works for any combination of tracks as well. If you played “HUMBLE.” 100 times, “LOYALTY.” 300 times and “DUCKWORTH.” 1100 times, that combination equals one album of DAMN. sold, even if you didn’t play any of the other dozen or so tracks on the album.
That’s the new math in 21st century album sales. And it’s how Lamar’s and so many other artists’ albums attain their platinum plaques these days.
And it makes sense.
Streaming has been the dominant means by which today’s generation acquires its music for the past several years. The artists who’ve contributed the most to streaming-based revenue should be duly rewarded. Waiting for an album to sell or download a million copies using the old math would be a disservice to artists like Lamar who’ve been at the forefront of the streaming explosion for years.
In fact, notwithstanding the Taylor Swifts, Adeles, Drakes and Ed Sheerans of the world, many of today’s most popular artists will never see a million-selling album using the old math. (Note: Swift and Adele did it in just one week with their last albums, with Adele’s 25 selling three million copies in its first seven days.)
When streaming is factored in, Lamar’s DAMN. has sold 3.137 million equivalent album units, which includes the 1.002M figure it just reached in real album sales along with streaming, plus track equivalent units – a third factor that converts individually downloaded single tracks (for example, from iTunes) to album sales using a 10 tracks-to-1 album ratio.
But you don’t have to be a math whiz to know which source (hint: it’s streaming) has buttered Lamar’s bread the most over the past year, a fact that’s been appropriately reflected in chart positions and RIAA certifications since DAMN.’s release.
And it’s still a major achievement – especially in 2018 – when an album actually tops the million mark. It means, among the many people who just couldn’t get enough of streaming DAMN. and its individual tracks over the past year, at least a million of you thought well enough of it to actually drop dollars for the whole album, whether you downloaded it or bought it in a store.
And that just doesn’t happen much anymore.
Congratulations to Kendrick Lamar for yet another major milestone.
P.S., DAMN. is Lamar’s third album to cross the million mark after 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly (1.05M) and 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city (1.72M). His 2016 interim compilation release of outtakes from the Butterfly sessions, called untitled unmastered, has yet to reach a million in sales.