Our thoughts on new certification rules.


In the digital era, how can we continue to measure sales’ success in the same way we did a decade ago?

Anthony Tiffith, head of Kendrick Lamar’s Top Dawg Entertainment, has become the latest industry figure to overtly or implicitly take issue with RIAA’s decision to certify ‘ANTi’ – Rihanna’s long-awaited eight LP – platinum. Why is the industry becoming more and more opposed to digital progress?

Since 2014, streaming an album or a single has counted towards the Billboard charts. Effectively, this means that if you listen to a record on Spotify or watch a video on Vevo, your patronage will count towards the record’s chart position that week. Billboard updated their algorithm well over a year ago and decided that 1,500 song streams from an album would be counted as one traditional album sale. Similarly, 100 streams of a track equates one single sold.

Are these entirely arbitrary numbers? Some would say yes, some claim that the math behind them makes enough sense, but honestly that’s neither here nor there. The simple fact of the matter is that streaming is now recognized as an integral part of recognizing musical success, and as well it should be. The age of buying music is over; with the stark exception of musical giants like Adele or Taylor Swift, your average pop star relies on streaming to build their profile, their discography and their brand.

So why has yesterday’s decision by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) to include SPS data (sales plus streaming) in their certifications (Gold, Platinum etc.) ruffled so many feathers?

Taking to his Twitter yesterday afternoon, key industry player Anthony Tiffith slammed the decision, despite the positive impact it has on his artist Kendrick Lamar (certifying his album ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ platinum.)

And his reaction mirrors the response of many others. A quick flick through the Exhale comments from BreatheHeavy’s original report on the ruling gives you an idea of the, um, lukewarm (read: overwhelming unimpressed) response that many music fans have to his industry advancement.

But they’re wrong.

A fantastic goal for all of us this year would be to accept that streaming is here to stay. Much like the advancement of digital downloads before it, streaming is a legitimate and robust way of bringing music to the fans. It’s representative of the next step that the often archaic music industry is taking towards a more open and creative musical space. To slam Spotify or Apple Music may be on trend for bigger artists right now (thanks Taylor Swift) but the simple fact is that their views are built on fear and not on a genuine concern for artistic integrity or smaller artists.

For Rihanna’s ‘ANTi’, this turn of events is fantastic news. The album was released for free through Jay Z’s TIDAL, and as such would not rack up a single certification under the old RIAA system. Rihanna is one of the biggest stars in the world and, despite our open frustration with her still baffling album campaign, ‘ANTi’ would have sold well if released traditionally through iTunes. She may have dicked around for well over a year, but she is still Rihanna.

And Rihanna took a chance; a chance that could well have ruined her chances for for artistic accreditation and a chance which made her music more accessible to her fans. We, as music consumers, have a responsibility to not discourage these kind of moves – music should be accessible to all.

In 2014, when removing her entire back-catalog from Spotify, Taylor Swift claimed that she was “not willing to contribute [her] life’s work to an experiment.” Her argument was flawed 15 months ago. It is actively untrue today: streaming is no longer an experiment, it is a staple.

The sooner we all accept that, the more music we’ll be able to listen to.

Thoughts? Let us know in Exhale!

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