Since 1958, the RIAA has been keeping track of the number of records sold for artists. The purpose of this was to award top-selling records. 500,000 sales would earn Gold, 1 million would earn Platinum, and 10 million would earn Diamond. They have made several changes to the system over time to keep up with technology. They started to include cassettes and CDs, then digital downloads, and then ringtones. Now that streaming is the fastest growing source of music consumption, the RIAA once again has changed their methodology.
Recently, on-demand streaming has been added to the ways that artists can achieve Gold, Platinum, and Diamond records. The streaming services they will monitor are MOG, Muve Music, Rdio, Rhapsody, Slacker, Spotify, and Xbox Music. They will also keep track of video streaming on MTV.com, VEVO, Yahoo! Music and YouTube.
The hard part was finding the right way to count streams. A simple solution such as one stream equaling one sale would be too much, because the two are not really the same thing. They also did not want to use the number of streams it would take to equal the royalties an artist would receive from one sale. In the end, the RIAA decided to use the average number of streams for every sale, which is 100.
This system will apply retroactively as well, meaning that 56 new songs were immediately awarded Gold because their number of streams got them to the required amounts. These newly awarded songs include Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" and Lana Del Rey's "Video Games."
The issue, of course, is the ease of increasing stream counts through automated programs and simply paying people to stream whatever you want. Should this start to really get out of hand now that streaming means more, we will have to see what the RIAA's response will be.