It did seem a little pat when a press release trumpeting the platinum certification of Jay-Z’s 13th and latest album, “4:44” — complete with a photo of the artist and RIAA CEO Cary Sherman holding a plaque — arrived at 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning, just five days after the album’s release, following an unusually long July 4th holiday. Similarly, the certification seemed fast, considering that the album was available (legally, anyway) only to Tidal members and Sprint subscribers.
While “4:44” was met immediately with praise from fans and critics alike, it may not quite be the instant hit that it seemed at first blush. Variety has learned that the plaque presentation took place before the album was even released. And while there was no sales-breakdown information included in the press release — or even an explanation of where and how the album was available — the certification is based on a combination of both Tidal streams and Sprint download numbers, although a source close to the situation told Variety that the download numbers alone pushed the album past 1 million units.
Indeed, that latter figure is the rub: A source close to the situation told Variety that “a sale counts toward a certification if purchased directly by the customer — or a business can purchase the album or song and offer it to fans, who must take affirmative steps to acquire the album or song. Fans participated, took action and downloaded Jay-Z’s album offered by Sprint.”
At press time, reps for Tidal and Sprint had not responded to Variety’s request for clarification.
The arrangement sounds similar to Jay’s 2013 deal with Samsung for “Magna Carta: Holy Grail,” which saw the company purchasing 1 million downloads of that album and giving them away for free to owners of its Galaxy smartphone 72 hours before the album’s wide release, thus making it “instantly” platinum. In anticipation of that album’s release, the RIAA changed its rules to allow digital albums to be certified platinum on their release date, rather than its previous 30-day waiting period, which allowed for physical units to be tallied.
Based on the initial press release, many outlets, including Variety, assumed that the quick platinum certification of “4:44” was due to Tidal streams — which would have meant an incredible 1.5 billion song streams in just five days — until the RIAA clarified, an hour after the press release was serviced, that the Sprint-enabled downloads were a significant factor, although it cited the organization’s policy of not providing a breakdown of certifications by format.
The RIAA began incorporating streaming numbers into album certifications on Feb. 1, 2016, using a formula similar to that of Nielsen Music’s whereby 1,500 on-demand audio and/or video song streams = 10 track sales = 1 album sale (the organization began incorporating streaming numbers into single certifications in 2013).