Music recording sales certification is a system of certifying that a music recording has shipped or sold a certain number of copies. The threshold quantity varies by type (such as album, single, music video) and by nation or territory (see List of music recording certifications).
Almost all countries follow variations of the RIAA certification categories, which are named after precious materials.
The number of sales or shipments required for these awards depends upon the population of the territory in which the recording is released. Typically, they are awarded only to international releases and are awarded individually for each country in which the album is sold. Different sales levels, some perhaps 10 times lower than others, may exist for different music media (for example: videos versus albums, singles, or downloads).
The original gold record awards were presented to artists by their own record companies to publicize their sales achievements. The first of these was awarded by RCA Victor to Glenn Miller in February 1942, celebrating the sale of 1.2 million copies of "Chattanooga Choo Choo". Another example of a company award is the gold record awarded to Elvis Presley in 1956 for one million units sold of his single "Don't Be Cruel". The first gold record for an LP was awarded by RCA Victor to Harry Belafonte in 1957 for the album Calypso (1956), the first album to sell over 1,000,000 copies in RCA's reckoning.
At the industry level, in 1958 the Recording Industry Association of America introduced its gold record award program for records of any kind, albums or singles, which achieved one million dollars in retail sales. For albums in 1968, this would mean shifting approximately 250,000 units; for singles the number would be higher due to their lower retail price.
The platinum certification was introduced in 1976 for the sale of one million units, album or single, with the gold certification redefined to mean sales of 500,000 units, album or single. No album was certified platinum prior to this year. For instance, the recording by Van Cliburn of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto from 1958 would eventually be awarded a platinum citation, but this would not happen for another two decades after its release. In 1999, the diamond certification was introduced for sales of ten million units.
The plaques themselves contain various items under the glass. Modern awards often use CDs instead of records. Most gold and platinum records are actually vinyl records which have been vacuum metallized and tinted, while trimmed and plated metal "masters", "mothers", or "stampers" (metal parts used for pressing records out of vinyl) were initially used. Rarely does the groove on the record match the actual recording being awarded. Individual plaque-makers produced their awards according to available materials and techniques employed by their graphic arts departments. The plaques, depending on size and elaborateness of design, cost anywhere between US$135 and $275, most often ordered and purchased by the record label that issued the original recording.