record label, RCA Records, (owned by BMG) and all of us at Graceland/EPE
completely understand and share the Elvis fans' frustration.
EIN asked RCA/BMG to help us explain Elvis record sales figures
and offered them an opportunity to vent their own frustrations.
They responded enthusiastically and have provided the following
article. For some it will help clear up a few things. For others
it will just make things more confusing. For many it will fuel
We get tons of inquiries about Elvis' record sales -
his total sales, his total RIAA gold/platinum certifications,
comparisons of Elvis to other artists, etc.
of it expresses frustration with how the Recording Industry
Association of America (RIAA) certifies sales, how their
rules have changed through the years and how Elvis never
seems to get his just recognition.
The confusion and the slights might never get fully resolved
- they're likely to get worse as the industry and its standards
and technologies change. But, bottom line: Elvis is indeed
the greatest selling recording artist of all time. We thank
Roger Semon and Ernst Jorgensen for their great and enlightening
effort and Mike Omansky for his input and support.
the article: The greatest recording artist of all time? It's
Elvis, or maybe The Beatles. Or is it Garth Brooks? Some might
also argue that the achievement of Michael Jackson and The
Eagles with their ever-growing 20+ million certifications
for their respective albums Thriller and Greatest Hits, are
the true best-selling artists.
continuous media hype rages on each year as new methods of
calculating sales converge with ever-changing consumer buying
patterns and new technologies. Each artist's core fan base
has their own way of calculating sales, as does the RIAA and
its supportive record companies.
motive is clear - to further each individual's own interest,
regardless of historical accuracy and the grand perspective
of it all. However, for any one individual, company or institution
to be preoccupied with sales achievement alone detracts from
one of the most enjoyable elements of music - the listening.
success and individuality of all popular recordings artists
from any genre should be appreciated as it keeps music moving
forward. Most artists are more graceful than their followers
when it comes to artistic competition. Elvis definitely advocated,
"there's room for everybody."
Brooks has recently been quoted: "… I'm never going to be
on the Beatles' [level] in my mind. If I am to someone else
out there, thank you, that's flattering, but I'll never believe
it. And the RIAA was sweet to give us the largest -selling
solo act in history, but I think we all know it's Elvis. It's
just the method of counting wasn't as certifiable then as
it is now. So it's cool and everything, but at the same time,
please know I am seeing it with a very real look."
Lennon once stated, "Before Elvis, there was nothing."
this in mind it's possible to have fun arguing the case for
your favorite artist, while endeavoring to understand the
merits of other performers. What has caused the most grievance
amongst Elvis fans in recent times, are the various announcements
regarding Garth Brooks and the Beatles as being "best selling
solo artist of all time" and " all time best selling artist."
passionate producers of Elvis re-issues for more than a decade,
we are not afraid of opposing RIAA president Hilary Rosen
for her statement about Garth Brooks. If Rosen is not aware
of the inaccuracy of her statement, then at least people in
her organization should be.
has on numerous occasions laid before the RIAA the Elvis sales
figures it has available - and it's crystal clear that RCA
can prove higher sales than Garth Brooks quoted sales of 100
million. However Hilary Rosen is absolutely right when she
has Garth topping the lists according to the accepted rules
of RIAA certifications. The RIAA has agreed with the record
companies on the procedure regarding this and they in return
accepted that the RIAA is the impartial judge of all matters
why do Elvis' achievements look less than Beatles, Brooks
and Led Zeppelin? Information about accounting methods:
The basis for RIAA's overall artist announcements totally
exclude singles of which Elvis is the true king. When Elvis
changed the sales standards of pop music, singles were the
normal product. In 1956 Elvis first album sold 300,000 thousand
copies and his single of Hound Dog and Don't Be Cruel sold
more than 3 million in comparison.
The ongoing modifications that the RIAA has made to adjust
to new sales conditions and trends, include a number of different
pricing parameters, that eliminate or reduce a substantial
number of Elvis sales - including the dismissal of more than
1 million units of Elvis' Christmas Album from 1970. The Beatles
and Garth Brooks have not been affected in the same way. Likewise
double albums count as one or two certifiable units depending
on playing time. This again hurts Elvis, as the limit is 100
minutes, and a double album in the days of vinyl records could
not hold 100 minutes with sacrificing the sound. This means
that classic Presley albums like Aloha from Hawaii and Elvis
in Concert only count as single albums.
The RIAA certifications are based on documented sales figures
and in the case of older artists these figures simply do not
exist any more. In the case of Elvis the RCA figures are incomplete,
most importantly sales during the 12 months after Elvis' death
are unaccounted for. BILLBOARD wrote in September 1977 that
RCA shipped 20 million records a week. They had as many as
40 pressing plants working overtime to cope with the demand.
RCA November releases were postponed, in order to supply Elvis
product and at one time during the period more than 1/3 of
all sales in the country market was Elvis Presley product.
On top of this tens of millions of records sold through outside
companies including record clubs, are mainly unaccounted for
in RIAA totals.
The RIAA certifies U.S. sales whereas Elvis Presley is a truly
international artist. The RIAA does not count any sales of
any artist outside the U.S.A. As an example It's Now Or Never
sold 1.2 million in England alone, as much as it did in the
US. Elvis' combined international sales of over 400 million
units are a unique achievement. (It is estimated that Elvis
has sold over 600 million units in the USA and over 400 million
units in all other countries combined for a total of over
one billion units sold worldwide.)
Maths for Music Lovers - The Summary Current RIAA album certification
RIAA counts only certifiable round numbers:
millions for Platinum and Multiple platinum.
means that the 1,012,088 sales of Elvis NBC TV Special counts
as much as the 1,922,601 of You'll Never Walk Alone: one million
RIAA Sales - i.e. 922,601 of the latter are not counted.
might argue that these conditions are the same for all artists,
which indeed they are, but because of the ever changing ways
of releasing music over the past decades, the consequences
are quite remarkable in that the more albums you have released,
the more sales you lose by being under and in between levels.
Brooks reached his figures with only 12 releases, which means
he could ONLY have 12 x 999,999 lost sales, where as Beatles
has 36 platinum albums and a theoretical loss three times
as high as Garth Brooks.
staggering number of Elvis albums released over the past 45
years means that his "lost" sales by RIAA accounting are astronomic
compared to his main competitors. For the purpose of this
exercise, if we average the numbers and say all artists will
be credited 500,000 extra sales for records between the various
platinum levels, the figures look like this based on the artists
current number of certified albums:
43 Platinum x 500,000 = 21.5 mil. New Total: 109
36 Platinum x 500,000 = 18.0 mil. New Total: 168
12 Platinum x 500,000 6.0 mil. New Total: 106
we take that one step further and add 250,000 units as an
average on all Gold albums (half of the difference between
500,000 and 999.,999, we find that The Beatles and Garth Brooks
have only albums that have platinum status and therefore get
no additional figures:
38 Gold x 250,000 = 9.5 mil. New Total: 118.5
0 Gold = 0 New Total: 168
Brooks 0 Gold = 0 New Total: 106
we go one step further and award the average 250,000 to albums
that haven't reached gold status, it becomes VERY interesting
because neither The Beatles nor Garth Brooks have any albums
that have not been certified.
however, has more than 200 non-certified!
220 Uncertified = 55 New Total: 173.5
0 Uncertified = 0 New Total: 168
Brooks 0 Uncertified = 0 New Total: 106
this exercise we need to go back and add the many Elvis albums
that were released by other companies through special license
arrangements with RCA. None of these sales are accounted for
in RIAA totals.
1978 Brooklandville Marketing announced sales of over 2 million
sets of the double album they had licensed from RCA, and in
general these heavily marketed albums sold very large numbers.
we should add the missing RCA numbers sold in the 12 months
after his death and the 81 million singles we can document,
the RIAA statement reaches the absolute absurdity.
different angle to all of this, that keeps getting ignored
is that it's so much easier to achieve high sales figures
in today's mass consumption market, than it was back in the
'50s. When Elvis' first album Elvis Presley sold 300,000 in
the spring of 1956 - it set a new record for a popular album
- and it was the album of that year.
the best selling album of the year, as well as several runners-up,
will easily sell over 10 million copies in the US alone -
the Beatles 1 sold a million in just one week this past Christmas.
this mean that the Beatles are at the height of their career?
- No, it means music as a mass consumer product has reached
new sales heights.
1956 sales of long-playing records were marginal and priced
beyond the financial means of many. In 2001, you could see
people buy as many as 5-10 CDs at one time. Elvis achieved
incredible sales in the '50s before the LP was an established
commercial art form.
recordings were released over and over again on numerous singles,
EPs, albums and CDs. So whereas the controlled release policy
of The Beatles repertoire worked fine towards RIAA certifications,
Elvis' classic songs were spread over as many as 30 or 40
give you an example, Elvis' version of Blue Christmas has
combined documented sales figures of over 20 million copies
and it's by no means one of his biggest recordings. The future
may require completely different ways of measuring sales,
when downloading of individual recordings will be an accepted
way of selling music.
again would mean for the RIAA to change their certification
criteria and suddenly the sales figures of individual cuts
may be the way to judge an artist's success.
To summarize, no statistics should ever make us feel different
about Elvis or any other artist. We don't judge Chopin, Charlie
Parker or Bob Dylan by their sales figures. We ask of the
RIAA to be more factual and accurate with their press releases.
Garth Brooks is not the best selling solo artist of all time,
but he is the highest certified album artist in the US, according
to the rules of the RIAA and his achievement should be congratulated.
a fraction of Elvis Presley's sales are captured by the RIAA
but in spite of all Elvis is still their most certified artist!
As consultants to RCA Records we are 100% convinced that Elvis
is the biggest selling artist of all time - we hope you are,
to comment on this article
to read related article