Gold Record Awards Come From the Record Manufacturing Process
By Chad Upton | Editor
When a recording artist sells 500,000 units of an album or a single, their “record” is eligible for “gold certification” by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). There are also platinum, diamond and other levels of these awards that indicate even greater sales.
If you couldn’t tell from the name, the RIAA is a US organization and it only tracks sales in the US. Similar awards are administered in 70 other countries by The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, although the number of sales to achieve each award varies by country.
In 1958, the cast album from the production of Oklahoma! was the first album to receive the official gold record award. Back then, records were records. There were no CDs, MP3s, etc… albums were really only available on vinyl records. Magnetic tapes were not popular for consumer use and 8 Track cartridges were about six years away from creation.
To make vinyl records, an original “master” record is created and depending on the exact process used, the vinyl records are stamped from a master, mother or stamper record. In those days, these masters/mothers/stampers were generally made from metal. Stampers are used to literally stamp the groves into the records that are distributed. Stampers are generally good for about a thousand uses, so many stampers are produced for popular records. Originally, the used stampers were treated with gold to create the gold record awards.
Today, vinyl records are far from the most popular media for music, but some albums are available on vinyl. Although many albums are not available on vinyl, gold records may still be awarded if they reach their sales goals. The gold records are no longer made from actual records, masters or stampers. They’re now made by specific trophy and plaque makers who are certified by the RIAA.
Today, the award symbolically represents a high number of sales. But originally, it literally represented that many records were sold because the actual production stamper was worn out, gold plated and awarded to the artist.
In the last couple decades, the term “gold master” has transcended the recording industry. The phrase is also used in the computer industry to identify a software product version that is ready for distribution.
Image: Jim Cassady (cc)