Gold Record Awards Come From the Record Manufacturing Process

September 1, 2011 at 2:00 am 2 comments

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.

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Image: Jim Cassady (cc)

Sources: RIAA, EIL,, Wikipedia (Gold Master), emusician

Entry filed under: Demystified. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Chris  |  September 1, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Chad, I thought it was 500,000 units not 50,000???

  • 2. Virginia Grosso  |  November 17, 2015 at 8:27 am

    Someone very dear to me was awarded 2 gold records and is missing one, due to a defect in the product that was shipped to the company who made and distributed it During that time , unknown to my friend, his gold record was never returned and the company had gone out of business while he was waitng for the repair to take place. My goal, many years later, is to have a duplicate gold record made and given to him as a personal surprise gift which he will never expect. Here are the details and maybe someone out there can give me some direction on how to go about doing this.
    Artist’s name….BERNIE LA PORTA
    Group name……THE HAPPENINGS
    #1 single………….SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER [late 1960’s]
    Record Company….PUPPY RECORDS [no longer in business]


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