EP, Album, or Single: What Is The Difference and Why Does It Matter?

EP, Album, or Single: Any recording artist, producer, or label needs to understand the difference between a single, EP, and album. Each of these formats serves a particular purpose. And knowing which is most beneficial for your next release is paramount.

To determine the difference between a single, EP, and album, one must consider the length and the number of songs on the release. Singles are less than 30 minutes with 3 or fewer tracks. EPs are up to 30 minutes in length with no more than 6 songs. And albums contain 6 or more songs with a total length of over 30 minutes.

But we'll look at these differences in more detail later in this blog post. What's essential to understand is that each format has its place in the industry. And the format you choose to release your music in can play a significant role in a musician's marketing effort.

It's also crucial to note that music streaming and download platforms will automatically classify your release as a single, EP, or album. And they'll do so based on the industry-standard metrics associated with each format. Depending on the structure, some may even add the word "Single" or "EP" to the title of your release.

So, let's delve a little deeper into the difference between a single, EP, and album and analyze the characteristics.

Determining the Difference Between an EP, Album, and a Single:

What is a Single?

The Format of a Single

Singles are releases that comprise 1 to 3 songs at the most. Although the focus is often placed on one particular track. Sometimes the other 2 tracks are simply variations of that song, such as a radio edit and a mix.

In addition, to qualify as a single, each of these 3 songs cannot be more than 10 minutes long. And the total length of the 3 songs combined must not be longer than 30 minutes.

Streaming and download platforms are set to automatically detect the format of your release. But it’s important to note that the streaming and download platforms don’t all work within the exact same parameters.

However, the factors detailed above are aligned with the industry standard. And this standard outlines the critical difference between a single, EP, and album.

Some platforms, such as Apple Music, will add the word “Single” in your song title. It’s, therefore, vital to remember not to add the word “Single” to the title of your release upon distribution.

If you need assistance distributing your single effectively and efficiently, give Sugo Music Group a call. Their seasoned industry experts will ensure a seamless and hassle-free release to over 200 recognized platforms.

How Singles Have Changed Over the Years

The digital age has seen an increase in the popularity of singles as a crucial format for release. And how artists are releasing their music is changing. Today, a single is most often literally just that – a single song. And it is released digitally in MP3 or WAV format across multiple streaming and download platforms.

Decades ago, a single was a small vinyl record with one song pressed on each side. There was the A-side with the feature song that was no doubt already getting radio airplay. And on the B side would be a lesser-known song designed to provoke intrigue in the artist's full album.

That said, the single is, and always will be, an integral promotional tool for artists. It's always been less costly to produce than an EP or whole album. And it's a great way to gauge your audience's response to your music and create some hype before an album release.

The Popularity of Singles

Many of today’s prominent artists release multiple singles and fewer full albums for several reasons.

  1. It's less costly and time-consuming to put together a single. Which is a primary difference between a single, EP, and album.
  2. Because of the way music is consumed today, releasing a single doesn’t disengage fans from your body of work. When they stream your music, they have access to everything you’ve ever released. And, in this way, your singles can still converge to tell a story.
  3. Releasing a new single each month is the perfect way to maintain listener interest and momentum in the music arena. Launching one album every year or two can result in fans forgetting about you.
  4. It's far easier to create a music video for one song. And today's technology allows artists to create powerful, budget-friendly music videos for each single they release. This is much more appealing than releasing an album and selecting only 3 or so songs for music videos.

EP, Album, or Single: What is an EP?

The Format of an EP

First, you should know that EP is an acronym for "Extended Play" as it's longer than a single but shorter than an album. Therefore, the sheer length of the release is a contributing factor to the difference between a single, EP, and album. And EPs are classified according to one of two sets of criteria.

  1. The release is considered an EP if it comprises 3 or fewer songs, with one of those songs being 10 minutes long or longer. However, the total playtime of the entire release is less than 30 minutes.
  2. But if the release is 30 minutes in total and includes 4 to 6 songs, it would also be considered an EP.

Again, the music streaming and download platforms will classify your release automatically. And on several platforms, the acronym “EP” may be added to the title of your release.

However, some of these platforms don’t have an EP category at all. And in these instances, your release would likely be classed as an album on that platform.

To avoid complications or confusion concerning your release, we recommend that you speak to a professional music distributor.

How EPs Have Changed Over the Years

EPs offer a fantastic format for artists who don't have the catalog or budget to produce a full album. But they'd still like to showcase a portfolio of work.

A prime difference between a single, EP, and album is how these formats were utilized in the past.

In the days of vinyl records, EPs were most often released as an extension of a single. Therefore, you'd have a single record, with a song on sides A and B, respectively. And then you'd release an EP including the same tracks, possibly slightly varied versions, and a few other songs.

Historically, artists have also used the EP format to put out a concise “best of” release. And these would often comprise 3 to 6 songs that had done well in sales or had radio airplay.

EPs offer a fantastic format for artists who don't have the catalog or budget to produce a full album. But they'd still like to showcase a portfolio of work, if you will. And an EP allows them to do this while also working around a concept and developing a story.

The Popularity of EPs

Today, EPs are growing in popularity as many artists opt for the EPs over full albums. The reasons are similar to those of the popularity of singles. But, in essence, it boils down to the following factors:

  1. EPs don’t take as long to put together as a full album.
  2. Another difference between a single, EP, and album is that albums are more expensive to produce than EPs.
  3. You can release EPs more frequently than albums due to the reduced cost and time spent on the project.

For example, an artist may break a potential full album up into 3 separate EP releases. And they could release these in stages, one after the other.

This is a fantastic way to leverage the benefits of technology and digital distribution to maintain momentum. The artist would be keeping their fans engaged over an extended period as they anticipate the release of each EP.

This is very different from launching an entire album with fans receiving everything they've been waiting for at once. If you're not on top of your marketing game, things could fizzle out very quickly after that.

EP, Album, or Single: What is an Album?

The Format of an Album

Albums were referred to as Standard Play or Long Play (LP) albums back in the day. This is the longest form of release available to artists. And was the format through which most listeners used to consume music.

As is the case with the EP, one of two factors determines whether a release is considered an album:

  1. Any release that comprises 7 or more songs is automatically considered an album.
  2. However, suppose the release includes 6 or fewer tracks but has a total run time of 30 minutes. In that case, it's also considered an album.

That said, there are some restrictions to releasing an album. The first is that an album must not include more than 100 songs. And second, the album should not be longer than 2 hours and 30 minutes in total.

How Albums Have Changed Over the Years

Albums have possibly been the most common and popular format of all over the years. Most people purchasing music would purchase a full album release from their favorite artist.

And for musicians, releasing an album has always been considered a significant achievement. The point at which you released an album was the moment you were taken seriously as an artist.

Of course, a significant difference between a single, EP, and album is that putting together an entire album requires time and resources. However, it does allow artists to explore a narrative and take their listeners on a journey through the album.

The Popularity of Albums

You might have gauged from the above that the full-length album is no longer as popular as it used to be. That’s not to say that they don’t still exist. Many artists continue to release traditional albums every couple of years.

However, in today's fast-moving age of on-demand information and content, holding your audience's attention can be challenging. This is why many artists have put out releases in a shorter format more regularly.

Another reason the "Long Play" format is decreasing in popularity is the time and effort needed to produce an album. You'll likely find that releasing more than one album each year is a mammoth task with live performances and other commitments.

EP, Album, or Single: Conclusion

We've determined a few distinguishing factors while exploring the difference between a single, EP, and album. That said, the music landscape has changed over the past few decades. And the decision behind the release's format in the '50s and '60s is very different from how we determine the format today.

Technology has played a significant role in this altered approach, impacting the cost and accessibility of a release. It also reduces the time it takes to produce new releases. And it's these advancements in tools and resources that offer a different, more engaging way to promote music and create momentum.

Having an ace music distributor on your side can take the headache out of planning and executing the perfect release. Sugo Music Group has 35 years of experience in the industry. And their experts are ready to assist you when you need them.


  • theIndie Editor

    Sam Poole is a content writer with a deep love for music and the music industry. As theIndie Editor, Sam aims to provide practical and actionable tips to help indie artists effectively promote their music and succeed.

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