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Single, EP, and LP: What’s the Difference?

June 11, 2023
3 min read

If you’re an aspiring artist thinking about putting out their first release, you’ll need to consider album formats. For many musicians, singles are the easiest material to produce, promote, and distribute online. However, many emerging musicians want to go further to get their music heard. EPs are ideal for those looking to tease their musical identity and introduce fans to more tracks, while still keeping costs down. LPs are more expensive and time-intensive but do give musicians the chance to showcase their persona and play around with themes. 

Artists can use all three album formats effectively at any point in their careers. However, timing is everything in this industry. Unsure of which album format is the right one for you? Read on as we explore each one in more detail, along with the pros and cons of each. 

What Is a Single?

Singles are generally considered the most important type of release format. They’ve historically been used to herald the release of an album, although they’re just as important in the streaming era. Singles are an effective music marketing tool, allowing radio stations and broadcasters to promote a bigger body of work. While singles are often cherry-picked as the best track from an album, there’s more to consider here. As these tracks are going to be played heavily by commercial channels, they need to be of suitable length. As a rule, aim for a track that lasts no longer than 3.5 minutes. This is acceptable for most radio stations and fits nicely into playlist rotation. 

Physical single album releases typically include more than one track. In previous decades, vinyl singles usually included a B-side. Later, CD singles would also include a second or third track, often including a remixed version of the original. Nowadays, singles are the go-to for artists looking to release new music consistently. Producing a standout single isn’t easy, but it’s far less of a creative undertaking than putting together an entire album. With an agile team of creatives, it’s possible to produce and release singles incredibly quickly, especially if you’re aiming for a streaming or download-only release. In terms of sales, singles are doing well. In the United States, more than 177 million singles were digitally downloaded in 2022. 

Securing radio airplay isn’t always achievable for independent artists. However, there are other ways you can market and promote your single. If you have the resources to invest in a music video, do so. With a little creative flair, you can use social media channels to tease snippets of your singles and engage with a huge audience. British artist PinkPantheress has made an art of short-form singles, becoming a breakout star on TikTok. 

If producing a full-blown music video is out of your reach, think about creating a lyric video instead. These can be uploaded to platforms like YouTube, as well as Apple Music and Spotify. You should also reach out to music blogs. Submit your singles in their complete form to websites and blogs that specialize in championing new talent. 

You also need to focus on networking. You can do this in person or engage with other musicians online. In the long run, you’re laying the groundwork for future collaborations that can energize your material and dramatically extend your reach. In the short-term, you’re unlocking legions of new listeners courtesy of the artists you’re collaborating with. 

What Is an EP?

Extended-play albums are the happy medium between singles and albums. Generally speaking, an EP album contains around five tracks, with a total runtime of around half an hour. EPs became incredibly popular during the 1950s. The first EPs were simple compilations of singles or samplers of complete albums. They quickly found an eager market with consumers. In terms of music distribution, they were also cost-effective, with EP vinyls cheaper to produce and ship than LPs. 

It wasn’t until the 1970s that artists themselves began to adopt the EP as a preferred format. They were regularly utilized by independent artists looking to release new material at relatively little cost. They remain the go-to format for aspiring musicians today for the same reason. Putting together a handful of tracks is a far easier undertaking than writing and producing an entire album. Despite a smaller tracklist, an EP also gives artists a chance to showcase their sound. 

For the artist, an EP is a valuable tool for raising their profile in the industry and building an audience. Even successful musicians with an extensive back catalog of album releases can still find EPs useful. They’re the perfect home for tracks that didn’t quite fit in with the theme of an album. If you’re looking to slash time spent in the studio and keep music production costs low, putting out an EP makes complete sense. 

Marketing an EP is also fairly straightforward. You can let fans download it directly from your website. However, you’ll need to ensure your social media channels are optimized to drive traffic toward these download links. 

You’ll need a robust music release strategy and marketing effort to generate buzz ahead of your EP drop. Upload the lead single from your EP to your YouTube, Spotify, and other social platforms. You should also consider sending physical copies of your EP to music bloggers, review sites, and print magazines. As pressing costs are generally low, this is one expense that you can afford to swallow. 

What Is an LP?

Most musicians dream of putting out a Long Play album. These two-sided collections have been around for decades, with bands like The Beatles pioneering the concept album. Before that, most artists were releasing compilations, while publishers were content with putting out LPs featuring tracks from an assortment of artists. For many musicians, recording and releasing an LP is the ultimate goal and a key marker of success. 

That said, albums simply aren’t practical for many up-and-coming musicians. While some LPs feature dozens of tracks, some single-sided releases can include fewer than 10. For new artists with limited material, it can be difficult to fill an entire LP album. This generally leads to musicians putting out subpar material that’s either poorly produced or doesn’t fit the theme of the release. Even if they are a few instant classics on there, those second-rate songs can be a killer when it comes to reviews. 

Even if you’re not having to invest in pressing physical copies of an LP, the cost of producing one is considerable. Extended recording time and having to draft in the support of other musicians costs money. In any format, digital or otherwise, these costs are passed on to the consumer. It’s no wonder that LP sales are going through a decline. While vinyl sales are healthier than ever, overall LP sales dropped by 8.2% in 2022 compared to the previous year. 

Whether your fans are buying a physical copy of your album or opting for a download-only version, they’re still spending their hard-earned cash. If you deliver a lackluster listening experience, you run the risk of turning off loyal fans for good. Promoting an LP also takes work. Ideally, you should be marketing it with the release of a lead single. You’ll also need to drum up interest with press interviews and engage with music blogs. If you haven’t already created one, you’ll need an electronic press kit (EPK) ready to go. 

Promoting an LP requires an active social media presence, with fans treated to a steady stream of rich content. As well as single teases and lyric videos, you’ll need to upload behind-the-scenes footage of recording sessions, Q&As, and more. Ultimately, the time required to adequately promote an album can be all-consuming. It can take you away from the recording studio for months, if not longer. This can stagnate you creatively, making it all the more difficult to return to writing and producing that difficult second album. 

How To Choose the Right Album Format for Your Music

Unsure of which format is the best choice for your music? Singles are cost-effective and relatively easy to produce. You can put out fresh music regularly, with each single taking relatively little time and effort to record and promote. What’s more, your career isn’t going to be derailed if one track only meets with a lukewarm reception. In an ideal world, a standout single can catch fire, becoming a viral sensation on social media and making it onto editorial playlists on streaming platforms. Because singles are cheaper to produce, you can also pass production savings along to your consumers, capitalizing on the soaring appetite for single and EP releases. 

EPs are another worthwhile option. Although they take longer to produce than a single, they’re far more manageable than writing, producing, and marketing an entire album. You can put as many as half a dozen tracks on a single EP release, giving audiences a clear idea of who you are and what you’re capable of as an artist. Furthermore, it’s not the end of the world if an EP only takes home a tepid 3-star review.

Eager to put out an LP? For any musician, it’s the ultimate goal, with many artists feeling like they haven’t landed until they’ve dropped one. However, you need to ask yourself whether now’s the right time to commit all that time and energy to producing a dozen album-worthy tracks. You might have been writing for years and have a huge songwriting catalog to draw from. The reality is that you’ll still need to invest in studio time to turn those tracks into the finished article. When recording an LP, there’s really no room for compromise. Padding out a track listing with songs that should have stayed on the cutting room floor won’t endear you to new fans and is likely to leave your existing ones disappointed. What’s more, if you’re still in the formative phase of your music career, you probably don’t have time to properly promote an LP. 

Ready to Release Your Music?

Regardless of how far along you are in your career as a musician, it’s also worth stepping back considering which release format is the best for you. Are you returning to music after a long hiatus? Both emerging and veteran musicians can benefit from teasing new content with a single release. For most musicians, putting together an earworm of a single is both financially viable and relatively easy to do. However, even a simple single can’t succeed with a robust marketing campaign. There’s no room for wallflowers when it comes to promoting music. Be prepared to get active on social media and start diversifying your content to engage with a growing fanbase. 

Looking to go a bit further with your next release? Putting together an EP album is more time-intensive and does come with added financial commitment, but it can really help you establish yourself as an artist to watch. Although you’ll only need a handful of tracks for an EP, they should all stand out. If your creative juices won’t stretch to five or six wholly original tracks, think about adding an acoustic version of your lead single or add an audio recording of a live performance. While you should definitely pursue digital downloads and streaming royalties as a revenue stream, physical pressings of EPs are fairly affordable. As such, it makes sense to invest in some hard copies of this format. You can market them as limited-edition merchandise or use them to target high-authority music bloggers and industry insiders. 

Eventually, you can look forward to putting together that critically-acclaimed LP album you know you’re capable of. Just wait until you’ve got sufficient time and resources to make it as great as you know it can be. Need support planning your next release? At IndieFlow, our release plans take the hassle out of getting your music to market. 

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