EP vs. LP: What’s the difference (and do they still matter)?

(c) RCA Records, (c) Virgin Records America, Inc., (c) CBS Records (left to right)

Avid and casual music fans alike will recognize the acronyms “EP” and “LP.”

On streaming services, for example, it’s common to notice a ” – EP” after a project’s title. Although the terms “EP” and “LP” still have a place today in the modern musical lexicon, they share an important historical origin: vinyl records.

The amount of music that can fit on a vinyl record depends on two different criteria: (1) the record’s diameter, and (2) its rotational speed. Records come in three standard diameters (7”, 10”, and 12”) and two standard rotational speeds (33 and 45 rpm; 78 rpm also exists, but is uncommon these days).

The faster the record spins, the better the music will sound. Think about the sample rate of a piece of digital audio; at a super-low sampling rate, let’s say 10 kHz instead of the more typical 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz, the music would sound “lo-fi” and would retain no audible signal above 5 kHz. A faster-spinning record means more content delivered per second as the record spins, so a 45 rpm record will deliver increased audio fidelity compared to a 33 rpm record, at the cost of reduced capacity.

EP vs. LP: What’s the difference?

The terms “EP” and “LP” were originally referencing this capacity. EP stands for “Extended Play,” and one would usually comprise a collection of 4 – 6 tracks, with a playtime of around 20 minutes. LP stands for “Long Play,” and one could feature 10 – 12 tracks and be double the length. The aptly-named “single” featured just one song, typically accompanied by a “B-side,” which would be cut into the vinyl on the opposite side of the record.

Why EPs and LPs still matter today

Although the advent of digital music collections has radically shifted this landscape, these terms are so entrenched in the music industry’s lexicon that they have remained in use.

Today, we continue to use the term “EP” to describe a slightly shorter release of 3 – 6 tracks, but there’s no limit to the amount of songs that can be released on a digital EP. For example, artists and labels might release remix EPs with ten or more remixes of one song.

Meanwhile, “LP” is used less and less nowadays, especially since the full vinyl album was supplanted by CDs in the ’90s. However, the term is still generally understood to mean a full-length album of, say, ten or more tracks over 40 or more minutes. In some genres and scenes, artists may prefer to use the term “LP” instead of “album” in order to situate the listener in the context of an older period of music.

Singles remain essentially the same, although nowadays they’re frequently released as just one single track, instead of routinely being accompanied by a B-side. Artists continue to release and market singles to build buzz around their catalog.

How to put previously-released singles on an album on streaming services

If a single hits, you can expect to find it on an artist’s eventual album release, especially now in the world of streaming music. When artists re-release singles as album tracks, their streaming numbers are added to the album’s sales, inflating stream counts for an album instantly upon release.

If you want to include your single as an album track, make sure to keep the same audio and same ISRC code. DSPs will automatically attempt to match song content, so as long as you keep everything consistent, it should automatically show your single’s streaming numbers if you re-issue it on an album.

Singles, EPs, LPs, and albums: Know what’s right for you

It doesn’t really matter anymore whether you call your project an EP, LP, album, or something else entirely—at least, not from an information storage capacity standpoint. But, these terms can still be useful to classify your work for your own organizational purposes, and they can also help your listeners understand what to expect from your release.

Many producers struggle with strategically releasing their music and setting goals. Some may even set unrealistic or irrelevant goals, just because they don’t really know better; for example, I know artists who have completed entire albums just because they heard that’s what they should do.

However, putting out a full album may or may not be the right thing to focus on for you—it can be tough to get people to listen to a whole LP’s worth of tracks until you’ve built an audience.

If releasing a full album is your goal, and if this goal would contribute to your artistic vision, that’s great and you should go for it. But, keep in mind that an album means more investment of time, money, and effort. The current meta for artist releases seems to be the following: release singles to build hype, release EPs to cement popularity, and put out an album / LP once you’ve established a following.

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March 24, 2023

Max Rewak Max Rewak is a record producer, audio engineer, and music writer, based in New York and currently working in Sounds content at Splice.