single, ep, mini-album, album . . . oh, and “mixtape”

The RIAA and Britain’s The Chart Company have official rules regarding just EXACTLY what defines a single, EP or LP/album. In the UK, these rules are just as excuses to exploit consumers with multiple versions of the same single but here the rules are pretty much just ignored. And ANYWAY, we shouldn’t really be letting the RIAA, which only represents the major labels for the most part, dictate what we can call an EP or LP, etc. Here’s what defines the various formats in MY mind . . .

SINGLE
Info: In the old days a single was pretty damn simple. It was usually on a little 7″, 45 rpm record that really only had room for a few minutes on each side. So usually there were just 2 songs on the single. Then disco and hip-hop groups started releasing 12″ 33 1/3 RPM singles with long-ass remixes. Then cassettes and CDs came about and suddenly “singles” would have a half-dozen tracks, usually consisting of remixes, album outtakes or live tracks.
My Definition: I think there is a fundamental difference between a single and an EP which is that a single is typically a temporary release that isn’t kept in print over the years. The single is often defined by the fact that it’s being sold on the strength of one (or occasionally two) songs, while the rest is more or less filler (even if it’s strong material). Additionally, the featured track on most singles is taken from an album that the musical artist is currently promoting. However, there are also many standalone singles that little to do with a full album release.

EP
Info: “EP” is short for “extended play”, due to the fact that, in the past, some EPs were released on 12″ records that had the same program on both sides. Much like the single, the EP has evolved over the years and the term has been used in some pretty strange ways. In the old days they were basically just longer singles where 4 songs might be crammed on a 7″. One band famous for the EPs is Alice In Chains, whose first EP, Sap contained 4 tracks (+ 1 bonus track) and clocked in at 20 minutes. Their second “EP”, Jar of Flies, has SEVEN tracks and clocks in at 31 minutes! How the hell is that an EP? There are a hell of a lot of full albums that aren’t that long? Regardless, the release is regarded as the first EP to top the album charts. What? How can it be an album if it’s an EP? How can it be an EP if it’s 31 minutes?! There are several other dumb examples, like Anthrax’s Attack of the Killer B’s, a 9 minute rarities compilation, which the packaging calls an EP.
My Definition: For me, the main thing that distinguishes an EP from a single is that it’s a cohesive piece of work and includes songs that were meant to coexist, rather than the random nature of singles b-sides. EPs are also typically kept in-print and are not simply released in short runs that only last a few months.

MINI-ALBUM
Info: Well, I don’t think any OFFICIAL organizations use this term but I’ve seen it used a lot.
My Definition: It’s just a long EP. Or a short album.

ALBUM
Info: You know, that thing that has several songs and takes awhile to listen to.
My Definition: It’s long, maybe at least 20 minutes? It’s a complete product and is kept in print for a long time, if possible.

MIXTAPES
Info: This is a hip-hop phenomenon that has completely grown out of control over the last few years. Originally, mixtapes were literally cassette tapes on which people just dubbed whatever songs they wanted in some preferred order. Eventually, DJs made mixtapes in which they displayed their skills, like transitioning from one song to another. In the early 2000s, DJs, producers and MCs started releasing mixtapes basically as outlets for leftovers or for exclusive tracks, sometimes even from other artists (ie a DJ Muggs mixtape might have some tracks that Muggs did not create but simply enjoys). These were typically made in a DIY manner, as in CD-Rs. This format still exists but now many “mixtapes” are factory-pressed and even distributed through Amazon, in spite of the fact the mastermind of the mixtape may not have the rights to the recordings included within. NOW mixtapes have gotten even goofier, as may they may take the form of completely normal albums that are distinguished solely by packaging that refers to the release as a mixtape. The main point behind this distinction is to say, “Don’t slam me if this sells poorly, it’s just a mixtape.” This kind of “mixtape” is usually released less than a year before a “real” album, in order to raise awareness. However, several of these mixtapes have had singles released for them, which is ridiculous! Argh. I have one of these fake mixtapes by rapper Prodigy who repeatedly mentions that the CD is “just a mix CD” and “we’re just having fun”, even though the CD has 14 brand new tracks.

My Definition: I dunno, I don’t get it.

Are your definitions different?

kicknz

6 responses to “single, ep, mini-album, album . . . oh, and “mixtape”

  1. I pretty much agree with your criteria…though I guess those Oasis singles from the 90s with three new tracks would count as EPs for you?

  2. Well, in the official definition of EP according to RIAA and The Chart Company, plus the 60s/70s usage of the word, they would be EPs. But in my personal current definition, they wouldn’t be because 1) they’re mainly meant to promote a corresponding album and usually feature an album track for the a-side and 2) they’re not kept in print indefinitely (although they were in print a long time by single standards.

  3. Lots of good info here.

    Here’s another article that breaks down Demos, EPs, and Albums:
    http://www.servethesong.net/promotion/demo-ep-or-album/

  4. that was so helpful, thank you (:

  5. i have some more modern definitions, a Single is a song that goes on an album that is really good and usually gets a music video (not always), an EP is a short album (3-7 tracks, though i have seen more), a Full Length Album, is an album with 10 to…..as many as you want tracks, any less may be a EP or mix-tape. Last is a mix-tape, which usually you make with a certain DJ and might feature many vocal artists, or a single artist could make it of music that didn’t make the full album OR it could be used to send to a record label if you want to get signed.

  6. I don’t know what an EP is, however a Mixtape is usually other peoples songs, more like remixes. An albu is all your original music while a mixtape may be someone elses beat.

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