What Is the Difference Between LP and EP in Music?

They say the album era is over. Well, now almost everything goes digital. But somehow, vinyl sells better than CDs. Are large forms over? So what is the difference between LP and EP in music, and why does it still worry people if there’s only space for singles?

So, let’s trace its history back to the roots, with recent and old examples. As the formats were originally derived from physical carrier properties, no wonder we’ll have to deal with some old stuff (the Beatles… Why did it have to be the Beatles?) So you may find my examples obsolete, but no more they are than the subject itself.

LP vs EP Guide

To understand the meaning of the terms EP vs LP (and how they emerged at all), we need to trace the history of the music recording industry back to the days when there were no albums at all. You might remember from movies or books that the first vinyl disks only had one song on each side. So it was due to technological restriction: one side of a 45 RPM vinyl could only contain up to 4 minutes.

The LP as we know it was only introduced in 1948 by Columbia, its capacity being about 21 minutes per side, and an EP as a standard was established a bit later – in 1952 by RCA Victor, as a move in the format war of the era. These disks were physically larger – like Laserdisc video discs (if you somehow remember these) were to today’s Blu-ray or DVD. It did not mean better quality, though: the first LPs played at 33 RPM, while singles and later EPs were playable at 45 RPM (the higher, the better – like stream bitrate nowadays).

It took both technologies and ideas to develop meaningful longer releases. No sooner was it than in the mid-1960s that albums started selling better than singles, due to The Beatles and other British musicians who made albums more than just collections of songs. This era (from the mid-1960s to the mid-2000s) is considered “the album era”. As for EP’s, they have been here all the time, not so conceptual as albums or focused like singles, but with their significance as well.

album boxes

EP: Why We Call the Shorter Format “Extended”

It was easy to tell what is an EP technically back in the 1950s. EP’s shared the single’s speed of 45 RPM and were compatible with 45 RPM vinyl players but contained more audio. Shorter in terms of time, it delivered better quality, but soon technical differences blurred (especially when CD, and later digital formats took over).

What does EP mean in music in the digital era? One of the latest EP’s I have listened to is 2021’s “Bang” by Imanbek and Rita Ora. It only contains four tracks but all of them are original and different (despite one of them citing Harold Faltermeyer’s Axel F). This release is not long enough to be positioned as a full-fledged album. Even adding two remixes for each original track would not change the positioning.

To further confusion, some artists that started between the vinyl and the CD era make singles that are even longer than their EPs and even LPs! For example, Depeche Mode has released multiple singles that take an entire CD length. Pet Shop Boys can go even further on a regular basis: the band releases singles that take two CDs, with multiple versions of the title song, remixes of another already published one, and one or two previously unreleased B-sides. Still, it’s single because there is one title song.

Still, the difference is obvious when we take a closer look at these artists’ releases. They come from different generations but share the same approach. One thing is for sure: size doesn’t matter. Rita Ora’s 11-minute Bang is an EP, with four different songs, while her 22-minute Ritual (Remixes) is single, with just one song in different remixes. Pet Shop Boys’ Agenda EP just has four tracks, all new and different. Dreamland, by the same duo, having two remixes of the title track and two more songs, is still single.

We spoke pop; but there were (and are) lots of rock bands who did not release singles at all. Instead, they released EPs. It took less effort and was punkier.

Let’s draw the line this way. An EP is a self-sufficient release. (even later, it’s expanded and rereleased as an LP, like Eminem’s Slim Shady EP). A single, no matter how long, can be viewed as an extension of a track that belongs on an LP. Even if the track is not actually taken from any LP, released or upcoming, you can imagine a virtual one it’s taken from (like Depeche Mode’s Martyr, a non-album track that could belong to Playing the Angel).

ep disc on player

LP: Is It Always That Long?

What is an LP when it comes to the roots? Technically, it’s a big, long recordable to carry up to 26 minutes of music on each side. This enabled musicians and producers to think of making records that long. Later, when changers were invented, an album could take two discs or more. As compact discs spread, the limits were pushed even further (given that CD changers followed too).

There was a consensus soon that musicians can mark albums as their milestones, and consumers can have a full-length album for less money than a set of singles would cost. In addition, conceptual albums soon emerged, which could not be disassembled into tracks. Long plays played slower (33​1⁄3) and were of poorer quality, but not too much. Anyway, it prepared the ground for long play as an art. It didn’t take long for LP vs EP battle to share the same carriers, though, so the difference was seen in that the album is usually longer and has more tracks… but not always.

The Difference between the Two: Rules and Exceptions

It’s easy to define the difference between LP and EP, if you are, say, Spotify. They define all releases with less than 6 tracks and shorter than 30 minutes as EP’s. This definition seems strict, but still, it’s too formal. According to it, Animals and Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd should be EP’s, as each of them has just five tracks. At the same time, Unreleased and Revamped collection by Cypress Hill, with its 9 tracks and 36 minutes, would qualify as an album. If we see these releases on Spotify, though, we see that they are classified just like we always saw them.
So, as we see, a formal attitude doesn’t always work right. Formally, an EP can be longer and contain more tracks than what’s released as an album. Other suggestions? I got some.

What Do We Consider an “Album” after That?

So, let’s consider that the album is a reflection of a certain set of ideas – musical, philosophical, even marketing – that the artist or the band expresses at the time. An album can take several days or many years, but it’s still shaped by authors carefully to be their reflection. It often happens that musicians don’t include their hits into any album or exclude potential hits out of planned LPs because they don’t fit in or add little to the overall idea. Though formally an album can have some EP features, it’s mostly synonymous with an LP. The difference between EP and album, then, is that an EP does not have to carry these traces.

collection of music albums

The Place of LP and EP in the Discography

First of all, let’s answer the question: what does LP mean in music if the album era is over? In our streaming time, of course, most of us don’t buy digital singles (like in the golden age of iPod) or digital albums: we buy access to entire catalogs and libraries. Many young musicians neglect LP and EP as obsolete forms and focus on singles. Many others, though, still do LPs and EPs, regardless of physical carrier. Their milestone meaning is still here.

What’s an album for a musician or a band? It marks a stage in the career. It shows you are here for long – at least by the time the LP is released. It reflects your ideas and your shape for some period (though albums can be released later than they are finished).

As for an EP, it’s a great form of releasing tracks you have found inappropriate for any of your albums or combined with the idea that seems too small or too urgent to devote a full-length album to it. It’s a perfect polygon for experiments you don’t want to focus on, like cover version, alternative style, unusual topics for lyrics, and so on.

Another reason to make an EP record is insufficiency in means (money, time, studio hours) to finish a full-fledged LP release while you still want a release.

As we have defined, there is no definition strict enough to define whether this release is an EP or an LP, above the way the authors position it.

FAQ

Which is longer: EP or LP?

It depends. The shortest LPs in history can be as short as 30 minutes or even shorter. Yes, there have been longer EPs. But generally, an LP is longer.

pile of discs

What is an EP vs LP vs album?

An album is usually synonymous with an LP – a long play that represents some stylistic or conceptual period in the artist or the band’s evolution. An EP is usually a shorter form usually that still has its core idea. They usually differ in length and content; an LP contains more tracks and lasts longer. Still, we have to compare LPs and EPs by the same artist for this to be true. Otherwise, we may find out that, for example, an 8-track release is quite an album for a symphonic metal group and hardly an EP for a rap band.

What does LP mean in music?

LP stands for “Long Play”. Initially, it meant up to 52 minutes of music, though later, with the progress of vinyl discs and the invention of cassette and CD, it can become longer.

Can an EP be 7 songs?

Yes, it can contain exactly 7 songs, as well as more or less, as long as there’s a concept through all its tracks and a reason not to include it into the main discography. We have mentioned both longer and shorter EP’s. For example, Bang (2021) by Rita Ora and Imanbek only has four tracks. At the same time, The Plugs I Met 2 by Benny the Butcher & Harry Fraud is also an EP with 10 tracks on it. This diversity is not a thing of the 2020s. Among the 1990s releases, The Slim Shady EP (1997) by Eminem contains 10 tracks, though one of them is an intro and one more a skit. Abba-Esque by Erasure (1991), in the meanwhile, has only five. So why not seven? Because Spotify says so?

Outro

As you see, the difference between EP and LP still exists. The definition I have given above is probably the most descriptive. But I can jokingly say that I prepare a whole LP as a soundtrack for my full-time workouts and just an EP for a warmup. What other definitions can you offer? So, share this on Facebook or Twitter to discuss with your band whether you want an LP or an EP first. Or leave a comment with some fun fact I have skipped or just your opinion. I will be glad to read that!

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