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What’s The Difference Between An LP & EP In Music?

In a world where there’s so much emphasis on streaming music, it does mean some terms have been left behind. Two of those terms are LP and EP, and yet there was a moment in history when those terms meant the whole world to music lovers.

But even though I can see the appeal of streaming via various devices and having any music you want on the go, I admit I’m still a stickler for the old ways of doing things. 

So, in the interest of musical history, I’m going to take a few minutes of your time to explain everything there is to know about an LP and an EP. Also, I’ll go through the difference between the two terms. By the end, you will no longer feel left in the dark about these terms.

What LP and EP Means

First, let me give you a quick explanation of the terms. When someone talks about an LP, it’s basically short for “Long Play,” which does make sense since it refers to an album containing more than eight tracks. 

On the other hand, EP means “Extended Play,” and this is where some confusion may arise. You see, people make the mistake of thinking something that refers to extended play would be longer than something long playing. Well, that’s not the case. Instead, an EP refers to a specific number of songs pulled together on one compilation.

However, it’s important to stress that an EP always refers to a collection of tracks lower in number than an album.

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Where Do You Find LP and EP?

So, older readers may fall into the trap of thinking that both LP and EP refer only to vinyl. While it certainly includes vinyl, since that’s where the terms originated, it’s not the only music format that can use those terms.

Instead, it can refer to cassettes (remember those?), CDs, and even digital downloads. However, there’s no doubt that people tend to refer to music on vinyl when talking about the terms LP and EP. Sadly though, that’s the wrong way of looking at things.

However, the term EP is more widely used today. I know the LP idea still exists, but people tend only to apply it to vinyl, which remains relevant today, but its popularity is dwarfed by that of streaming.

On the other hand, the EP concept is continually used, and there’s a good chance you probably have a few of them in your collection, even if it is all online. Actually, go and carry out a search on your favorite streaming platform just for the term “EP,” and I promise you will be surprised at just how many results you will see.

More About the LP

The concept of the LP has primarily remained the same since the days when vinyl was supreme. Back then, it would have music on either side of the record, and some people would also refer to it as a 78.

But even with the idea of a 78, there’s a problem. 

The 78 refers to the RPM of the record, and it’s actually only linked to records from the time of phonographs up to the 1950s when things changed. The 78 was made from shellac, and the grooves on the record were significantly wider than in later versions. This width led to the stylus needing to be wider, and the original 78s could only hold up to five minutes of music per side.

Let’s face it, that’s hardly enough time for an album in the sense that we understand today. But as music and owning vinyl became more popular in the home, there was a need to introduce more music on vinyl. That led to the newer version of the LP, also known as a 33.

The new 33 had a slower RPM, but the grooves were also much smaller than the 78 LP. That extended the play time on each side from around five minutes to approximately 22 minutes as a maximum.

That difference was huge. It means an LP could hold up to 44 minutes of music. Basically, you could put an album with ten songs, and people could play it at home. As you can imagine, that managed to revolutionize the entire music industry. Suddenly, people could quickly build a record collection of their favorite stars.

Oh, and a quick note on that word “album” because it originates from the time of the original 78s. Because the 78 LP could only hold a few minutes of music on each side, an individual would find a collection of songs broken up across several LPs. They were sold as a “record album” since you did end up owning several pieces of vinyl just to get the complete collection of tracks.

The idea of a record album was simply something that stayed even when the new LP meant a collection of ten or more songs could appear on one item. Yet again, you can see why this new technology became so popular. The LP became a king for decades. 

The Size of an LP

An LP can also come in 12” or 10” sizes, but it’s still made from PVC. Of course, vinyl is the shorthand term people use for PVC, so you can see where it all comes from.

But let’s not forget that an LP does not have to only appear on vinyl. So, those sizes only refer to that one particular format. The idea of the LP remained even when the CD took over as the main music format in the 1980s and 1990s. 

But I’m clearly only talking about a physical size here and only for one music format. Yet the recording length on an LP would also make a massive difference to how music played at home became so immensely popular from the 1950s onward.

The Length of an LP

I know I said an LP could hold up to 44 minutes of music on vinyl, but an artist could produce only a handful of songs that took up that timeframe if they wanted to.

You just have to look at things referred to as “concept” albums, and the band Yes did this with an album in the 1970s called Close To The Edge. It actually had just three tracks, but they took up almost the entire time allowed on a vinyl LP; one song lasted for 18 minutes, making it easy for them to fill the rest of the album.

But let’s not forget that songs were generally around three minutes in length on average. That meant you had limitations regarding the number of tracks that could appear on an LP.  Most musicians and bands would opt for either ten or 12 songs. That meant most albums would fall short of those 44 minutes that they could squeeze onto the one piece of vinyl.

Of course, that then changed when the CD came along. Suddenly, you could put far more information on a CD than you could with an LP. That opened up several new possibilities, and it was not unheard of for albums to exist with up to 18 tracks. Actually, artists would often worry about adding too many songs to an album in case it started to look more like a compilation rather than one piece of music produced by them at the same time.

But even though things had moved to new technology, the idea of the LP still existed, even though the format had changed.

How Vinyl Records Are Made | How Stuff Is Made | Refinery29
A quick side video to show the process of vinyl records being created

More About the EP

So I said earlier on that this EP term was short for “Extended Play,” but it remains significantly shorter in how much music it will hold when compared to an LP. 

People generally see an EP as having four, five, or even six songs on it, and that’s it. This term sits between what you expect from a single and an album. When you look at the number of tracks that can appear on an EP, you can see why I say that.

This number of songs is important. Streaming platforms such as iTunes and Spotify will only ever classify something as an EP if it indeed has those numbers of tracks. They will not accept something as an EP if it has either three or seven songs. At that point, it moves into different territory.

In theory, those five songs could all run for as long as they want, especially when discussing digital formats. However, back in the days of vinyl, they would be your average song length but still a fraction of the length of an LP.

Quick History of the EP

The earliest EP could only hold just under eight minutes of audio on each side. It also played at a speed of 45 rpm, which has never changed throughout the entire history of the vinyl EP. 

Also, it was a format that struggled to gain any kind of foothold at first. It wasn’t until the emergence of Elvis Presley that the concept of the EP really got anywhere. 

I want you also to avoid falling into the trap of thinking the EP vanished when everything moved over to the CD and then downloads. At that point, it referred to a mid-length CD and even a mid-length download. The EP’s length from vinyl times simply moved over to the new formats. 

The Size of an EP

I admit this is going back to the entire vinyl thing again, but as vinyl has made a significant comeback in recent years, then it’s still pretty relevant.

An EP is easy to spot when it’s in vinyl form. It’s smaller than the 12” LP since it comes in at 7”. Of course, it could be smaller in size since it had to hold less information. They were the same size as singles of the time, even though they were different in other respects.

When the idea of the CD came along, then an EP would look the exact same as the LP version. The only difference was linked to the number of tracks on the CD. 

The General Length of an EP

I know I said that an EP in a digital format could, in theory, be any length. While that is the case, there’s still an almost accepted upper and lower limit on how much music should appear on an EP.

Most industry experts feel an EP should last between 15 and 30 minutes. That gives enough scope for an artist to put together those few songs, even if they extend beyond three minutes each.

This time limit makes sense. Anything over 30 minutes does turn into an album simply because of how we look at things. Remember, there is the idea that an album does not have to mean ten songs or more. So, it’s good to have that sort of definition to keep everyone on track. 

Why an EP Still Exists

Everyone is familiar with the idea of a band or musician putting out an album. We also know that it can vary in length. Taken from that album are singles, and that’s another format everyone knows and understands.

So, why would an EP still exist? Well, a band or singer has quite a specific reason to put out an EP, and it’s connected mainly to their approach to boosting their career or even becoming noticed in the first place.

That’s because most musicians view an EP as almost akin to an album sampler or a format for promotional music and material. It’s like a snapshot of their abilities to catch the attention of others and increase their visibility.

But that’s not all.

An existing musician may also decide to produce an EP as it’s an interesting way to stay engaged with their fans between albums. It lets them know that the artist is still actively working on new material and that engagement helps keep them relevant.

In addition, it takes a musician less time to produce an EP than a full album. That is why it’s often used as a filler while also offering them the opportunity to drop in a track of a different style from the norm. 

Is an EP Important?

The music industry today is entirely different compared to anything else that has gone before it. The advent of social media and streaming was a major shake-up for the entire industry, and it was certainly something positive.

Now, musicians can release a single song on their official YouTube channels or streaming platforms and gain almost instant recognition for their new music. In a sense, they do not have to go ahead and create an EP with those four or five tracks just to get their name out there.

And yet, it still happens. 

I believe that music executives and managers are fully aware that fans always want more. They do not want to just constantly get one new song. So, the concept of the EP, even in digital format on streaming platforms, still plays a significant role in keeping hold of fans, and even building their base. 

Honestly, if streaming and social media failed to stop the EP in its tracks, then I just cannot see anything that would be capable of doing it. So, the EP remains important, and it will continue to play a crucial role for as long as music exists. 

But What About a Single and an EP?

The final point I want to make is to try to clear up any confusion that may exist regarding a single and an EP. We all know a traditional single can have a couple of songs on it, but it’s still completely different from the concept of the EP.

A single is the shortest type of work an artist can release. Typically, a single will last for around ten minutes, so it’s significantly shorter than an EP. 

Basically, a single will contain either a single track up to a maximum of three. That is why an EP starts at four songs to ensure it stands out on its own and is not a single.

What you can see here when you look at the different formats is an evident change in terms used depending on the number of tracks pulled together in the one offering. A single contains up to three songs before an EP takes over, and then an LP will have even more tracks.

To Conclude

To quickly draw things together, both LP and EP refer to music songs with specific numbers attached to them. An EP refers to a music collection of between four and six tracks, while an LP refers to an album or collection of songs greater than six.

Hopefully, I have also shown you that these terms are still in use today, even though many attribute them to what is a bygone era of vinyl. Yet, you cannot forget that vinyl remains popular today, with sales increasing in various countries.

I’m glad the terms stayed even when everything moved to the CD and then digital downloads. Just as the idea of the 78 remained long after it was an actual 78, then it’s cool that the same happened to these terms. 

The concept of the LP and EP will hopefully be around forever. Considering it has moved with the times and is still incorporated into different musical formats, I think the future for both of these terms is pretty rosy.

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