Single (music)

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An 80 mm CD single from Japan. 8cm CD single jacket.jpg
An 80 mm CD single from Japan.

In music, a single is a type of release, typically a song recording of fewer tracks than an LP record [1] or an album. One can be released for sale to the public in a variety of formats. In most cases, a single is a song that is released separately from an album, although it usually also appears on an album. In other cases a recording released as a single may not appear on an album.


With the rise of digital distribution, distinctions have become more tenuous. The biggest digital music distributor, the iTunes Store, only accepts as singles releases with three tracks or fewer that are less than ten minutes each (with longer releases being classified as EPs or albums). [1] However, releases which do not fit these criteria have been promoted as singles by artists and labels elsewhere, such as on the Bandcamp storefront.

Historically, when mainstream music was purchased via vinyl records, singles would be released double-sided, i.e. there was an A-side and a B-side, on which two songs would appear, one on each side. [2]

Early history

The origins of the single are in the late 19th century, when music was distributed on phonograph cylinders that held two to four minutes' worth of audio. They were superseded by disc phonograph records, which initially also had a short duration of playing time per side. In the first two to three decades of the 20th century, almost all commercial music releases were, in effect, singles (the exceptions were usually for classical music pieces, where multiple physical storage media items were bundled together and sold as an album). Phonograph records were manufactured with a range of playback speeds (from 16 to 78 rpm) and in several sizes (including 12 inches or 30 centimetres). By about 1910, however, the 10-inch (25 cm), 78-rpm shellac disc had become the most commonly used format.

The inherent technical limitations of the gramophone disc defined the standard format for commercial recordings in the early 20th century. The relatively crude disc-cutting techniques of the time and the thickness of the needles used on record players limited the number of grooves per inch that could be inscribed on the disc surface and a high rotation speed was necessary to achieve acceptable recording and playback fidelity. 78 rpm was chosen as the standard because of the introduction of the electrically powered synchronous turntable motor in 1925, which ran at 3,600 rpm with a 46:1 gear ratio, resulting in a rotation speed of 78.3 rpm.

With these factors applied to the 10-inch format, songwriters and performers increasingly tailored their output to fit the new medium. The three-minute single remained the standard into the 1960s, when the availability of microgroove recording and improved mastering techniques enabled recording artists to increase the duration of their recorded songs. The breakthrough came with Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone": although Columbia Records tried to make the record more "radio-friendly" by cutting the performance into halves and separating them between the two sides of the disc, both Dylan and his fans demanded that the full six-minute take be placed on one side and that radio stations play the song in its entirety. [3]

Types of physical singles

Singles have been issued in various formats, including 7-inch (18 cm), 10-inch and 12-inch discs, usually playing at 45 rpm; 10-inch shellac discs, playing at 78 rpm; maxi singles; 7-inch plastic flexi discs; cassettes; and 8 or 12 cm (3.1 or 4.7 in) CD singles. Other, less common, formats include singles on Digital Compact Cassette, DVD and Laserdisc, as well as many non-standard sizes of vinyl disc (5 in or 13 cm, 8 in or 20 cm, etc.).

7-inch format

45 rpm EP on a turntable with a
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1+1/2-inch hub, ready to be played 140405 Wega-Dual-300-01.jpg
45 rpm EP on a turntable with a 1+12-inch hub, ready to be played

The most common form of the vinyl single is the "45" or "7-inch". The names are derived from its play speed, 45 rpm (revolutions per minute), and the standard diameter, 7 inches (17.8 cm).

The 7-inch 45 rpm record was released March 31, 1949, by RCA Victor as a smaller, more durable and higher-fidelity replacement for the 78 rpm shellac discs. [4] The first 45 rpm records were monaural, with recordings on both sides of the disc. As stereo recordings became popular in the 1960s, almost all 45 rpm records were produced in stereo by the early 1970s. Columbia Records, which had released the 33+13 rpm 12-inch vinyl LP in June 1948, also released 33+13 rpm 7-inch vinyl singles in March 1949, but they were soon eclipsed by the RCA Victor 45. The first regular production 45 rpm record pressed was "PeeWee the Piccolo": RCA Victor 47-0146 pressed December 7, 1948 at the Sherman Avenue plant in Indianapolis; R.O. Price, plant manager. [5]

The claim made that 48-0001 by Eddy Arnold was the first 45 is evidently incorrect (even though 48-0000 has not turned up, 50-0000-Crudup, 51-0000-Meisel, and 52-0000 Goodman are out there) since all 45s were released simultaneously with the 45 player in March 1949. There was plenty of information leaked to the public about the new 45 rpm system through front-page articles in Billboard magazine on December 4, 1948, and again on January 8, 1949. RCA was trying to blunt the lead Columbia had established upon releasing their 33+13  LP system in June 1948. [6]

To compete with Columbia, RCA released albums as boxes of 45 rpm seven-inch singles that could be played continuously like an LP on their record changer. RCA was also releasing 7-inch singles pressed in different colors for different genres, making it easy for customers to find their preferred music. The novelty of multicolored singles wore off soon: by 1952, all RCA singles were pressed in black vinyl. [7] The lowest recording numbers found (so far) for each genre of RCA 45s are: 47-0146 yellow, 47-2715 black, 48-0001 green, 49-0100 deep red, 50-0000 cerise, 51-0000 light blue. 52-0000 deep blue. What became of 48-0000 is not known, perhaps a copyright or other legal problem.

The lightweight and inexpensive 45 rpm discs introduced by RCA were quickly popular and in the early 1950s all major US labels had begun manufacturing seven-inch singles. [8]

In some regions (e.g. US), the default hole size fitted the original RCA 1.5-inch (3.8 cm) hub which, due to a format war, was incompatible with the 0.25-inch (6.4 mm) spindle of a Columbia-system 33 1/3 RPM 12-inch LP player. In other regions (e.g. UK, Australia), the default was a small hole compatible with a multi-speed 0.25-inch spindle player, but with a "knock out" that was removed for usage on a larger hub player.

In some regions (e.g. UK), 7-inch 45 rpm records were sold for a quarter-inch spindle with a knock out for playing on a
1+1/2-inch hub 45-knock-out.png
In some regions (e.g. UK), 7-inch 45 rpm records were sold for a quarter-inch spindle with a knock out for playing on a 1+12-inch hub

One could play a large-hole record on a player with a quarter-inch spindle by inserting a single "puck" or by using a spindle adapter.

A single "puck" can be inserted in a large-hole single (US) to play a 45 on a 1/4-inch spindle Single-Puck 1.jpg
A single "puck" can be inserted in a large-hole single (US) to play a 45 on a 1/4-inch spindle

12-inch format

A twelve-inch gramophone record 12 Inch Single BBQ Band.jpg
A twelve-inch gramophone record

Although 7 inches remained the standard size for vinyl singles, 12-inch singles were introduced for use by DJs in discos in the 1970s. The longer playing time of these singles allowed the inclusion of extended dance mixes of tracks. In addition, the larger surface area of the 12-inch discs allowed for wider grooves (larger amplitude) and greater separation between grooves, the latter of which results in less cross-talk. Consequently, they are less susceptible to wear and scratches. The 12-inch single is still considered a standard format for dance music, though its popularity has declined in recent years.

Digital era

With the rise of digital downloading and audio streaming, individual tracks within an album became accessible separately. Despite this shift, the notion of a "single" from an album remains, pinpointing the more promoted or favored songs. The surge in music downloads escalated following the introduction of Apple's iTunes Store originally known as iTunes in January 2001, along with the emergence of portable music devices like the iPod.

In September 1997, with the release of Duran Duran's "Electric Barbarella" for paid downloads, Capitol Records became the first major label to sell a digital single from a well-known artist. Previously, Geffen Records also released Aerosmith's "Head First" digitally for free. [9] In 2004, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) introduced digital single certification due to significant sales of digital formats, with Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" becoming RIAA's first platinum digital single. [10] In 2013, RIAA incorporated on-demand streams into the digital single certification. [11]

Single sales in the United Kingdom reached a low in January 2005, as the popularity of the compact disc was overtaken by the then-unofficial medium of the music download. Recognizing this, on 17 April 2005, Official UK Singles Chart added the download format to the existing format of physical CD singles. Gnarls Barkley was the first act to reach No.1 on this chart through downloads alone in April 2006, for their debut single "Crazy", which was released physically the following week. On 1 January 2007, digital downloads (including unbundled album tracks [12] [13] ) became eligible from the point of release, without the need for an accompanying physical. [14] Sales gradually improved in the following years, reaching a record high in 2008 that still proceeded to be overtaken in 2009, 2010 and 2011. [15]

In the late 2010s, artists began a trend of releasing multiple singles before eventually releasing a studio album. An unnamed A&R representative confirmed to Rolling Stone in 2018 that "an artist has to build a foundation to sustain" and added that "When artists have one big record and go run with that, it doesn't work because they never had a foundation to begin with." The same article cited examples such as Cardi B, Camila Cabello and Jason Derulo releasing four or more singles prior to their album releases. [16] Kanye West released singles weekly in 2010 with his GOOD Fridays series. He did this to support his upcoming release at the time, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy , and ended up releasing 15 tracks in the program.


"Put a Little Love in Your Heart" was a hit single for Jackie DeShannon in 1968. It was certified Gold in the US, selling over 1,000,000 copies. Gold record for Put a Little Love in Your Heart.JPG
"Put a Little Love in Your Heart" was a hit single for Jackie DeShannon in 1968. It was certified Gold in the US, selling over 1,000,000 copies.

The sales of singles are recorded in record charts in most countries in a Top 40 format. The charts are often published in magazines and numerous television shows and radio programs count down the list. To be eligible for inclusion in charts, the single must meet the requirement set by the charting company that governs the playing time of the single.

In popular music, the commercial and artistic importance of the single (as compared to the EP or album) has varied over time, technological development, and according to the audience of particular artists and genres. Singles have generally been more important to artists who sell to the youngest purchasers of music (younger teenagers and pre-teens), who tend to have more limited financial resources. [4]

Starting in the mid-1960s, albums became a greater focus and became more important as artists created albums of uniformly high-quality and coherent themes, a trend that reached its apex in the development of the concept album. Over the 1990s and the early 2000s, the single generally received less and less attention in the United States as albums, which on compact disc had virtually identical production and distribution costs but could be sold at a higher price, became most retailers' primary method of selling music. Singles continued to be produced in the UK and Australia and survived the transition from compact disc to digital download. The decline of the physical single in the US during this time has been cited as a major marketing mistake on the part of record companies, as it eliminated an inexpensive recording format for young fans to become accustomed to purchasing music. In its place was the predominance of the album, which alienated customers by the expense of purchasing a longer format for only one or two songs of interest. That in turn encouraged interest in file sharing software on the internet like Napster for single recordings, which began to undercut the music recording market. [17]

Dance music, however, has followed a different commercial pattern and the single, especially the 12-inch vinyl single, remains a major method by which dance music is distributed.

Another development of the 2000s was the popularity of mobile phone ringtones based on pop singles. In September 2007, Sony BMG announced that it would introduce a new type of CD single, called "ringles", for the 2007 holiday season. The format included three songs by an artist, plus a ringtone accessible from the user's computer. Sony announced plans to release 50 singles in October and November, and Universal Music Group expected to release somewhere between 10 and 20 titles. [18] In a reversal of this trend, a single has been released based on a ringtone itself: the Crazy Frog ringtone, which was a cult hit in Europe in 2004, was released as a mashup with "Axel F" in June 2005 amid a massive publicity campaign and subsequently hit No. 1 on the UK chart.

The term single is sometimes regarded as a misnomer since one record usually contains two songs: the A-side and B-side. In 1982, CBS marketed one-sided singles at a lower price than two-sided singles. [19]

In South Korea

In South Korean music, the terminology for "albums" and "singles" is unique and includes an additional term, the single album (Korean : 싱글 음반; RR : singgeul eumban). In contemporary usage in English, the term "album" refers to an LP-length recording regardless of the medium, but in contrast, the Korean usage of "album" (Korean : 음반; RR : eumban) denotes a musical recording of any length that is released specifically on physical media. A "single album" refers to a physical release (such as a CD, LP, or other media) that typically contains one to three unique tracks, while a "single" is only a song itself, typically a digital stream or download. [20] Although the terms "single albums" and "singles" are similar and sometimes may overlap, they are generally considered two distinct release types in South Korea. In Western contexts, a "single album" would otherwise be called a "single" or "extended play", depending on the length.

As a distinct release type, the single album developed during the CD era in the 1990s. Single albums were marketed as a more affordable alternative to a full-length CD album. [21] The Circle Album Chart tracks sales of all albums released as physical media (described as "offline" media), therefore, single albums compete alongside full-length studio albums (LPs) and mini-albums (EPs) on the chart, even if they only contain one song. The Circle Digital Chart, which tracks downloads and streams of sole tracks, is regarded as the official "singles" chart.

To give an example of the differences between full-length albums, single albums, and singles, the K-pop girl group Wonder Girls released the single album The Wonder Begins , which consists of the single "Irony" alongside two other unique tracks and a remix. "Irony" was later included on their debut studio album The Wonder Years . [22]

A single album is distinct from a single even if it includes only one song. The single "Gotta Go" by Chungha was released on a single album titled XII, which was a one-track CD. Even though "Gotta Go" was the only song on XII, the two releases charted separately: XII reached No. 4 on the Gaon Album Chart, and "Gotta Go" reached No. 2 on the Circle Digital Chart. [23] [24] Even when a single album and single share the same name, they still chart separately, as was the case with the Wonder Girls single album and single "Why So Lonely": the single album peaked at No. 3 on the Gaon Album Chart, while the single peaked at No. 1 on the Gaon Digital Chart. [25] [26]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Extended play</span> Musical recording longer than a single but shorter than a full album

An extended play (EP) is a musical recording that contains more tracks than a single but fewer than an album or LP record. Contemporary EPs generally contain up to eight tracks and have a playing time of 15 to 30 minutes. An "EP" is usually less cohesive than an album and more "non-committal".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Phonograph record</span> Disc-shaped analog sound storage medium

A phonograph record, a vinyl record, or simply a record or vinyl is an analog sound storage medium in the form of a flat disc with an inscribed, modulated spiral groove. The groove usually starts near the outside edge and ends near the center of the disc. The stored sound information is made audible by playing the record on a phonograph.

RCA Records is an American record label owned by Sony Music Entertainment, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Twelve-inch single</span> Type of vinyl phonograph record

The twelve-inch single is a type of vinyl gramophone record that has wider groove spacing and shorter playing time with a "single" or a few related sound tracks on each surface, compared to LPs which have several songs on each side. It is named for its 12-inch (300 mm) diameter. This allows for louder levels to be cut on the disc by the mastering engineer, which in turn gives a wider dynamic range, and thus better sound quality. This record type is commonly used in disco and dance music genres, where DJs use them to play in clubs. They are played at either 33+13 or 45 rpm. The conventional 7-inch single usually holds three or four minutes of music at full volume. The 12-inch LP sacrifices volume for extended playing time.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">RIAA certification</span> Sales certification from the Recording Industry Association of America

In the United States, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) award certification based on the number of albums and singles sold through retail and other ancillary markets. Other countries have similar awards. Certification is not automatic; for an award to be made, the record label must first request certification. The audit is conducted against net shipments after returns, which includes albums sold directly to retailers and one-stops, direct-to-consumer sales and other outlets.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Music recording certification</span> Certification that a music recording has shipped, sold, or streamed a number of units

Music recording certification is a system of certifying that a music recording has shipped, sold, or streamed a certain number of units. The threshold quantity varies by type and by nation or territory.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Double album</span> Audio recording album that spans two units of its format

A double album is an audio album that spans two units of the primary medium in which it is sold, typically either records or compact disc. A double album is usually, though not always, released as such because the recording is longer than the capacity of the medium. Recording artists often think of double albums as being a single piece artistically; however, there are exceptions, such as John Lennon's Some Time in New York City and OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below . Since the advent of the compact disc, albums are sometimes released with a bonus disc featuring additional material as a supplement to the main album, with live tracks, studio out-takes, cut songs, or older unreleased material. One innovation was the inclusion of a DVD of related material with a compact disc, such as video related to the album or DVD-Audio versions of the same recordings. Some such discs were also released on a two-sided format called DualDisc.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Album</span> Collection of audio recordings

An album is a collection of audio recordings issued on a medium such as compact disc (CD), vinyl (record), audio tape, or digital. Albums of recorded sound were developed in the early 20th century as individual 78 rpm records collected in a bound book resembling a photo album; this format evolved after 1948 into single vinyl long-playing (LP) records played at 33+13 rpm.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Unusual types of gramophone records</span> Gramophone records with non standard features

The overwhelming majority of records manufactured have been of certain sizes, playback speeds, and appearance. However, since the commercial adoption of the gramophone record, a wide variety of records have also been produced that do not fall into these categories, and they have served a variety of purposes.

A CD single is a music single in the form of a compact disc. The standard in the Red Book for the term CD single is an 8 cm (3-inch) CD. It now refers to any single recorded onto a CD of any size, particularly the CD5, or 5-inch CD single. The format was introduced in the mid-1980s but did not gain its place in the market until the early 1990s. With the rise in digital downloads in the early 2010s, sales of CD singles have decreased.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">LP record</span> Vinyl analog sound storage discs

The LP is an analog sound storage medium, a phonograph record format characterized by: a speed of 33+13 rpm; a 12- or 10-inch diameter; use of the "microgroove" groove specification; and a vinyl composition disk. Introduced by Columbia Records in 1948, it was soon adopted as a new standard by the entire US record industry. Apart from a few relatively minor refinements and the important later addition of stereophonic sound in 1957, it remained the standard format for record albums, during a period in popular music known as the album era. Beginning in the late 1970s, LP sales began to decline because of the increasing popularity of Compact Cassettes, then in the 1980s of compact discs. By 1988, the latter format began to outsell LPs.

<i>When Its Just You and Me</i> (album) 1977 studio album by Dottie West

When It's Just You and Me is a studio album by American country artist Dottie West. It was released in July 1977 via United Artists Records and contained 11 tracks. It was the 24th studio album in West's career and her first for the United Artists label. Of its 11 songs, four of them were spawned as singles: the title track, "Every Word I Write", "Tonight You Belong to Me" and "That's All I Wanted to Know". The title track reached the top 20 on the US and Canadian country singles charts. The album was reviewed positively by Billboard magazine following its original release.

<i>Merry Christmas</i> (Bing Crosby album) 1945 compilation album by Bing Crosby

Merry Christmas is a Christmas-themed compilation album by Bing Crosby that was released in 1945 on Decca Records. It has remained in print through the vinyl, CD, and downloadable file eras, currently as the disc and digital album White Christmas on MCA Records, a part of the Universal Music Group, and currently on vinyl as Merry Christmas on Geffen Records. It includes Crosby's signature song "White Christmas", the best-selling single of all time with estimated sales of over 50 million copies worldwide. The album was certified 4× Platinum by RIAA for selling over 4 million copies in United States. The original 1945 release and subsequent re-releases and re-packages spent a total of 39 weeks at no. 1 on the Billboard pop albums chart.

<i>If It Aint Love and Other Great Dallas Frazier Songs</i> 1972 studio album by Connie Smith

"If It Ain't Love" and Other Great Dallas Frazier Songs is nineteenth solo studio album by American country singer Connie Smith, released in July 1972 by RCA Victor. The album is a collection of songs composed by songwriter Dallas Frazier. Three of these songs were duets between Smith and Frazier himself. The album's title track was spawned as a single in 1972 and reached the top ten of the American country chart. The album itself reached the top 20 of the American country LP's chart and it received a positive review from Billboard magazine.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Texarkana Baby (song)</span> 1947 song by Cottonseed Clark and Fred Rose

"Texarkana Baby" is a song written by Fred Rose and Cottonseed Clark.

<i>That Bad Eartha</i> 1953 studio album by Eartha Kitt

That Bad Eartha is a twelve-song reconfiguration of material from American singer Eartha Kitt's first two eight-song, 10-inch albums issued by RCA Victor. It contains all eight songs from the 1953 album RCA Victor Presents Eartha Kitt. It repurposes the cover image and title, and four of the songs from Eartha's 1954 second 10-inch album, That Bad Eartha . In this way, it could be considered an expansion of the first short-length album, supplementing it with packaging and selected songs from the second.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Whitney Houston singles discography</span>

American singer Whitney Houston, known as "The Voice", released 57 singles as a leading artist and 4 as a featured artist. Houston is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with over 220 million records sold worldwide. In the United States, Houston amassed 11 Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles, all of whom have been certified either gold, platinum, multi-platinum or diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America and was one of a selected group of artists to have a top ten single in the Billboard Hot 100 in four different decades. She is currently ranked in seventh place of the artists with the most number one singles in the history of the Billboard Hot 100. Prior to the introduction of digital singles, Houston sold 16.5 million physical singles in the country, the most ever by a female recording artist. In October 2012, the Official Charts Company claimed Houston was the fourth biggest-selling female singles artist of all time with a sales total of 8.5 million singles in that country.

<i>Burgers and Fries/When I Stop Leaving</i> (Ill Be Gone) 1978 studio album by Charley Pride

Burgers and Fries/When I Stop Leaving is the twenty-fifth studio album by American country music artist Charley Pride. It was released in October 1978 on RCA Victor and contained ten tracks. It was co-produced by Pride and Jerry Bradley. The project was Pride's twenty fifth studio release in his recording career and reached major chart positions in the United States and Canada. Three singles were released off the album, including both of its title tracks and "Where Do I Put Her Memory." All three singles became major hits on the country charts in the United States and Canada.

<i>Ill Need Someone to Hold Me When I Cry</i> 1980 studio album by Janie Fricke

I'll Need Someone to Hold Me When I Cry is a studio album by American country music artist Janie Fricke. It was released in November 1980 via Columbia Records and contained ten tracks. The disc was a collection of more traditional country songs, a style that Fricke began adapting to after taking a suggestion from a former record producer. It was the fifth studio album issued in Fricke's career and spawned three singles. Both the title track and "Down to My Last Broken Heart" became top five charting singles in the United States. A cover of the song "Pride" reached the top 20.


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Further reading