What's the Difference Between an LP and EP?

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Music fans hear different technical terms for projects all the time, but seriously: what's the difference between an LP and EP? In short, an LP (or "long play") is a traditional album containing anywhere from six to twelve songs, while an EP (or "extended play") is a mini-album containing three to five songs.

What Is an LP?

As you probably picked up in the intro, an LP (or "long play") is essentially an album which usually contains six to twelve songs. Originally, an LP was a vinyl record that could contain up to an hour of music. These days, the terms are still used to describe vinyl records, along with other physical formats like CDs and cassettes, but they can also be used to describe digital albums, which you can find on any DSP (digital streaming platform), like Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Soundcloud, Audiomack, and so on. Through the tests of time, these terms have lived on, which gives an indication that you can expect to utilize the same terms going forward, indefinitely.

What Is an EP?

An EP (or "extended play") is a mini-album containing three to five songs. In the earlier days of the term's lifespan, an EP was considered a vinyl record that could contain up to 25 minutes of music. That being said, there is no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to the number of songs on an LP or EP; it really depends on the artist and the length of their songs. For example, some artists may release a nine-song album as an LP, while others may release a six-song album as an EP.

Why Do Artists Drop EPs Instead of Albums?

On the heels of what we just mentioned, this is a purely relative explanation, since it's essentially up to each individual artist.

However, to be as objective as possible, the easiest explanation is this:

  • EPs are (and have always been) an abridged version of an LP, or album.
  • Whenever you see an artist drop an EP, it's likely an introduction after dropping singles or precursor to a more expansive sampling of the same vibe (i.e. a follow-up album).
  • Otherwise, it could likely be a peek at some alternate ability they have, like a rap artist dropping an uncharacteristic rock album, for example.

Can The Definitions Change in the Future?

As Web3 is beginning to revolutionize the music industry (doesn't this seem a little familiar? *cough* CDs *cough* iTunes *cough* Spotify *cough*), it's safe to assume there will be some new variables to consider.

Since the time everyone consumed music through vinyl, "LP" and "EP" have continued to be heavily utilized terms, even as extremely major changes have taken place. This seems to be a pretty safe guarantee that no matter what happens in music, the industry will aim to maintain a similar structure (even if it doesn't make a lot of sense at times).

Though change is usually great, this industry consistency has been a great thread through all of the new implementations. Without it, music fans would have a much more difficult time comparing music from generation to generation. Through the ages, one primary thing has remained the same in the music business: artists are paid (directly and indirectly) to release music in the forms of singles, EPs, and LPs (albums).

To help you further understand, we'll be breaking down two types of LPs and EPs: a popular old-school example, and a popular modern example.

Examples of LPs

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Epic Records

Popular Old-School Example: Thriller by Michael Jackson

This 20th century classic is the best-selling LP in music, and funny enough, it doesn't fit the classic definition. It was decided by the artist (or perhaps even the label, Epic Records) to deem Thriller a "long play" project, despite it only being 42 minutes long.

whats the difference between an LP and EP kendrick

Popular Modern Example: Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers by Kendrick Lamar

Another classic, this time in the 21st century. Just like Michael Jackson's legendary album, this one comes with an odd technicality worth noting: it's a double EP, which means exactly what it sounds like: two albums bundled into one. There are plenty of benefits to this, both artistically and business-wise. Likely the primary cause is the fact that these types of projects count for double the album sales when bought in album form (vinyl or iTunes, for example). Initially, this tactic was used for projects too long to be fit on a single hour-long vinyl record.

Examples of EPs

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Priority Records

Popular Old-School Example: Kill at Will by Ice Cube

This EP from one of LA's most famous rappers of all time is just 21 minutes long, which makes it align with the basic standards of an EP (25 min long, remember?) Shoutout to Ice Cube for this standout project, as well as his countless other accolades -- where my Are We There Yet and 22 Jump Street fans at?

whats the difference between an LP and EP hov
Warner Records / Roc-A-Fella Records

Popular Modern Example: Collision Course by Jay-Z and Linkin Park

This 6-song EP just misses the cut for the basic definition (yet another example of an artist choosing to go against the grain), and also happens to be one of the most notable rap/rock collaborative projects of all time. In this instance, an LP might've been too much for listeners to process, while these 6 songs are the perfect dose of the unique genre crossover.

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