, a single is a type of release
, typically a song recording
of fewer tracks than an LP record
or an album
. This 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. Typically, these are the songs from albums that are released separately for promotional uses
such as digital download
, or video release. In other cases a recording released as a single may not appear on an album.
Despite being referred to as a single, in the era of music download
s, singles can include up to as many as three tracks. The biggest digital music distributor, iTunes Store
, accepts as many as three tracks less than ten minutes each as a single. Any more than three tracks on a musical release or thirty minutes in total running time is an extended play
(EP) or, if over six tracks long, an album.
Historically, when mainstream music was purchased via vinyl records, singles would be released double-sided. That is, they were released with an A-side and B-side
, on which two singles would be released, one on each side.
The origins of the single are in the late 19th century, when music was distributed on phonograph cylinder
s that held two to four minutes' worth of audio. These were then superseded by disc phonograph record
s, 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 ). By about 1910, however, the , 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 player
s 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 78.26 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 vinyl 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.
Types of physical singles
Singles have been issued in various formats, including , 10-inch, and 12-inch
discs, usually playing at 45 rpm; 10-inch shellac discs, playing at 78 rpm; maxi single
s; 7-inch plastic flexi disc
s; and CD single
s. Other, less common, formats include singles on Digital Compact Cassette
, and Laserdisc
, as well as many non-standard sizes of vinyl disc (, , etc.).
The most common form of the vinyl single is the "45" or "7-inch". The names are derived from its play speed, 45 rpm, and the standard diameter, 7 inches.
The 7-inch 45 rpm record was released 31 March 1949 by RCA Victor
as a smaller, more durable and higher-fidelity
replacement for the 78 rpm
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 rpm 12-inch vinyl LP
in June 1948, also released 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 7 December 1948 at the Sherman Avenue plant in Indianapolis
, R.O. Price, plant manager.
The claim made that 48-0001 by Eddy Arnold
was the first 45 is evidently incorrect (even though as of this writing 48-0000 has not turned up) since all 45s were released simultaneously with the 45 player on the 29 March date. There was plenty of information 'leaked' to the public about the new 45 rpm system through front-page articles in ''Billboard
'' magazine on 4 December 1948 and again on 8 January 1949. RCA was trying to blunt the lead Columbia had established in releasing their LP system back in June 1948.
To compete with Columbia, RCA released albums as boxes of 45 rpm 7-inch singles that could be played continuously like a LP on their record changer. In the early era RCA were also releasing 7-inch singles pressed in different colours for different genres, making it easy for customers to find their preferred music. The novelty of multicoloured singles however only lasted a few years, by 1952 all of RCA's singles were pressed in black vinyl.
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 7-inch singles.
In some regions (e.g. US), the default hole size fitted the original RCA 1.5 inch hub which, due to a format war
, was incompatible with the 0.25 inch spindle of a Columbia-system 33 1/3 RPM 12 inch LP player. In other regions (e.g. UK), 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.
One could play a large-hole record on a player with a 0.25 inch spindle by use of a single puck or by inserting an adapter.
Although 7 inches remained the standard size for vinyl singles, 12-inch single
s were introduced for use by DJs
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.
As digital downloading and audio streaming have become more prevalent, it has become possible for every track on an album to also be available separately. Nevertheless, the concept of a single for an album has been retained as an identification of a more heavily promoted or more popular song (or group of songs) within an album collection. The demand for music downloads skyrocketed after the launch of Apple's iTunes Store
(then called iTunes Music Store
) in January 2001 and the creation of portable music and digital audio player
s such as 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. In 2004, 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. In 2013, RIAA incorporated on-demand streams into the digital single certification.
Single sales in the United Kingdom reached an all-time 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) became eligible from the point of release, without the need for an accompanying physical.
Sales gradually improved in the following years, reaching a record high in 2008 that still proceeded to be overtaken in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
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.
The sales of singles are recorded in record charts
in most countries in a Top 40
format. These charts are often published in magazines and numerous television show
s and radio
programs count down the list. In order to be eligible for inclusion in the charts the single must meet the requirements set by the charting company, usually governing the number of songs and the total playing time of the single.
In popular music
, the commercial and artistic importance of the single (as compared to the EP
) 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 teenager
s and pre-teen
s), who tend to have more limited financial resources.
[ Starting in the mid-sixties, albums became a greater focus and more important as artists created albums of uniformly high quality and coherent themes, a trend which reached its apex in the development of the concept album. Over the 1990s and 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, surviving the transition from compact disc to digital download.
The discontinuation of the single has been cited as a major marketing mistake by the record companies considering it eliminated an inexpensive recording format for young fans to use to become accustomed to purchasing music. In its place was the predominance of the album which alienated customers by the expense of purchasing an expensive format for only one or two songs of interest. This in turn encouraged interest in file sharing software on the internet like Napster for single recordings initially which began to seriously undercut the music recording market.
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.
A curious development has been the popularity of mobile phone ringtones based on pop singles (on some modern phones, the actual single can be used as a ringtone). In September 2007, Sony BMG announced they 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 ringles in October and November, while Universal Music Group expected to release somewhere between 10 and 20 titles.
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 charts.
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.
In South Korea
In South Korean music, the terminology for "albums" and "singles" is unique and includes an additional term, the "single album" (), a category of releases that is not found outside of South Korea. In English, the word "album" in ordinary usage refers to an LP-length music release with multiple tracks. By contrast, the Korean word for "album" () denotes a musical recording of any length released on physical media; it is closer in meaning to the English words "record" or "release". Although the terms "single albums" and "singles" are similar and sometimes may even overlap in meaning, depending on context, they are considered two distinct release types in South Korea. A "single album" refers to a physical release (like CD, LP, or some other media) collecting one or more singles, while a "single" is only a song itself, typically as a downloaded file or streamable song. The Gaon Album Chart tracks sales of all "offline" albums released as physical media, meaning that single albums compete alongside full-length studio albums (and all other albums). The Gaon Digital Chart, which tracks downloads and streams, is regarded as the official "singles" chart.
As a distinct release type, the single album developed during the CD era in the 1990s. Single albums, typically including about two or three songs, were marketed as a more affordable alternative to a full-length CD album. The term "single album" is sometimes used to refer to a release that would simply be called a "single" in western contexts, such as a 7-inch 45rpm record released before the advent of downloadable music.
To give an example of the differences between full-length albums, single albums, and singles: the K-pop boy band Big Bang has a full-length studio album, titled ''MADE'', which was originally released as a series of four single albums: ''M'', ''A'', ''D'', and ''E''. Two singles were included on each of these single albums; the first in the series, ''M'', contains the singles "Loser" and "Bae Bae".
A single album is distinct from a single even if it only includes 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 carry different titles and charted separately: ''XII'' reached No.4 on the Gaon Album Chart, while "Gotta Go" reached No.2 on the Gaon Digital Chart.
* Gramophone record
* Lead single
* List of best-selling singles
* Carson, B. H.; Burt, A. D.; Reiskind, H. I.
"A Record Changer and Record of Complementary Design"
''RCA Review'', June 1949