What's The Difference Between A Record And An Album? 5 Things To Know
Understanding Two Key Terms In The Music Lexicon
If you’re frequently on the lookout for new music to enjoy, “record” and “album” are two terms you’re probably familiar with. But do you know the difference between these two terms?
In this post, we’ll walk you through the key distinctions between a record and an album. We’ll also discuss where these two terms came from and what they originally meant versus how they are commonly used today.
1. Vinyl Records Aren’t Always Full-Length Albums.
Vinyl pressings of full-length albums are called LPs, or long play records. LPs are the most common form of records, but this wasn’t always the case. The earliest vinyl records could only hold a song or two on each side, ruling out the possibility for a full-length release to become available on vinyl.
In fact, full-length albums were not popularized until the vinyl format came along. Once records were produced that could hold more songs on each side, bands and artists had more incentive to record and release more music. Prompting the popularization of full-length albums is just one of the ways that the vinyl format changed the music industry forever.
The first records were not actually made from vinyl at all. Instead, they were hard shellac discs designed to be used with a phonograph. It wasn’t until the early-mid 20th century that vinyl records began to render these shellac discs obsolete. The early phonograph discs were typically 7” and were intended to be played at either 33 or 45 RPM. These discs could only hold about one song on each side. It wasn’t until vinyl hit the market that full-length releases could be pressed onto records.
The first LPs were 12” and were designed to be played at about 33 RPM. The slower speed at which these records were played, as well as their larger diameter, made it possible for more recorded sound to be etched on each side. 10” LPs were also produced, but 12” records are the most common form of LPs to this day.
It’s important to know that the higher a record’s RPM (revolutions per minute) is, the less recorded audio can be held on each side. A high RPM also means higher sound quality for a release, making 78s (the highest-RPM records available) highly sought after by audiophiles and vinyl enthusiasts. Although they can produce great sound, 78s play too fast and are too small to hold a full-length album.
The Bottom Line: Some records only have one song on each side. Others only have the space for a few songs per side. 10” and 12” LPs are large enough and played at a slow enough speed to hold an entire full-length album.
2. “Record” Is A Term Often Used To Describe Any Released Music
When describing a new release, musicians often refer to an album, song, or EP as a “record.” This terminology is tied to the use of vinyl records to release music. Once upon a time, vinyl was the primary format on which records could be distributed and sold. Since the invention and popularization of vinyl records, many other forms of physical and digital media have come on the market. CDs, cassettes, MP3s, and more all came long after vinyl, and even as these formats have risen (and fallen) in popularity, the primary term used to describe a new release has still been as a “record.”
The Bottom Line: If you hear an artist talking about a new record that they have released, they may be referring to a single, an EP, or an LP. They might also not be talking about a vinyl record – this terminology is sometimes not literally referring to a vinyl pressing of a release.
3. Not All Records Are LPs
Records can either be singles, EPs, or LPs – each of these terms refers to a different amount of songs.
- A single, when speaking of vinyl, refers to a release of two songs – one on side A of a record and one on side B. This is where the term “B-side” comes from – a B-side was originally the song put on side B of a single. When an artist would release a single on vinyl, the most marketable song was typically on side A. The second song, the “B-side,” was intended to be a companion to the song on side A.
- An EP (extended play) is a mini-album. This type of release usually contains about five songs. EPs were typically released on 78 RPM 7” records, which could only contain a few songs on each side. In the age of digital music, artists often still release EPs as collections of a few songs – more than just a single, but not enough content to constitute a full album.
- An LP (long play) is a full-length album. LPs usually comprise at least nine or ten songs and were typically released on 10” or 12” records. The term “LP” is often used to refer to any full-length release by an artist, regardless of whether the release is on vinyl or not.
The Bottom Line: “LP,” like the term “record,” has taken on multiple meanings. When used as it was originally intended, it refers to a vinyl pressing of a full-length album. When used as more of an expression, it can refer to any full-length release.
4. The Vinyl Format Permanently Changed The Way Artists Release New Music.
Because vinyl records were designed to be released as singles, EPs, or LPs, these three formats became the most common forms of releases for any format of music. Even in the digital age, singles, EPs, and LPs are the industry standard formats for new releases. However, several things have changed about the way music is released since the early days of vinyl.
- As opposed to being released as standalone projects, singles are now often songs taken from a longer project and released separately as a form of early promotion. Many artists will release several songs from an EP or an album as singles before their full-length project comes out. The release of singles for the sake of promotion became especially popular after the advent of digital music and streaming.
- Singles are beginning to become increasingly popular as standalone releases again. The rise in the popularity of singles is in large part due to the increased focus on playlists in the streaming realm. Many listeners gravitate towards singles thanks to their digestibility and the ease with which they can be added to a digital playlist full of other artists’ songs. A single is often more marketable than an album to modern listeners, who are constantly bombarded with new releases to listen to.
- Vinyl as a format now primarily appeals to listeners who want to appreciate the experience of a full-length album. Although listening to individual songs has become increasingly popular due to streaming, many listeners still love to sit down and take in an album from start to finish. Vinyl is the best way to hear a full-length release from one of your favorite artists. Listening to an album on vinyl is an immersive experience, and it allows you to hear the album the way the artist intended.
- The sound quality of vinyl records has stood the test of time. While digital music formats may offer convenience and easy access to plenty of new music, streaming still doesn’t compare to the experience of listening to vinyl. With a high-quality turntable and a great set of speakers, you can get unparalleled sound quality from vinyl records. If you want to get the most out of a new release from an artist you love, pick it up on vinyl.
The Bottom Line: Vinyl as a format changed the music industry forever. Even as advancements have been made in music technology, vinyl still holds its title as the best way to listen to full-length releases from your favorite artists.
<h3> 5. Not All Turntables Can Play Every Type Of Record. </h3>
Finally, one last important detail to know about the distinction between albums and records is that some turntables are not designed to play every form of record. Since not every record is an album, and some records are designed to be played at different speeds and are made from different materials, your turntable may not be equipped for any record you try to spin on it. Some turntables specifically cannot play 78s, the 7-inch singles that were common in the early-mid 20th century.
To determine whether your turntable is compatible with a record that you want to play on it, make sure to check its owners’ manual. Many modern record players are only designed to play 10” or 12” LPs. For most vinyl listeners, a turntable capable of playing LPs is all you need. However, some vinyl enthusiasts may want their record players to have the capability to play less common forms of vinyl records like 78s.
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