The difference between an EP and LP is not always clear. Typically speaking, an EP (extended play) has fewer songs and a shorter run time than an LP (long playing), although this is not always the case. Most often the designation EP is used in reference to a record or CD that is longer than a one- or two-track single, but shorter than a standard length album.
The format of the modern album was made possible by the creation of the LP format. While the term LP has morphed over time to include any music release that is album-length, the term was originally used to describe a specific kind of record: the 12-inch, 33 1/3 RPM (revolutions per minute) vinyl record album. The LP was made by Columbia Records in 1948 as a replacement for 10-inch shellac records called 78s, named after their RPM speed. The 78s were very delicate, had poor audio quality, and could hold only one song per side. Since LPs are made of vinyl, they are far more durable, and since they spin at a slower speed, they can hold more music; a typical LP can hold close to an hour of music.
The EP is a relatively new format when compared to the LP. The format came to be in the 1980s, first as promotional items for an artist on tour, but later on as a proper release platform all its own. The EP represents the middle-ground between the full-length LP and the single, which typically contained the track intended for single release (the A-side) and another track that was typically a non-album cut (the B-side). EPs expand on this format, typically including one or two songs from an artist's most recent album and a couple of other songs that may be unreleased tracks, live versions, remixes, or demo recordings. Most EPs spin at 45 RPM, although some spin at the album speed of 33 1/3.
EPs vs. LPs
On average, an EP will have fewer songs and be shorter in length than the typical LP. However, the difference between an EP and an LP can get blurry at times, especially with the advent of the CD format in the 1980s, which increased the maximum album length to 79 minutes. Some releases advertised as albums may actually be shorter than EPs, and some EPs may have more individual songs than some LPs. For example, Weezer's 2001 self-titled LP is approximately twenty-eight minutes long, the same length as Radiohead's 1994 EP, "My Iron Lung."
Popularity and Sales
While EPs are regularly released by recording artists of all genres and popularity, the EP format is not as popular or predominant as the LP. As of May 2010, only two EPs have ever reached number one on the charts since Billboard magazine began ranking album sales in the late 1940s: Alice In Chains' 1994 release "Jar Of Flies," and "Collision Course," a "mash up" collaboration between rapper Jay-Z and rock group Linkin Park.
Additional Album Formats
Longer EPs are also sometimes referred to as "mini-LPs" or "mini-albums," although this description was more popular in the 1980s. One common example given for the mini-LP format is The Pixies' "Come On Pilgrim," which is referred to by All Music Guide's Heather Phares as both an EP and a mini-LP. Another subset of the EP is the double EP, which may be a pair of 7-inch, 10-inch, or 12-inch records. Since a double EP can easily be as long as an LP, it is not a common format. The Beatles' soundtrack album "The Magical Mystery Tour" was originally released as a double-EP on two 10-inch records, but later editions marketed it as a proper LP on a single 12-inch record.
- Photo Credit Close up of old Vinyl Records - focus on the record image by Andrew Brown from Fotolia.com