In music, a single, record single or music single is a type of
release, typically a song recording of fewer tracks than an LP record,
an album or an EP record. This can be released for sale to the public
in a variety of different 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 commercial radio airplay and are expected to be the most popular.
In other cases a recording released as a single may not appear on an
As digital downloading and audio streaming have become more prevalent,
it is often 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.
Despite being referred to as a single, singles can include up to as
many as three tracks on them. The biggest digital music distributor,
iTunes, accepts as many as three tracks less than ten minutes each as
a single, as does popular music player Spotify. Any more than three
tracks on a musical release or thirty minutes in total running time is
either an extended play (EP) or, if over six tracks long, an album.
1 Early history
2.1 Physical single
2.1.1 7-inch format
2.1.2 12-inch format
2.1.3 Video single
2.2 Radio single
2.3 Digital single
4 See also
6 Further reading
7 External links
The basic specifications of the music single were set[vague] in the
late 19th century, when the gramophone record began to supersede
phonograph cylinders in commercially produced musical recordings.
Gramophone discs were manufactured with a range of playback speeds
(from 16 rpm to 78 rpm) and in several sizes (including
12-inch/30 cm). 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
78 rpm was chosen as the standard because of the
introduction of the electrically powered, synchronous turntable motor
in 1925, which ran at 3600 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 3-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 CBS 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.
45 rpm single record with large central hole as used in the USA for
Singles have been issued in various formats, including 7-inch
(18 cm), 10-inch (25 cm), and 12-inch (30 cm) vinyl
discs (usually playing at 45 rpm); 10-inch (25-cm) shellac discs
(playing at 78 rpm); cassette, 8 and 12 cm (3- and 5-inch) CD
singles and 7-inch (18 cm) plastic flexi discs. Other, less
common, formats include singles on digital compact cassette, DVD, and
LD, as well as many non-standard sizes of vinyl disc
(5-inch/12 cm, 8-inch/20 cm, etc.). Some artist release
singles on records, a trend more common in musical subcultures.
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 (18 cm).
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 shellac discs. 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, which had released the
33 ⅓ rpm 12-inch vinyl LP in June 1948, also released
33 ⅓ rpm 7-inch vinyl singles in March 1949, but they were
soon eclipsed by the
RCA Victor 45. The first 45 rpm record
created 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 first release of the 45 came March 29, 1949 in seven
translucent colors, one for each type of music: dark blue 52-xxxx
light classics series, light blue 51-xxxx international series, yellow
47-xxxx juvenile series, bright red (cerise) 50-xxxx folk series, deep
red 49-xxxx classical series, green (teal) 48-xxxx country series, and
black 47-xxxx popular series. Except for the 47 series these series
started with 0000. 50-0000 (Arthur Crudup), 51-0000 (Meisels), 52-0000
(Al Goodman) The claim made that 48-0001 by Eddy Arnold was the
release of the 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 March 29th date. There was
plenty of information 'leaked' to the public about the new 45 rpm
system through front page articles in Billboard magazine on Dec. 4,
1948 and again Jan. 8, 1949. RCA was trying to blunt the lead Columbia
had established in releasing their 33 1/3 LP system back in June
Further information: 12-inch single
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 "wore" better, and were less
susceptible to scratches. The
12-inch single is still considered a
standard format for dance music, though its popularity has declined in
Music video § Video single
A video single (also videotape single or
VHS single) is a music single
in the form of a videotape (mostly VHS, but occasionally Betamax,
and/or Video 8) or Laserdisc. In 1983, British
Synthpop band The Human
League released the first commercial Video Single called "The Human
League Video Single" on both
VHS and Betamax. It was not a huge
commercial success due to the high retail price of £10.99, compared
to around £1.99 for a 7" vinyl single.
Physical singles continued declining in the United States, and many
record companies stopped releasing them altogether to concentrate more
on album sales. Since the establishment of the Billboard Hot 100,
singles were not eligible to enter the chart unless they were
available to purchase as a physical single. By the late 1990s, several
popular mainstream hits never charted on the Hot 100. No Doubt's 1996
hit "Don't Speak" spent 16 weeks at number one on the Hot 100 Airplay
chart, but it never charted on the Billboard Hot 100. On December 5,
1998, Billboard changed the rule to allow airplay-only songs onto the
chart. Aaliyah's "Try Again" (2000) was the first single ever to reach
number one on the
Billboard Hot 100
Billboard Hot 100 based solely on radio airplay.
A radio single is also referred as an "airplay single", especially
The internet era introduced music download and streaming as a release
format of a single. 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
players such as the iPod.
The sales of singles are recorded in record charts in most countries
Top 40 format. These charts are often published in magazines and
numerous television shows 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.
The single of "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" was a hit record for
Jackie DeShannon in 1968. It was certified Gold in the United States
when it sold more than 1,000,000 copies.
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. Perhaps the golden
age of the single was on 45s in the 1950s to early 1960s in the early
years of rock music. 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.
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. As a result,
downloads were gradually introduced into the
UK Singles Chart
UK Singles Chart from
April 2005 to January 2007. Sales gradually improved in the following
years, reaching a record high in 2008 and that further being overtaken
in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Portable audio players, which make it
extremely easy to load and play songs from many different artists, are
claimed to be a major factor behind this trend.
A related 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 #1 on the UK
The term "single" is sometimes regarded as a misnomer since one record
usually has 2 songs on it, when considering the "A" and "B" sides. In
1982, CBS marketed one-sided singles at a lower price than two-sided
On 17 April 2005, Official
UK Singles Chart
UK Singles Chart added the download format
to the existing physical CD singles. Selling on downloads alone Gnarls
Barkley was the first act to reach No.1 in April 2006. It 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.
List of best-selling singles
^ "Single and EP Definitions on iTunes - EmuBands". 22 April 2013.
Retrieved 24 June 2016.
^ Greil Marcus, 2005, Like a Rolling Stone, p. 145.
^ "Songs on records". wiseGEEK. Retrieved 27 May 2016.
^ a b Britt, Bruce (10 August 1989). "The 45-rpm single will soon be
history". Spokesman-Review. (Los Angeles Daily News).
^ Indiana State Museum document no. 71.2010.098.0001
^ The Fabulous Victrola 45 Phil Vourtsis
^ Virgin Records 1983
^ Ramirez, Erika (August 25, 2011). "Aaliyah's Top 10 Billboard Hits".
Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved August 25, 2011.
^ Kaye, Bradley. "Kid A as a Musing on the Postmodern Condition". In
Brandon W. Forbes; George A. Reisch.
Radiohead Philosophy: Fitter,
Happier, More Deductive. Chicago: Open Court. p. 250. Retrieved
December 21, 2017 – via Amazon. A song "Optimistic" by
Radiohead, referred as "an airplay-single", received only airplay
^ Tucker, Ken (July 11, 2009). "Harp Changes Tune". Billboard.
p. 35. Retrieved December 21, 2017 – via Google books. A
song "Leave the Pieces" by
The Wreckers received only airplay in the
^ Knopper, Steve (2009). Appetite for Self-Destruction: The
Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry. Simon and Schuster.
^ Christman, Ed (2007-09-09). "
Music industry betting on 'ringle'
format". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-05-21.
^ 99 CENTS. Billboard. 15 May 1982.
^ "OCC test charts reveal likely effects of rule changes".
2006-12-11. Archived from the original on 2011-08-18. Retrieved
^ "Download Official UK Single Chart Rules - PDF". The Official Chart
Company. 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-08-18.
^ "The Official UK Charts Company : Info pack from The Official
UK Charts Company". Archived from the original (PDF) on
Carson, B. H.; Burt, A. D.; Reiskind, H. I., "A Record Changer and
Record of Complementary Design", RCA Review, June 1949
Wolf, Jessica (25 May 2003). "RIAA lauds
DVD singles". Retrieved 10
June 2016. (subscription required)
DVD Singles Can Be Chart Success".
DVD Intelligence. 17 August 2001.
Retrieved 10 June 2016. (subscription required)
"Tool Plots 'Vicarious'
DVD Single". Billboard. 10 May 2006. Retrieved
10 June 2016.
"Web fans boost Marillion single". BBC News. 16 April 2004. Retrieved
10 June 2016.
The 45 Adaptor — A short article looking at the history of the 45
rpm single spindle adaptor.
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Music Publishing Group
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