Single (music)

In music, a single is a short (usually ten minutes or less) record, usually featuring one or two tracks as A-sides, often accompanied by several "B-sides"—usually remixes or other songs. Most singles have a single A-side and are named after this song, but some may have a double A-side (a famous example being Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane by the Beatles), where two tracks are given equal billing in the title of the single. Rarely, a single will not be identical in name to the featured track—such as the Nine Inch Nails single, Closer to God.

In the older record format, there was no "track 1" as the disc itself was reversible, so the difference between an A-side and a B-side was one of promotion. CD singles do have a defined ordering of tracks, so that even on a double A-side single, one track has to come first. Some single releases have been released in two different versions, one with each track first (such as Muse's non-album single Dead Star/In Your World or In Your World/Dead Star. Records with more than two A-sides are usually not considered singles, but EPs.

The lead tracks (and sometimes B-sides) of singles usually come from an album (either one already released or one about to be) and the release of the single is partly to promote sales of the the album. Non-album singles are also produced. A typical number of singles to release from an album is four—more is considered exceptional.

Singles often feature "radio edit" or "single edit" versions of the main song, which differ from the original recording in being edited to an attractive length for radio play, having expletives censored (often by re-recording with different lyrics), or both.

In the United Kingdom before the early 1990s, singles were released to radio and shops on the same day. As radio airplay increased, the single would climb in the chart, reach a peak position, often about a month later, and then slowly drop out of the chart. Since the early 1990s, record companies have released singles to radio months in advance of their commercial release. This saturates the audience in the song, ensuring that it enters the chart with maximum sales. Thus, today's singles debut at their peak position. This trend has led to the common sight of not one single in the UK Top 75 gaining in the chart. Singles also spend less time at #1 and fall down the chart more rapidly, spending less time overall since they never climb to their peak. In addition, while before the 90s, the first single from an album was released several weeks in advance of the album, today singles are typically released one week, or occasionally two weeks, before the album's release. The trend of single sales declining and no singles rising in the chart has been checked by the recent introduction of digital sales in the UK.

Some other strategies are employed in the release of lead singles from an album. On occasion, lead singles are released months in advance of the album they appear on. Two examples are Oasis' "Some Might Say" and Pulp's "Help the Aged". Less commonly, two separate singles are released at the same time to promote an album. An example is the simultaneous release of the Manic Street Preachers' "Found That Soul" and "So Why So Sad".

In the United States, since the early 1990s, singles have increasingly not been issued commercially at all. While this precluded them from charting on the Hot 100, Billboard Magazine recognised the trend and in December 1998 modified the rules to allow airplay-only tracks, which they call album cuts, to chart. Since then, airplay-only singles have frequently topped the chart. However, the former rule disqualified such long-term airplay #1 hits as No Doubt's "Don't Speak" from charting on the Hot 100 at all. Recently, Billboard too has accounted for digital sales in its calculation of single chart positions.

Singles have been issued on various formats, including 7-inch, 10 inch and 12 inch vinyl discs (usually playing at 45 rpm); 10 inch shellac discs (playing at 78 rpm); cassette, 3" and 5" CD singles and 7 inch 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", 8", etc.)

The sales of singles are recorded in charts in most countries in a 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.

In popular music, the relative 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 and shorter attention spans. Perhaps the golden age of the single was on "45's" in the 1950s and early 1960s in the early years of rock music; albums became a greater focus as artists like The Beatles and others created albums of uniformly high quality and coherent themes (one of many examples being the concluding medley on Abbey Road), a trend which reached its apex in the development of the concept album. Over the 1980s and 1990s, the single has generally received less and less attention 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. The single became almost exclusively a promotional tool for radio play and to appear on television via the video clip.

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.

As of 2005, the single seems to be undergoing somewhat of a revival. Commercial music download sites reportedly sell mostly single tracks rather than whole albums, and the increase in popularity seems to have rubbed off on physical formats [1] ( Portable MP3 players, which make it extremely easy to load many songs from different artists and play them, 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). These are reportedly a very lucrative new business for the music industry.

In a reversal of the above paragraph, recently a single has been released based on a ringtone itself. The Crazy Frog ringtone, which had become 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 charts.

Video singles

In relation to music singles, the industry has released music videos as singles as well. Originally released on very short VHS cassettes (T-15), these eventually were released on LaserDisc as LD-singles (18-cm or 8" format, instead of the full 1'/12"/30-cm LD), and on cDVD as DVD-singles (8-cm or 3.5" format, instead of the full 12-cm/5.25" DVD).

See also

de:Single (Musik) es:Sencillo nl:Single (muziek)


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