LPs and EPs are both forms of record albums that hold more than a single song (or a couple of songs in the vinyl single and cassette single eras when singles had both A and B sides).
So, what do they mean and what are these two album formats?
Like the music industry did, let’s start with LP.
What Does LP Mean?
LP stands for “long play” in music albums.
The term “LP” was first coined by Columbia Records, who also printed and released the first LPs in 1948.
What made an LP different for the time was not only its increased capacity, but the size of its grooves.
The narrower grooves of the LP allowed it to hold more than 20 minutes of recording per side, while also reducing the noise of the record itself, allowing the music to come to the forefront.
As these quieter “long play” vinyl albums were adopted widely by the industry, they also created the standard for what we commonly think of as “full-length” albums.
They could hold around 10 or so songs – 5 on each side – with each song running under 5 minutes. (Or, you know, roughly 4 Harry Chapin songs, two on each side.)
What Does LP Mean Today?
Today, LP still means the same thing in the music industry.
It can be used to describe any full-length album, whether it has 10 songs or, like many Broadway cast recordings, more than 20 songs.
What Does EP Mean?
EP stands for “extended play” in music albums.
The term “EP” was first coined by RCA Victor, who also printed and released the first EPs in 1952.
EPs were smaller in size and could hold less content (7 ½ minutes per side) than LPs, and were typically used to compile previously-released singles or as album samples for full-length albums.
Since they required less material to make and less studio time, or used previously-recorded songs, EPs could be sold at lower prices than LPs, allowing them to seize their own part of the record market.
The standard EP released in the 1950s contained four songs, two on each side.
What Does EP Mean Today?
Today, EP means largely the same thing that it once did. It can be used to describe any partial album that runs under 30 minutes.
But while four songs is still a common number for an EP, six songs is also very common now.
So, What Do LPs And EPs Have In Common?
There were definitely major differences between LPs and EPs when the two types of storage were first introduced to the market (size, capacity, utility), but even then the storage mediums also had a lot in common.
Both mediums were first used to describe vinyl records, both mediums provided higher-quality recordings than the records that came before them, and both mediums derived their designators (LP/EP) from comparison to previous recording formats.
LP, or long play, and EP, or extended play, are both named comparatively to record singles, or more accurately, to the length of record recordings prior to their inventions.
The LP was “long” compared to previous recording formats, able to store up to 22 minutes per side, while the EP was “extended” compared to previous formats, able to hold up to 7 ½ minutes per side.
The standard record single at the time held approximately 4 minutes of recording space per side.
That wouldn’t hold many of the best-selling singles from recent years!
LPs And EPs In Perspective
While LPs and EPs were both advances in audio storage, increasing both the length and quality of recordings, their true legacy may be the full-length album and potential for longer songs.
Prior to the invention of the LP and EP, songs were kept necessarily short in order fit the medium.
Or, for music that couldn’t be kept short, like classical pieces, split up over multiple records.
Wild, right? Imagine having to stop mid-song to flip or change the record.
But, in the end, from the invention of vinyl records with greater storage capacities, longer songs and longform albums blossomed.
It’s one of the great examples of how creativity leads to technological advances and technological advances, in turn, lead to greater creativity.