Single, Mixtape, EP or Album: What’s the Best Way to Release Your Music?

September 9, 2022

If you’re a musical artist beginning to make a name for yourself on the live circuit, it’s probably time that you got some releases under your belt. Before you hit the studio and record that debut masterpiece you’ve been blasting snippets of in pubs and clubs around the country, it’s important to know the most effective way to release music.

In this article we will take a look at singles, mixtapes, EPs and albums, comparing the differences and benefits so you can decide which is the best format for you to release your work on.

Should I release a single, a mixtape, an EP or an album?

The first question you should ask yourself is what type of release is going to help you cultivate a fanbase. This question seems simple but there are various factors to consider: how would your potential fans come across new music? How are they likely to share it with their friends? Would they buy merch or concert tickets to mark the release of new music?

It’s also important to consider exactly where you are in your musical career, which we’ll look at throughout this article. Genre should also be a consideration, for example, hip-hop artists may wish to produce mixtapes, while ambient electronic artists may skip singles altogether.

Ultimately, it’s a question of purpose. Therefore, in this article we’ll mention some of the main purposes behind releasing singles, mixtapes, EPs and albums, so you can decide which format is the best way to jumpstart your career.

What is an EP?

An EP (short for “extended play”) could be seen as a mini-album. It will usually consist of 4 to 6 tracks that showcase your range of musical styles. It needn’t be as cohesive as an album, but it should come together well to provide a great experience for listeners. iTunes would classify your release as an EP if it has either four to six tracks (with a total length of 30 minutes) or between one and three tracks if at least one track is at least 10 minutes long and the total length of the release does not exceed 30 minutes. Spotify also categorises an EP as having a total length of no more than 30 minutes but requires it to have between four and six tracks.

What’s the difference between an EP and an album?

Apart from being shorter than an album, an EP doesn’t necessarily require a unifying theme. They’re usually for promoting your very best tracks so you can drum up interest for an album or some other musical project. If you’re hoping to build your audience, your EP may capture the attention of people who are looking for new music to enjoy, and since production is cheaper, releasing an EP is less of a gamble than an album.

What is a mixtape and why would you release one?

Back in the day, recording songs off the radio onto a cassette tape gave music fans a chance to listen to their favourite tracks for free. People would often share mixtapes with their friends, and although it was a form of piracy, it benefitted bands by increasing awareness and interest. 

Later on, hip-hop artists and rappers began creating mixtapes, borrowing tracks from other artists and adding their own twist. Lil Wayne was one of the artists who used mixtapes in this way as a springboard to fame. Although music fans continue to make their own mixtapes, artists use them to create a compilation of songs or collaborate with other artists in their community to make one. In a sense, it’s something like an album, but it often has less cohesion or a more lo-fi sound as there isn’t as much focus on production.

Audiences do, however, have one specific expectation when it comes to mixtapes: they’re either free or much cheaper than albums, and more often than not, they’re simply freebies. 

Why would you make a mixtape?

When you release a mixtape, you do so because you want people to listen to your music. If they like it, they’ll be ready to buy an album or tickets for when you’re out on tour. You might also be hoping that your mixtape will grab a record label’s attention. 

Making a mixtape should be cheap. Getting it distributed is fairly easy and you’ll probably do it yourself using various online platforms such as SoundCloud or even Twitch. Mixtapes let you showcase your full creative range as well as your most notable influences. Beware, however, of falling afoul of copyrights. If you’re “borrowing” tracks, be sure you have permission to do so. Eagles frontman Don Henley had quite a public spat with Frank Ocean when the latter sampled the iconic ‘Hotel California’ for his critically acclaimed mixtape ‘Nostalgia, Ultra’.

What are the differences between mixtapes and albums?

The difference between mixtapes and albums can be hard to spot because mixtapes aren’t always as “mixed” as one would expect. For example, while an old-style mixtape would feature various artists, solo artists now produce mixtapes too. In general, however, they’re produced cheaply, offered free, and don’t necessarily feature a logical assortment of tracks.

The top benefit? Promotion! Whether you’re already well-known and want to build more of a buzz, or are in the formative stages of your musical career, a mixtape can be a powerful tool. 

What is a single and what are their benefits?

Back when every new release was a vinyl record, a single was a little record with only two tracks on it. Today, the definition varies according to the platforms you choose: 

  • According to TuneCore, a single consists of a single track, which seems logical, but isn’t the only way of defining this format.
  • In iTunes, a single can consist of up to three tracks and a playing time of 30 minutes or less with none of the tracks exceeding 10 minutes. To buy a single track on iTunes, music fans pay only 82 pence (much lower than the price of an album) so you’re more likely to attract would-be fans that are testing the waters.
  • Spotify defines a single in much the same way as iTunes. It specifies that the release has a listening time of 30 minutes or less and consists of no more than 3 tracks. However, there’s no 10 minute cap on the length of any of the tracks.

There are many advantages to releasing a single. In the first place, you’ll get it out a lot faster than you would an album or EP. That means faster feedback too. Are you giving your audience something it wants or should you try a different approach? The degree of enthusiasm with which your single is welcomed will give you the answers. The risk is low – certainly lower than it would be for an album or EP.  

Singles feature your very best tracks, so it’s a case of putting your best foot forward. If your single wins you an audience, you can keep people interested by releasing more singles over a period of time. If you’re working on an album or EP, you’ll know that it is a big, time-consuming project. Keep your fanbase aware of your music and eager to see what you do next by offering them singles. Meanwhile, you’re gathering valuable information on what your market likes.

What is an album and why are they important for musicians?

Let’s begin by defining an album. A few decades ago, it would have been a vinyl LP. Nowadays, it would be a CD or an online release that fits certain criteria. 

If you release an album on TuneCore it will have two or more tracks, a maximum of 100 tracks, and a duration of no more than 2.5 hours. When choosing iTunes, the platform will expect your album to either have six or more tracks or a playing time of longer than 30 minutes.

In essence, an album is a big project compiled to communicate a unifying theme or message. Succeed, and the prestige is high. Fail and you may not get back all that you’ve put in.

Why release an album?

Before we get into the benefits of releasing an album, we need to take a long, hard look at the downside. Album sales have been falling steadily for the past 8 years. Despite a recent uptick on the back of the BTS craze and Adele and Taylor Swift’s efforts, 83% of music industry revenues come from streaming services. And even the biggest music industry names are recording disappointing album sales. That’s why a lot of insiders are recommending frequent releases of singles, EPs and mixtapes over a huge effort spent on an album that may never become a big seller. 

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an album, but it does mean you should exercise caution before throwing your heart and soul into a risky project. If you have a big audience and your dedicated fans are poised to snap up your latest releases, making an album could be a smart move. After all, it allows you to make a sweeping artistic statement in which you can showcase your development as an artist. And, because you have a whole album to play with, you can more easily display the depth of your talent across a range of different tracks.

On the downside, you have one release: the album. Split that up into singles, and you’ll be reaching your audience more frequently and will have multiple opportunities to get people excited about your music instead of just the one big one. So as an up-and-coming, unsigned or independent musician there’s even more reason to keep your audience engaged and get new followers by releasing new tracks fairly frequently. 

If you’ve garnered a following and think it’s time to pull several tracks together into an album, you get the best of both worlds: an album that displays your art and makes a big statement, plus frequent releases to retain and grow your fanbase. 

Single, Mixtape, EP or Album: The Bottom Line

To sum up, let’s try some generalisations that could point the way towards the format you choose for your next release: 

  • Choose a single if you want to test the waters, get people interested in your music and build your fanbase. Keep the momentum up with frequent releases that reinforce your initial efforts.
  • Choose a mixtape if you’re into promotion over profits. Your primary goal is to get people listening to your music.
  • An EP showcases a short collection of your music and allows your listeners to understand your artistic range better. It has more substance than a single, but costs less and is therefore less risky than going all out with an album.
  • Your album targets a converted audience of fans. It’s tougher to sell than an EP or a single, but it gives you more room for expression.

In closing, let’s look at the one thing that always matters, regardless of how you decide to make your music available to the public: quality. A fellow musician may be willing to give you the nod for technique but to the average listener, sound quality is as important as the material itself. 

That’s why for your next recording, you should enlist the help of Kore Studios’ expert team and high calibre facilities. As one of London’s leading recording studios, we have the skills and experience to bring your artistic vision to life. We offer a range of services including live studio recording, specialist vocal recordings and a space for shooting music videos.

We’ve worked with both big-name artists and new aspiring talents, see for yourself by checking out our clients before booking a session in our professional recording studio. Finally, feel free to send an email or call our team if you have any questions.