The term single describes a sound carrier or a music download which , in contrast to a music album, usually only contains two tracks by an artist. The variant between album and single is called Extended Play (EP).
The single serves the music industry today primarily as a marketing tool to promote the sales of music albums. The first single of an album title is generally released before the actual album goes on sale. If the album is successful, more releases usually follow. In addition to the album's single release, the sound carriers usually also contain remixes of the title track or unreleased song material that was not used for the album. Singles are available as vinyl records or compact discs , with the single CD becoming the sole single medium on the mass market as the CD was launched.
7 inch single
In their original form as records , unlike the long-playing record, singles have a diameter of 7 " (17.78 cm; actually 17.5 cm) and, in contrast to long-playing records , are played at 45 revolutions per minute instead of 33 1 ⁄ 3 ( only since February 1949). Before that, the 10 ″ single with a speed of 78 revolutions was common on the market. The center hole of a conventional vinyl single is larger than that of an LP , so that an additional adapter piece, the so-called puck , is necessary for playback (does not apply to singles pressed in Great Britain ; these have a small center hole like LPs). The origin of the format lies in the format war called Battle of the Speeds between Columbia Records and RCA Victor 1948/49; Only after it was settled did turntables with both speeds and center hole adapters become common, which meant that the compatibility gap could be bridged. These singles were later used in jukeboxes . Alternatively, a so-called star can be clamped into the large center hole of the individual single. This enables the singles to be used on turntables with an interchangeable function. Today's singles, which are mainly still pressed in (underground) metal , punk and grindcore, as well as in funk and soul , often do without the larger center hole, often due to the manufacturing method of the pressing plants.
The transition from the single with a speed of 78 revolutions to the single with 45 revolutions took place abruptly in the USA. On May 1, 1954, the RIAA reported that the 78 single only had a sales share of 52% of all singles sold. From July 1954, the 45s single was offered nationwide by the six major record companies. One of the first was the Doo-Wop- Hit Sh-Boom by the Chords , released in June 1954 (albeit by a so-called independent label ).
Like other records, a vinyl single usually has two recorded sides, the A and B sides . On the A side is the main title, on the back as described above an additional track, an instrumental version, a remix of the main title or part 2 of the main title. In rare cases, the B-side was more popular than the A-side. If there are two pieces of music on the front and back of a vinyl single, both of which are named in their title, then one also speaks of a double A-side (examples: Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane and Day Tripper / We Can Work It Out each from the Beatles ).
From 1988 onwards, so-called A-singles were offered that contained an interview or spoken information about the song or artist on the back instead of another title, but cost less money than conventional singles, of which Bobby McFerrin's Don't Worry, Be Happy im August 1988 was one of the first. At that time, these singles were offered in the Federal Republic of Germany at half the price of around three marks .
The group Westworld released a single in 1987 in the 5.5 ″ format (about 13 cm). Due to its size, this so-called mini-single only had a small center hole and could be played with any record player at 45 revolutions per minute.
Single formats with extended playing time
10 inch single
From July 1910, the 10 ″ shellac single with 78 revolutions was the usual format in the USA. Their playing time reached 3 minutes per side. In addition to the conventional 7 ″ single, there are other vinyl single formats, the 10 ″ and 12 ″ single. Due to the limited playing time per page and increasing title lengths, the 10 ″ single (25.4 cm; actually 25 cm) was introduced with an extended duration. This format remained a rarity alongside the more compact, popular 7 ″ single.
With the maxi or 12 ″ single, another single format was brought onto the market from the mid-1970s. With the diameter of a conventional long-playing record (30 cm), it offers even more playing time. There are two playback speeds of 45 and 33 1 ⁄ 3 revolutions per minute.
At first, 12 ″ singles were only sold to DJs as promotional copies . The first commercial 12 ″ single was released in 1976 with Ten Percent by Double Exposure on the New York disco label Salsoul Records.
Compared to conventional singles and LPs, the significantly wider groove, which enables a higher playback quality, results in a higher basic volume and a significantly better dynamic range (more pronounced bass and treble). This 12 ″ single, which originally contained the same recording as on the 7 ″ single, was offered as a Super Sound single . The development of the 12 ″ single is essentially due to the need for long, danceable so-called disc versions of known hits for discos (nowadays only called remixes ). In addition, the higher basic volume results in a better signal-to-noise ratio , so that the sound quality was improved with a higher playback volume - required in discos.
Today's importance of vinyl singles
Conventional vinyl singles in 7 "format can still be found today. Especially the owners of jukeboxes from the 1950s to 1980s are dependent on vinyl singles in the 7 "format. You also come across 10 ″ singles now and then in independent releases. They have a more ideal than material value within the collector scene and DJ culture. The classic 12 ″ maxi-single is still used extensively in hip-hop and electronic music and is part of the basic equipment of the DJ in these musical genres. Vinyl singles have survived to this day in spite of their actually technical obsolescence and are showing growth rates again in the above-mentioned areas. The reasons for this include a large number of collectors or the vinyl requirements of DJs.
The introduction of the CD has also led to changes in the singles market. As the successor to the vinyl singles, the CD single was introduced in October 1985 and the CD maxi single a year later, initially in small editions and, depending on the record company, in 8 cm (so-called mini CD ) or 12 cm Format. The first CD single ever is Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits , which was released in October 1985. The first CD single in Germany was the single Keine Sterne in Athen (3-4-5 times in 1 month) by Stephan Remmler , which was released in November 1986. In October 1986, Erasure released the CD maxi single Sometimes as one of the first in this format.
The mini CD format (8 cm format), which was originally also intended for music singles and has less than a third of the storage space of a conventional CD, did not catch on. The main arguments for this: the savings potential in the record companies' calculations was negligible due to the comparable production costs. Especially since the mini-CD, in contrast to the normal CD, offers even less presentation space for the cover, which is important for sales. The production of 8 cm singles was also not of interest for pressing plants, since the 12 cm single and CD album are technically completely identical. The mass production of a second CD format would have had a negative effect on the flexibility of production (in particular due to the necessary changes) and thus on the profitability of a production line. Another point was that initially not all CD players available supported the smaller format and, as with 7 ″ vinyl singles, adapters were necessary.
From the beginning of the 1990s, the music industry introduced the 12 cm CD maxi in the slim case (priced corresponding to the 12 ″ vinyl maxi) on the German market, which was then considered to be particularly financially strong , which is still the standard format on the German single Market represents. In contrast to the normal single (generally with two tracks) it often contains three or four tracks. In other European countries, on the other hand, the 12 cm CD single (priced corresponding to the 7 ″ vinyl single) in a cardboard cover prevailed from the start.
So-called slot-in drives , which do not have a drawer, can only play the smaller CDs with an adapter. Slot-in drives automatically pull in the data carriers using a special mechanism and also eject them, which means that the data carrier only has to be pushed a little through a slot. Such devices became more and more popular after there were fewer and fewer CDs on the market that deviated from the normal circular 12-centimeter discs. This technology dominates in particular in the case of built-in CD players for automobiles.
The decision in favor of the maxi single format in Germany had an impact on consumer behavior : As in the vinyl era, maxis were particularly interesting in the disco sector , so that this type of music was able to record above-average sales in Germany, while sales in the pop-rock sector fell sharply. The rock and pop consumers showed little interest in mostly unattractive or even poor quality remixes and B-sides. The barely justifiable high price structure set by the music industry (at that time up to twelve marks, about double that of an earlier vinyl single) meant that many customers decided not to buy maxi singles and instead went straight to the album. Since the beginning of the 1990s, airplay use has also been included in the singles charts , so that rock and pop music are still represented in the charts. This compensation of the actual buyer behavior is carried out in particular because the single charts are still much more important for music marketing than the album charts. However, it can be observed that singles on the German market no longer fulfill their actual function. Single successes and album sales often differ widely. Musicians whose albums are selling very well find themselves at the top of the singles charts less and less.
It was not until the early 2000s that the music industry reacted to increased customer requests to offer CD singles again at lower prices. Reasons for this are in particular the increased price pressure triggered by the MP3 format and the associated steadily declining CD sales, which promise significantly higher profit margins . The sound carriers that appear on the German market as a limited “2-track CD” in a slim case are mostly identical to the CD singles available abroad in terms of the selection of titles. However, the limited number of items means that the single mix known from radio or television is only available for a short time. Examples of this include productions by the Pet Shop Boys (Miracles, Flamboyant) or by Depeche Mode ( Enjoy the Silence '04, Precious) .
This step could hardly prevent the collapse of the CD single market. At a time when the music consumer can purchase each track on an album individually as an audio file on the Internet, the single as a sound carrier in the mass market, apart from its importance for collectors, no longer has any appreciable attractiveness. Today, 5000 weekly sales in Germany are usually enough to reach the top 10 of the singles charts. According to Manfred Gillig-Degrave, at the time editor-in-chief of the industry magazine MusikWoche , “three-digit numbers” are sufficient for the top 100 .
- Split (publication)
- The 500 best songs of all time (Rolling Stone)
- List of artists with the highest number of records sold worldwide
- Jim Dawson, Steve Propes: 45 rpm: The History, Heroes and Villains of a Pop Music Revolution. 2003, p. 41.
- hitparade.ch about Bobby McFerrins Don't worry be happy , accessed on February 24, 2010.
- Hans-Otto Hügel: Handbook of Popular Culture: Terms, Theories and Discussions. Springer-Verlag 2017, ISBN 3-476-05001-7 , p. 326.
- Gateway for chart manipulation? At: Spiegel Online .