A music single is a song which is released as a standalone item. Typically, singles are linked to or taken from an album, and they are used to promote the album and the artist. Singles have been a part of music distribution since the early days of recording, with a popularity which has waxed and waned. Thanks to the increasing tendency to distribute music digitally with downloads, allowing users to choose which songs they download, the music single has experienced a decline in popularity.
In a classic example of a music single, a song is selected from an album and packaged on its own for distribution to radio stations, with the hope that the song will get a great deal of air play, thereby encouraging people to buy the album. The single will also be distributed to music stores, sometimes in advance of the album as a promotion. Music singles are also targeted at buyers without a big budget, so that those buyers can pick up the single even if they cannot afford the album, increasing overall sales for the record company.
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Many singles are packaged with several other songs. These songs are touted as a bonus not available on the album, and they may include remixes of the single song, covers, or entirely new songs. A typical single album can have between one and five songs. The music single will usually be significantly less expensive than buying the whole album, although some people like to purchase both.
In some cases, a music single may become a hit single, often becoming associated with an artist or band as a signature song. This is often because radio stations play the single over and over, lacking access to the full album, and consumers purchase the single in high volumes if it is available before the album comes out. In order to be considered a true “hit single,” a single must typically make it into the charts used to track music sales.
CDs tend to be a common medium for singles, as cassette tapes are not in common use. Some musicians also release singles on records, a trend which is more common in musical subcultures such as the hip hop and electronica communities. Buying a single in record format can be more costly, due to the increased expense involved in pressing and processing records, but some people prefer the sound quality and social cachet of records to CDs.