What is the minimum songs for an album?

An album is defined as a collection of audio recordings issued as a collection. But how many songs need to be included for a release to qualify as an album? Let’s take a look at the history and evolution of the album format to better understand album length expectations.

The Origins of the Album Format

The origins of the album can be traced back to the late 1930s and 1940s. At this time, collections of 78rpm phonograph records packaged together in a bound book format were referred to as “albums.” These albums typically contained between 3 to 5 discs with 1 song per side, so an album release would contain between 6 to 10 songs total.

In 1948, Columbia Records introduced the 33 1/3 rpm long-playing (LP) record which could hold about 23 minutes of music per side. This allowed multiple songs to fit on a single disc. The format gained popularity in the 1950s as LP record players became more common.

The terms “album” and “LP” became synonymous as the LP record became the standard format for full-length album releases. Albums in the 1950s and early 1960s typically had between 8 to 12 songs spanning two sides of an LP.

The Rise of the 12-Track Album

In the mid-1960s, advances in recording technology and consumer demand for longer albums led to albums with up to 15 songs per LP release. But a major shift occurred when The Beatles released the groundbreaking album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967 as a 12-track LP.

The idea of keeping albums to 12 tracks quickly caught on and became an industry standard through the late 1960s and 1970s. Some key reasons why 12 tracks per album emerged as the norm include:

  • It perfectly fit two sides of an LP with about 6 songs per side.
  • Musicians and producers found it an ideal number of songs to create a cohesive listening experience and artistic statement.
  • The time limitations of 12″ LPs prevented albums from becoming overly long.

Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, the 12-track album was the dominant format for album length. Iconic albums from bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, and countless others adhered to the standard 12-song track listing.

The Advent of the CD Brings Longer Albums

The introduction of the compact disc (CD) in 1982 brought about a major change in album length expectations. The storage capacity of a CD allowed up to 80 minutes of music, which was far longer than the typical 40 to 45 minutes that would fit on an LP.

Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, average album lengths began to increase to take advantage of the CD format. Albums with 13, 14, or 15+ tracks became commonplace. Many artists began releasing albums well over an hour long.

Some examples of popular long CD releases include:

  • Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I & II (1991) – 28 songs over 2 CDs
  • 2Pac – All Eyez On Me (1996) – 27 songs
  • The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995) – 28 songs

The expanded length of CDs allowed artists to include more songs and evolve the album format into a broader musical statement.

The Digital Age and Streaming

The rise of digital music in the late 1990s and early 2000s, followed by the emergence of streaming in the 2010s, removed the time limitations imposed by physical media. In the streaming era, albums can potentially be any length.

But even with unlimited time, many artists still stick to releasing albums between 10 to 15 tracks and 40 to 60 minutes long. Releasing an album with at least 10 songs generally remains the industry standard for a full-length album.

What is the Minimum for an EP vs LP?

In addition to full-length albums, shorter format releases known as EPs (extended plays) have also become popular. An EP typically contains between 3 to 7 songs and runs between 15 to 30 minutes long. Anything less than 3 songs would generally be classified as a single rather than an EP.

So in summary:

  • Single – 1-2 songs
  • EP – 3-7 songs
  • Album/LP – 8+ songs, generally at least 10

However, there are no absolute rules. Some artists release shorter albums with as few as 5-6 tracks. Others release very long EPs up to an hour in length. The categorization comes down to how the artist chooses to market the release.

Does Streaming Change Album Length Expectations?

Many predicted that streaming would lead artists to release shorter albums because fans can freely skip between songs. But that does not seem to have occurred. The average album length has remained fairly consistent in the streaming era.

Some top artists have embraced shorter albums likely tailored for streaming. For example:

  • Kanye West – ye (2018) – 7 songs, 23 minutes
  • The Weeknd – My Dear Melancholy, (2018) – 6 songs, 21 minutes

However, most major releases continue to have at least 10 tracks and follow a conventional album format. Artists may still wish to make bold artistic statements that require standard album length.

Shorter attention spans do not seem to have decreased listener demand for longer albums. Fans still eagerly await new album releases from their favorite artists as significant cultural events.

How Album Length Translates to Live Shows

The number of songs on an album also has implications for live concerts. Most arena headlining acts need to have enough recognizable songs for a 90+ minute set. Having 10+ songs on an album gives these artists sufficient material for touring.

Emerging acts may be able to tour off shorter albums earlier in their careers. But established headliners generally require lengthy discographies to fill out concert setlists that fans expect to hear.

So there remains marketing and live performance incentives for artists to continue releasing conventional length albums even in the streaming landscape.

Impact on Charts and Sales

Shorter albums likely need stronger singles to drive streams and sales. With fewer songs, each track needs to be able to hook listeners and promote the release. By contrast, artists can get away with more album cuts and experimental songs on a 15-track album.

Longer albums may also benefit from greater composite album sales. More tracks mean more overall streams and purchases contributing towards the album’s chart position. With a shorter release, each individual song needs to gain more traction to compete on charts.

However, albums with too many tracks could also cause listener fatigue. Finding the sweet spot around 10-15 songs tends to maximize sales while keeping an album concise and cohesive.

Recommendations for Ideal Album Length

Based on the history and evolution of albums along with current industry norms, here are some recommendations for ideal album length in the modern streaming landscape:

  • Aim for at least 10 tracks and 40 minutes runtime for a full-length album release.
  • 15 tracks and 60 minutes represents the maximum ideal length according to most artists and producers.
  • Edit the tracklist carefully and remove any superfluous songs. Quality over quantity.
  • Order songs thoughtfully for an immersive listen rather than just compiling songs.
  • For debut albums by new artists, err on the shorter side around 10 tracks.
  • Follow up albums can increase in length as the artist’s fanbase grows.

However, creativity often defies conforming to exact standards. The ultimate album length comes down to serving the artist’s creative vision for the project. If that vision calls for a concise 5 song album or sprawling 25 track epic, then that can represent success in artistic expression. But for most mainstream releases, between 10-15 great songs remains the standard for a compelling full-length album.

Notable Albums Well Below 10 Tracks

While 10+ tracks may be the norm, some iconic albums have managed to achieve classic status despite having far fewer than 10 songs. Here are some famous short albums:

Album Artist Year Length # of Tracks
Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) Wu-Tang Clan 1993 61:35 9
Nevermind Nirvana 1991 42:38 12
Licensed to Ill Beastie Boys 1986 46:28 10
Appetite for Destruction Guns N’ Roses 1987 53:56 12
Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin 1969 40:33 9

These albums all captured lightning in a bottle creatively despite containing fewer than the typical 10+ songs. While lengthier modern hip hop and pop albums may include some filler, these classic albums distilled the artists’ sound into concise, hard-hitting collections.

Quality songwriting and performance can outweigh quantity in tracks. Though today’s industry favors longer albums, a truly inspired shorter release can still resonate powerfully.

Notable Extremely Long Albums

On the other end of the spectrum, some artists have tested listeners’ patience by releasing sprawling double, triple, or even quadruple albums. Here are some of the most famously lengthy albums in music history:

Album Artist Year Length # of Tracks
Solo Monk Thelonious Monk 1964 395:46 104
69 Love Songs The Magnetic Fields 1999 232:39 69
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway Genesis 1974 94:54 23
2 Mac DeMarco 2012 71:48 22
Triple Album Collection George Harrison 2010 209:05 37

These massive album undertakings can reveal an artist’s ambition and self-indulgence in equal measure. While some sprawling opuses are hailed as classics, others are critiqued as being in desperate need of an editor. Attempting an extremely long album can provide creative freedom but also risks losing cohesion and focus.


The 10-15 track, 40-60 minute album remains the standard for full length releases. However, streaming technology has removed length restrictions that once required albums to fit on physical media. Some artists continue to follow conventional length guidelines, while others have split albums into multiple parts or expanded into extra long territory.

An album’s ideal length ultimately comes down to serving the artist’s vision. Shorter albums benefit from greater focus, while longer albums allow artistic boldness. Creative passion and discipline remain the essential ingredients whatever the track count.

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