I often like to put things in a lot of separate categories (music for example gets broken down into many sub-sub-sub-genres in my mind) and the actual releases that artists put out are no different.
Some people just call everything a release, some people have a few categories such as ‘single’ ‘album’ and ‘compilation’ and some people like me have a whole host of different subdivisions under which they should be filed.
The following is a breakdown of all the different subdivisions of audio releases that a musical artists can put out:
This is a recording made before the band was famous, it was independently financed by the band’s own personal money and was often recorded in haste or by the artists themselves with ‘prosumer’ equipment. Most examples feature a small number of songs and artwork made by the band themselves. Few copies are made and they are primarily given away to get gigs or sold cheaply at gigs with low attendance.
Sometimes the tracks are live, sometimes they are cover songs, sometimes they are studio recorded originals and sometimes they are a mixture of all.
Notable Examples: Metallica – No Life Till Leather, Death –Death By Metal, Thorns – Tronderton, Emperor – Wrath Of The Tyrant, Marilyn Manson – Refrigerator, Hellhammer – Death Fiend
This is a recording made by the band before they signed a record deal with a reputable label, but which otherwise bears all the hallmarks of a full-length studio album. The band treats this as a proper album and charges for it accordingly, often on an independently arranged tour. They often have professionally designed artwork and duplicated in higher quantity than a demo. These albums are often shopped around to record labels and are often reissued by record companies after the band become famous.
Notable Examples: Fear Factory – Concerete, Slipknot – Mate.Feed.Kill.Repeat, Killswitch Engage – Killswitch Engage, Chimaira – This Present Darkness, Parkway Drive – Don’t Close Your Eyes, Mudvayne – Kill I Oughta, American Headcharge – Trepination,
This is an album that primarily consists of original material (with some exceptions allowed, but only up to a point) recorded while the band have a recording contract (with some exceptions allowed, but only up to a point) in a studio that non-signed bands wouldn’t use and with a producer who non-signed bands wouldn’t use (with some exceptions allowed, but only up to a point) that is sold in shops and reputable websites (with some exceptions allowed, but only up to a point) and which the band consider cannon in their discography. The entire piece of work is considered one piece, as opposed to a compilation of individual works. It is usually at least 30 Minutes long, and often has more than two tracks unless the band are deliberately artistic and subversive.
Notable Examples: Metallica – Master Of Puppets, Slayer – Reign In Blood, Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon, Iron Maiden – Number Of The Beast, AC/DC – Back In Black, Jethro Tull – Aqualung
Proper Studio EP
EP originally meant an extended-play single, however the medium evolved and another type of EP began to be made. This is a recording with exactly the same rules and holistic feel as a studio album but with the exception that the duration or number of tracks is shorter/fewer than the band would normally have on a release which they consider a canonical studio album
Notable Examples: Cradle Of Filth – Vempire, Arctic Monkeys – Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys, Amplifier – Fractal EP, Bring Me The Horizon – This Is What The Edge Of Your Seat Was Made For, Fu Manchu – Godzilla, Kreator – Flag Of Hate,
This is closer in feel to the original feel of an EP. It is often one single and a bunch of unconnected tracks which are not to be considered one holistic piece of work, but rather they are long single marketed on the strength of one track which is considered more important. Often they are a compilation of a single and all the b-sides that were available on a selection of different versions of the single.
Notable Examples: Dirty Pretty Things – Deadwood EP, The Libertines – I Get Along EP,
This is a release with (usually) one track which is considered important or the focus of the release (except in the rare occasion of the ‘double-a-side-single’) and rarely contain more than four tracks in total.
Notable Examples: Jimi Hendrix – Fire, Metallica – Enter Sandman, Deep Purple – Smoke On The Water, Anthrax & Public Enemy – Bring The Noise, Europe – The Final Countdown, Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
This is a rare occurrence in which a band write a holistic body of work that would be considered a studio album in every way if not for the fact that it was actually recorded live.
Notable Examples: MC5 – Kick Out The Jams, Judas Priest – Rocka Rolla, King Crimson – Starles And Bible Black *(half) ELP – Pictures At An Exhibition, Deep Purple – Concerto For Group And Orchestra,
These albums were usually recorded at a concert rather than in a recording studio, usually in front of an audience and usually in one take.
Sometimes, the tracks were selected from several different concerts in one tour and sometimes the musicians overdub the recordings after the concert to improve sound quality.
Notable Examples: Kiss – Alive, The Who – Live At Leeds, Thin Lizzy – Live And Dangerous, Deep Purple – Made In Japan, Iron Maiden – Live After Death, Pantera – 101 Proof, Marilyn Manson – The Last Tour On Earth, Motorhead – No Sleep To Hammersmith, AC/DC – If You Want Blood You’ve Got It, Rush – All The Worlds A Stage, Jimi Hendrix – Live At The Fillmore East, The Allman Brothers – Live At The Fillmore East,
Live Sessions / Sessions-Compilation Album
These Live Albums were recorded for an other companies’ radio or television programmes rather than at a concert for the band’s fans.
Notable Examples: Napalm Death – The John Peel Sessions, Thin Lizzy – Peel Sessions, Led Zeppelin – The BBC Sessions, Jimi Hendrix – The BBC Sessions, Cream – The BBC Sessions, Queen – At The BBC, Nirvana – MTV Unplugged, Kiss – MTV Unplugged, Gentle Giant – Live On The King Biscuit Flower Hour, Deep Purple – Live On The King Biscuit Flower Hour,
B Sides/Rarities Album
Although the material was often recorded in the studio and is often comprised mostly of original compositions, these albums are not considered canonical studio albums and are thought of more as a compilation album.
Often these albums also contain live tracks, demos and remixes in addition to studio B Sides and previously unreleased studio album quality tracks. Sometimes they are available in EP length and sometimes they are included as a bonus disc on a greatest hits or live album.
Anthrax – Attack Of The Killer Bs, Coal Chamber – Giving The Devil His Due, Fear Factory – Hatefiles, Deftones – B Sides & Rareties, Disturbed – The Lost Children, Green Day – Shenanigans, Jethro Tull – Nightcap, Powerman 5000 – The Good The Bad The Ugly, Metallca – Beyond Magnetic EP
Although the material was recorded in the studio, a covers album is a type of album in and of itself and is these albums are not considered canonical studio albums.
Notable Examples: Guns N Roses – The Spaghetti Incident, Metallica – Garage Inc, Hatebreed – For The Lions, Overkill – Coverkill, Ozzy Osbourne – Undercover, Powerman 5000 – Copies Clones And Replicants,
This is essentially a covers album but the artist covers songs that they themselves have written, some years after they were originally made.
Notable Examples: Testament – First Strike Still Deadly, Exodus – Let There Be Blood, Kiss – Jigoku-Retsuden, Anthrax – The Greater Of Two Evils, Sick Of It All – Non Stop
This is sometimes a mixture between a studio album and a remake album, sometimes it is a live album and sometimes it is a compilation of similar sounding tracks. Normally it is an album where all the tracks are stripped down and feature acoustic instruments but it is usually not considered a canonical studio album (although there are exceptions.)
Notable Examples: Lynyrd Skynyrd – The Last Rebel*, Godsmack – The Other Side, Nick Oliveri – Death Acoustic, Sevendust – Southside Double Wide Live, Jethro Tull – The Best Of Acoustic, Yes – Yes Acoustic,
This is a collection of remixes, often that take the original tracks and manipulate them into another form, such as becoming a hip-hop or dance music song.
Notable Examples: Limp Bizkit – New Old Songs, Fear Factory – Remanufacture, Nine Inch Nails – Further Down The Spiral, Linkin Park – Reanimation, Bring Me The Horizon – Cut Up,
Greatest Hits Album
This is a compilation of primarily the band’s most famous tracks. Often the band do not have a say in whether or not these compilations get released and what they contain. Sometimes they are available at EP length as well as album length.
Notable Examples: Dio – Diamonds The Best Of Dio, Black Sabbath – We Sold Our Souls For Rock And Roll, Queen – Greatest Hits, Ozzy Osbourne – The Essential Ozzy Osbourne, Deep Purple – Deepest Purple, Pantera – Reinventing Hell The Best Of Pantera, Kiss – Greatest Kiss
This is a compilation that is longer than usual and is usually sold within a large box.
Notable Examples: Megadeth – Warchest, Slayer – Soundtrack To The Apocalypse, Nirvana – The Single Collection,
This is a release where part of the album is taken up by a different band. It can be a single, EP or album. It is usually entitled ‘Split’ with the two band’s names separated by a forward slash.
So, what I mean by canonical studio album is an album that the band or most fans would consider to be one of their main albums, with no caveat.
For example, Pantera’s first canonical studio album is Cowboys From Hell even though it is their fifth album overall and Fear Factory’s Obsolete is their third canonical album even though they have demo albums and remix albums as well.