This is an essay.
It contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. This page is not an encyclopedia article, nor is it one of Wikipedia's policies or guidelines, as it has not been thoroughly vetted by the community. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.
Traditionally, promotional singles and official singles have fundamental differences i.e. promotional singles are distributed for free, while singles are distributed commercially. In the digital/streaming age, this distinction has blurred. This essay attempts to clarify generally established norms regarding the classification of singles and promotional singles on Wikipedia. While it may be useful for the digital/streaming age, not all of the following factors may apply to the music industry or song articles on Wikipedia based in the physical era.
Any of the following factors suggest a song is a single:
- The song was referred to as a single by the record label releasing it.
- The song was serviced to radio stations with an official add date (e.g., cited from All Access for the United States; EarOne for Italy).[a]
- The song was referred to as a single by an authoritative, music-oriented media outlet (e.g., Billboard, Official Charts Company).[b]
- The song was released commercially independent of an album (this can be nuanced; see differentiating singles vs. promotional singles below).
The following factors do not suggest a song is a single:
- The song was referred to as a single by a random media outlet.[b]
- The song was marketed with a music or lyric video.[c]
- The song was played[d] on radio stations or added to a radio station's playlist at their discretion.[a]
- The song appeared on a music chart or is certified by an agency.
- The song has "single" next to its title on digital services (e.g., iTunes, Spotify or Tidal), as "single" is present next to all independent releases, official or not.
The following factors do not impact the legitimacy of a single:
- The song was only released in one territory/to one radio format.[e]
While promotional singles are the exception and uncommon, the following factors may help differentiate them from regular singles:
- A record label may explicitly refer to a song as a promotional single or distinguish it from a regular single.[f]
- A song may be referred to as a promotional single by an authoritative, music-oriented media outlet.
- If a song is released in the form of dance remixes independent of an album, it is usually considered a promotional single (e.g., "Free Woman"; "Consideration").
- A promotional single may not be released commercially (e.g., distributed for free as a digital download; a CD with "promo only" on the cover).
- A promotional single may only receive a limited release (e.g., for streaming or digital download only; no physical release or radio add date).
- A promotional single may be distributed in a unique way (e.g., "Superstar").
- A promotional single may use the same cover art as the album it is featured on.
- A promotional single may not receive the same amount of attention from an artist as a regular single.
Needs more discussion/in dispute
- Status of The Music Network, an Australian magazine: songs listed on its "Singles to Radio" page are considered at least promotional singles, though other editors/articles give it more weight and consider songs listed there as regular singles. Heartfox emailed them in February 2021 and they stated "Singles to Radio is a chart put together by the editorial team based on tracks that are officially serviced to radio each week."
- Songs with radio airplay but no official add dates do not qualify as singles. Song playlists on radio websites e.g. BBC or Capital FM are not proof of single releases, since they can add songs to their playlists without record labels officially endorsing them. A record label determines what receives an official release, not a radio station. As these are not official "releases", they should not be added to "release history" sections.
- Media publications such as Billboard and Official Charts Company are reliable for single releases because they monitor charts and have detailed reports in the music industry of the U.S. and U.K., respectively. A random outlet which simply refers to a song as a "single" does not automatically make it so; a higher-quality source is required. However, even publications such as Rolling Stone or NME, while offering reputable music reviews, are not necessarily reliable for classifying a song as a single or not. They should not be the only source cited when classifying a song as a single.
- Every song on album could receive a music video; this does not mean all are singles. A music video is a promotional tool, not a release format.
- Note that this says "played", not "pushed".
- An example is the song "Exile" by Taylor Swift featuring Bon Iver. The song was only released to US adult album alternative radio, and qualifies as a single, with a radio add date reported by All Access.
- An example of this is the song "GTFO" by Mariah Carey, which was refered to as "promotional" by Epic Records.