The music industry is full of different terms that sound alien to most people. Terms such as “LP” or “EP” are often tossed around by recording artists and labels, but few people actually understand what they are. Today we will be examining what EPs are, as well as why they are important. So let’s dive right into it!
What is an EP?
You may have seen one of your favorite artists or singers release something known as an “EP” at some point. This is an acronym for “Extended Play”.
Unfortunately, the full version of this term is also likely to leave quite a few readers scratching their heads. So what exactly is an “extended play”, and why do artists release them?
If you view an artist’s discography as containing individual tracks called “singles” and large sets of tracks called “albums”, an “extended play” would be something in between. A simpler explanation would be that an EP is a mini-album.
EP vs LP
You may be wondering if there is a separate term that refers to albums in the manner that “EP” refers to a mini-album. The term you would be looking for is “LP” or “long play”. So what are the key differences between an EP and an LP?
As mentioned above, an EP is essentially a mini album. It typically consists of four to six tracks. This is in contrast to LPs which have a minimum of eight tracks. However, the line between an EP and an LP can be blurred depending on the total length of audio on the release.
Origin of EPs and LPs
“Extended Play” and “Long Play” are actually a shortened version of the terms “Extended Play Record” and “Long Play Record”. “Record” in this case refers to the vinyl discs onto which these releases were initially pressed. To understand EPs and LPs, we must first examine the history of record releases in the 1900s.
Early records in the 20th century were capable of holding only a few minutes of music. For example, the 12-inch soundtrack discs used in the now-antique Vitaphone motion picture sound system could hold just under five minutes of music per side. These discs were played at 78 rpm, but weren’t very useful for accompanying visual pieces longer than 11 minutes.
Such “records” underwent many changes over the years until Columbia Records developed and released phonograph records that were capable of holding 20 minutes of audio per side. Such records became standard in the music industry and are still released today.
The standard vinyl record can accommodate around 40 minutes of audio. However, this length can be increased if a low signal level is used during the pressing process. These 40 minutes amount to around a dozen tracks, assuming each one is between three and four minutes in length. This “LP” could accommodate a single album, making it the format-of-choice for album releases since the 1950s.
EPs were developed by RCA Victor to compete with Columbia’s LP. They were around 7 inches in diameter and were played at 45 rpm. This is in contrast to the 12 inch 33 ⅓ RPM LP discs.
EPs also featured narrower grooves and were capable of holding around 7.5 minutes of audio per side. That amounts to around 15 minutes of audio per disc. This meant the average EP could hold around four tracks.
Early EPs consisted of singles compilations or album samplers by famous artists. For example, RCA issued dozens of EPs for Elvis Presley’s music between 1956 and 1957. The format became very popular because it could be played on the standard record players that most people owned.
Do Artists Still Release EPs?
You may be wondering if artists still release EPs. The answer is yes! However, very few of these EPs are still pressed onto vinyl discs or other physical releases.
The music landscape has certainly changed in the digital era thanks to the advent of digital streaming. Bands or artists who release digital EPs usually do so for promotional reasons. They may put out a single or two followed by an EP consisting of four or five tracks. This is usually followed up by the release of a full album. However, it may not be necessary.
Some artists also release EPs once they have written and recorded a handful of tracks without planning to create more music. Creating an EP takes less effort than making a full album, so it is easy to see why many artists would gravitate towards these types of releases.
How to Make and Release the Perfect EP
Releasing your first EP can seem intimidating at first. However, the process becomes much easier once you understand the different steps involved. Some of the most crucial steps are outlined below.
- Create Your Music
The first step is to start creating demos and record your music. As mentioned earlier, most EPs consist of four to six tracks. It may help to create around eight or nine tracks and choose the best ones from the set for your EP. This helps you show off your best work to your audience, and gives them a good idea of your sound. You can always release the remaining tracks as singles or B-sides in the future.
Once the recording process is done, you should send your music to be professionally mixed or mastered. You can also share your tracks with friends and other musicians to get some quality feedback. If you are confident about the quality of your music, you can move onto the next step.
- Find the Right Distributor
Finding the right distributor is arguably just as important as composing the music in the first place. Consider spending some time learning about the various distributors who release music on behalf of small artists. You should pay careful attention to their pricing structure, the digital outlets they distribute on, the quality of their customer support, and their growth opportunities for artists.
- Focus on Branding
The next step is to carve out and establish your brand. This includes many considerations such as creating a suitable artist/band logo, determining the tone or style in which you wish to address your audience, and creating videos or art pieces to accompany your music.
Some artists prefer being friendly and open with their audience while others prefer maintaining a mysterious vibe that complements the feel of their music. Your brand will play a significant role in how people perceive your music. You should therefore spend some time understanding your artist/band identity and work accordingly.
- Set a Release Date
Next, you should set a release date for your EP. This release date should be manageable for both you and your distributor. Many artists set release dates that coincide with periods where there aren’t any other big media events. This helps their release stand out and get noticed.
- Release Your EP!
The final step is to release your EP. In most cases, the distributor will take care of this for you. However, you may need to handle promotion ahead of the release date. In some cases, it may also help to release a single or two off your album to generate hype for the eventual EP release.
EPs are a great way for artists and bands to promote themselves and grow their presence within the music scene. The aforementioned steps should be useful for anyone looking to release their first EP. So get out there and share your music with the world!
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.