Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
While digital distribution and streaming are the predominant means of music discovery and consumption today, these platforms often lead interested listeners in search of something meatier than a single. The interest sparked by streaming platforms can result in eager new fans seeking longer-play formats like Extended Play records (EP) or Long Play records (LP).
At their best, EPs and LPs are more than just a collection of disparate songs. They represent an artistic statement, a coherent concept, a time capsule of who you are as an artist and person in that place in time in ways a single song cannot capture on its own.
Sounds good, but what’s the difference between an EP vs. album and which might be best for you to release?
The two main differences between an extended play vs. album
What differentiates an EP vs. album (LP) is pretty basic and comes down to two things:
- Number of songs
- Length of program
What might be a little more complex and worth addressing as you decide what to release include:
- Your reason for releasing a record
- How many songs you have ready
- Where you are in your music career
- What releases you already have in your catalog
Number of songs
The real thing that differentiates an EP vs. LP album is the number of songs included. You can find varying information online, but I’d argue 4–6 songs is the ideal length for an EP.
An LP, on the other hand, can range from 8 to 15 songs or more, and you can bring that number up to 30 if you’re releasing a double album.
Now, it should go without saying that there’s wiggle room here. If you’re a prog-jazz ensemble, three songs might make an EP, and if you’re a punk/pop band writing two-minute songs, you might go with more.
Length of program
Whatever the genre, the length of the program is directly connected to the number of songs, but the gist is an LP is a longer listen than an EP — which is akin to an extended single.
To use a food analogy, if an LP is the main course, an EP is an appetizer. An EP is going to give you more than a bite (single), but it’s lighter fare than a full entrée (LP).
EP vs. album: which one is better for you?
This is where things get a little more interesting, and for the most part, one or the other is never wrong. It comes down to your musical goals, intentions for the release, who you’re targeting, how this fits with your marketing strategy, and — this is super important — how many songs you have that are worth releasing.
When it comes to your budget, if you’re planning to make CDs — or vinyl records — the cost of production won’t be any different, so from a budget perspective, that’s a zero-sum consideration. Though, the economic CD in jackets is more likely appropriate for an EP release as opposed to an album, so you may save money there. But that’s not always the case, and my bands have released EPs and LPs in Digipaks. (If you’re deciding between a Digipak vs. jewel case, this blog post can help.).
Your budget is more of a factor when it comes to recording, mixing, and mastering your album, and even that is going to change relative to your situation.
Let’s say you’re a five-piece indie rock band with a good home studio set-up that will allow you to record basic tracks and backing vocals. You still may want to go to a professional studio to cut vocals in the A-room and get a professional mix, and when you’re in the recording studio, five songs are going to end up costing you less than 15.
Or, let’s say you’re a salsa band and want to cut the ensemble live in a studio and you’ve budgeted for two days of live sound recording. That might make your decision to release an EP: spend half a day getting your studio sound dialed in and then a day and a half cutting your tracks. Less time mixing a shorter number of songs means an EP could cost less than half of what you might need for an LP.
It’s not ideal to have your budget dictate what you release, but knowing what you need to budget for is good business, and you’ll obviously spend less time — and therefore less money — getting the songs together for an EP.
This goes hand in hand with how to make money with music, where you are in your music career, and what your music goals are. But, suffice it to say, a band that has just formed will likely be seeking a different audience than a band with a 10-year track record and a sizable mailing list. That said, with few exceptions, any studio album is going to be released with the intention of growing your listenership, and knowing who your specific audience is and their expectations can help you craft a release that appeals to them.
Your musical goals should drive all your music career decisions, including what type of release you want to consider.
Are you a new rap artist looking to put your first batch of original tracks on a release? An EP might be a good option to get you familiar with the recording/release process and give fans and potential fans a taste of what you’ve got. Are you an established rock band gigging regularly? Maybe you’re ready to release a new LP on CD and go for premium packaging to offer your fans a new high-end swag option.
Whatever your goal, the options you choose should be part of a strategic release plan that will likely include posting singles and videos up to the release of the record.
Of course, there’s always the, “I have always wanted to release a full-length album, so I’m going for it” goal. And that’s as good a reason as any to release a full-length album. Know what you’re trying to accomplish and let that lead your decision-making.
Why release an EP?
There are plenty of reasons why you might want to release an EP. As you know, singles are the most common release these days. Streaming platforms and downloads and playlists have fundamentally changed the way fans consume music and artists release new music. But, once you’ve caught the attention of a listener and they want to hear more, an EP is a great place to have them land.
Shifts in music consumption
EPs are excellent vehicles to entice a listener to engage — and by that I mean, give up some information like their name and email address. If your goal is to build your email list, one strategy may be to use singles as a means of attracting interest via playlists and other release options. You can then lead an interested person to your band website via a squeeze page where you offer them a free EP download in exchange for a name and email address.
While streaming and YouTube plays might not be the easiest way to make discernible income with music, it is where a massive percentage of music discovery takes place, and an EP could be a great way to either monetize the new connection (by offering an EP for sale) or use as leverage to get more information so you can add the new listener to your newsletter and gig announcement lists.
You’ve got the songs ready
I worked with a producer who insisted that for every four songs a band had written, they had one ready to record and release. That means, if you have 12 songs written, only three of them are ready for release. I always thought that was a bit extreme, though it’s a great rule of thumb and a reminder that you should be very choosy when deciding what to offer to your fans. Kill your darlings, as they say in the writing game, which is to say, be critical and only put your very best stuff out there for consumption.
That said, if you’ve got 12 songs written, you probably have an EP on your hands. Demo them all, pick the six that are really killing, and get to recording. Develop a release strategy and release four of them as singles — one a month — then release the EP with an additional two tracks to draw in everyone who you reached with your four-month campaign.
A mini concept album
An LP is always more than a collection of songs, it’s a statement about a particular place and time in a way that a single track or even an EP isn’t. There doesn’t need to be a thematic connection between the songs — though that can be a great asset to an album — but your 12-song LP recorded in 2023 is going to have a different flavor than the one you recorded in 2013, just by virtue of the changes in you and your bandmates.
A cohesive idea or theme might be easier to achieve in a shorter program. Or perhaps you decide to do a quick shot of six cover tunes that influenced you as a songwriter or band. Or explore another genre, or embark on a completely acoustic venture. There are many ways that an EP can draw out your creativity in ways an LP isn’t ideal for.
You might be wondering how to promote after song release. There are many ways to approach an LP or EP release, and one of them is to build toward the release of the major work by teasing out releases of singles and videos every month. This helps you build momentum, collect email names, amass content on your YouTube page, and consistently promote new material with a payoff at the end by way of a larger-scale promotion for the whole enchilada as an EP in a Digipak or Jewel Case.
Best-of outtakes by era
Another idea I’ve always liked is to craft a best-of or “favorites” EP from a series of LPs as a sampler. Let’s say you’re embarking on your fourth LP release, why not start promoting that by creating an EP in an Eco-Wallet that has two tracks from each of your previous releases? You can use that as incentive to join your mailing list or as a free gift with any hoodie purchased. Make it a live recording of tracks from previous music releases so even your diehard fans who own all your music will want it.
Start your journey with Disc Makers
Whatever album length you want to release — extended play, long play, vinyl record, mini album… you name it — Disc Makers has the package and service for you. Go to www.discmakers.com to explore our suite of musician services and products, or go right to our quoter to build your CD package online and get an instant quote.
Andre Calilhanna is a decent writer, drummer, and vocalist, as well as a terrible pianist and guitarist. He’s also a book editor and blog manager of the Disc Makers and BookBaby blogs. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.