What Is an EP: How Is It Different From a Single and LP Album in Music?

Published Categorized as Vinyl 101

What is an EP? What is an LP? What exactly makes them so different anyway? Why do people make such a big fuss out of it?

All this and more today as we explore what an EP is and what it means for an artist to release one in the 21st century. We will also delve into how the lines between the EP and the LP have become more and more blurred.

A person looking through vinyl records.

What is an EP?

An extended play (EP) occupies a unique place in the world of music formats. Sitting between a single and a full-length album, EPs give artists more room to showcase their sound while keeping things concise.

So what exactly constitutes an EP? There’s no universally accepted definition, but most consider an EP to be a recording with more tracks than a single (typically only 1-2 songs) but less than a full album. Usually an EP contains 3-7 tracks and has a runtime of 15-40 minutes.

EPs go by other names too – you may see them referred to as mini albums or maxi singles. But they all refer to the same thing – a condensed sampling of an artist’s material, longer than a single but shorter than an LP (long play).

  • EP = extended play
  • Typically 3-7 songs/15-40 minutes
  • Longer than a single, shorter than an album
  • Also called a mini album or maxi single

Some key differences compared to other formats:

  • Singles – Very short, often just contains a song or two intended for radio play
  • Albums – Much longer, usually at least 8 tracks and 30+ minutes running time
  • Mixtapes – Often remixes, live recordings, collaborations, or recordings not officially released by an artist’s label

So in summary, an EP gives an artist more room to showcase their talents and evolve their sound compared to a single, while not requiring an entire album’s worth of polished content. It allows musicians, especially emerging ones, greater freedom to experiment creatively.

Origins and History of EPs

The origins of EPs can be traced back to the 1950s, when seven-inch 45 rpm vinyl records became widely popular. Musicians realized there was a middle ground between singles and full length albums. EPs on vinyl could feature around 3-5 tracks, fitting nicely on the common seven-inch format.

For new and rising bands, EPs presented the perfect vehicle to showcase their talents without committing to a high stakes debut album. They gave artists more real estate to capture different facets of their sound. Fans appreciated being able to sample several new songs in an affordable package compared to a full LP.

Later on, the emergence of CD technology in the 80s/90s allowed even more room for EPs to flourish with extra capacity. However, the EP format transcended any one medium. Across vinyl, CDs, and now digital streaming, these “mini albums” have endured over time because they occupy a unique space for creative expression.

4 By 4 the Beatles 4 Song Ep on 7" Record

Typical Features of an EP

So what are the typical hallmarks of an EP when it comes to length, number of tracks, and musical content? While there are always exceptions in music, most EPs share the following characteristics:

Common length, number of tracks, content

An EP generally contains more songs than a single, but less than a full album. Usually an EP will have 3-7 tracks and run between 15-40 minutes in length. This provides enough room for an artist to showcase more dimensions to their sound compared to a lone single song. But it avoids stretching ideas too thin as can happen with a bloated 60+ minute album.

The typical EP length strikes a productive balance – not too short yet not overlong. This allows artists to gift fans a batch of new tunes which digs deeper into who they are as songwriters. EPs sit in a musical sweet spot between singles and albums.

Who Releases EPs?

From rising independents to major label veterans, all types of musical artists leverage EPs as part of their artistic process these days. There is a real trend towards shorter releases like the EP, and this is for many reasons. Part of it has to do with other trends in music and society in general.

There is, for example, an incredibly prevalent waning of attention that spans throughout western society. Where entertainment can offer more and more instant gratification, our attention spans and willingness to engage with, say, a piece of art for an extended period of time are often diminished.

Artists have taken note of this and adapted accordingly. The most interesting example that comes to mind is that of Earl Sweatshirt. His last two albums have been about half the length of his debut album. They are technically shorter than an EP and yet are technically albums because of the number of tracks.


This brings to our attention the concept of the album. Surely an album is whatever the artist believes it to be so, right? Mac Demarco once released a so-called ‘mini-album’ called Another One. This was really just an EP, and yet because he labeled it so, listeners treated it so.

This surely suggests that the labels are supposed to communicate intention rather than literal and quantifiable bounds.

Another One

Another interesting example that seems to melt the boundaries somewhat is Lil Ugly Mane‘s Uneven Compromise. He is infamous for tearing genre boundaries to shreds, and this EP is no exception.

This is an EP by name, sure, and the length of around 12 minutes suggests it too. Yet, this is just one track. Sure, this track consists of several separate sections that come together to create a cohesive whole. But they are all contained in one song. If we are to follow the literal definitions, then this is a single, right?

Third Side of Tape

The same goes for the Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s EP Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada consists of two tracks that are each ten minutes long. Is this a double single, or what?

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The types of musical artists who put out EPs

For emerging acts, EPs often provide the first milestone release on the road to album success. Without enough polished material yet for a full length, dropping an EP is a strategic choice:

  • Gives fans a sample while the musician continues perfecting their craft
  • Allows testing different styles/sounds without overcommitting
  • Functions as an accessible calling card for labels and press

However, even long established artists utilize EPs as creative outlets between time-intensive album cycle.

Additionally, the modern double EP format (effectively a full album split in half) grants musicians flexibility to unveil material in phases. Overall, you’ll find indie phenoms, major label royalty, and everything in between choosing to package music as EPs. Their digestible scale fits nicely with streaming consumption habits these days as well.

Popularity and use of EPs today

For emerging musicians, EPs provide an essential first step before committing to intensive album campaigns. Dropping an EP generates buzz and allows artists to test fan interest. Shortform releases also match contemporary streaming behaviors, where playlists trump full albums.

However, even in album-focused genres like hip hop and rock, established stars bridge the gap between LPs by unveiling EPs. These hold hungry fans over with fresh collaborative tracks or experiments beyond an artist’s signature sound. Musicians can then gauge reactions to new styles for upcoming albums.

Artists, both indie and mainstream, embrace EPs’ flexibility – not only as career stepping stones but to continually engage fickle streaming audiences. Their digestible format suits the industry’s lower barriers to releasing perpetually “new” content. EPs aren’t going anywhere in music.

EP vs LP

While EPs and LPs both deliver new music to fans, they diverge when it comes to length, commitment level, and role in an artist’s catalog. So how do EPs differ from their full album counterparts?

How are EPs different from full-length albums

The key contrast lies in scope. Full length LPs usually contain 8+ tracks and run 30-60+ minutes, representing a major musical statement. LPs demand months of writing, rehearsals, studio time, marketing budgets, and touring plans. They crystallize an artist’s signature sound or evolution.

Meanwhile, EPs provide more flexibility:

  • Require less time/money to create
  • Typically showcase 3-7 songs
  • Allow experimentation beyond defined sound
  • Offer lower stakes to gauge fan interest
  • Enable faster release cycle between LPs

So while LPs are marathon endeavors to express a musical vision, EPs are more like short sprints – condensing effort into digestible servings fans crave between the major releases they ultimately judge careers by. Both formats allow artists to share their creativity.

Benefits of an EP vs. album

While albums represent a milestone for any musician, shorter EPs confer unique advantages as well – especially for emerging artists. What are some key differences for musicians releasing EPs vs full LPs?

Advantages for musicians releasing shorter EPs

For indie artists lacking major label budgets, recording a polished 3-7 song EP proves more feasible than producing an entire 12 track album. Other benefits:

  • Quicker to create – Requires less studio time/money
  • Faster release cycle – Get music out without prolonged creation/promotion
  • Gauges fan interest – Test ideas and sounds on niche audience
  • Builds album anticipation – Use EP to tease more material later

Established artists also leverage EPs:

  • Showcase experiments – Loosen reins to expand their sound
  • Collaborate casually – Try on guest artists or producers
  • Touring breather – Satisfy fans between exhausting album cycles

So while albums represent a complete package and artistic identity, EPs enable flexibility for musicians navigating long careers. Their middle ground length suits many strategies.

5 Uses for an EP

Despite all this play with the format, there are a few concrete reasons an artist might opt to use the EP today. Many of which helpfully summarize all that we have discussed so far.

1. Release Schedule

Releasing EPs is one of the most effective ways to attract new listeners while also satisfying the listeners that an artist already has. Having a reliable release schedule is one of the key ways an artist might consistently engage with a new audience. While still keeping their old fanbase happy.

Here, as an artist, you can sate your enthusiastic fans with music that might not have fit on other releases. Or music that you do not deem good enough for release elsewhere. EPs are also cheaper to produce. This means that you can keep your fans interested while you are preparing something bigger or preparing to go on a big tour to promote it.

2. Contractual Obligations

One of the more infamous examples in the world of popular music is for an artist to use an EP as a way to fulfill contractual obligations. Let’s say an artist has signed a deal with their label to release three albums. But for whatever reason, things are not working out. Then, said artist can release an EP to fulfill their contract.

This is a great way to sidestep the obligations and necessities of a contract by releasing something that is technically an album. While not having to craft an entire release.

This can mean new music. But, if an artist is particularly crafty, they can also release a compilation of tracks that are already out there. Either from singles or otherwise.

3. Pre-Studio Hype

The culture around these kinds of releases has become more and more prevalent today. Especially where rappers like to release work and sate their fans. With this new mixtape culture, an artist can then release a more or less full-length release. While still keeping it separate from their overall canon.

In this way, an artist can keep up a relatively successful run of albums while also maintaining artistic expression. Fans will be satisfied that their favorite artists are releasing new music. Also, the western cultural machine will be satisfied that this artist maintains a consistent output. This way, an artist can keep their reputation afloat.

In an age where the lines between mixtape and album are blurred, there are even more opportunities to blur the lines between mediums.

In this way, an artist can also flex their creative muscles while gauging just what their fanbase is most receptive to. This is especially useful if this artist is seeking the backing of a major label and has to prove something to them to get their support. Even if the artist is more independent, this can save money in the long term for them.

4. Transition

Alternatively, an EP can be very useful as a precursor to an album. Preparing some listeners for the overall theme and sound palette that they are about to experience on a longer release.

An EP is a way to vent artistic ideas without the pressure of these releases necessarily being considered part of the canon. But it can also be used as an artistic statement too.

Creating a rich and varied discography album by album can be difficult for the accruing of a fanbase. Especially if you are an artist that prefers to write more thematic material.

Animal Collective are incredibly good at this, though instead of using the EP form to prepare the listener for the album ahead, they use it to act as more of a debrief after an album.

So, when they released their pop-infused magnum opus Merriweather Post Pavilion, they also released a companion EP called Fall Be Kind. This EP bears many similarities to the kind of sounds and themes represented in the latter. In this way, an artist can release music made around the same time as a bigger release that did not quite make the cut.

5. B-Sides

Of course, the spare tracks an artist has lying around might not fit a release so well. This might actually be the reason that they were not included in the first place. One of the more difficult parts about being an artist is knowing what and what not to show your audience.

Sure, a piece of music might sound good to an artist. But if it were collated in the same release as a wildly different piece of music, then it might make less sense. While it is difficult to make these kinds of decisions, they can benefit the cohesiveness of a release overall. This is something both critics and fans will be paying attention to, whether consciously or instinctively.

In these instances, an artist would rather spare the listener by streamlining a release and saving the spares for a separate EP.

Lil Ugly Mane has been known to do a similar thing. Though granted with full-length albums that run up to 3 hours in length instead. Such releases feature three-hour-long tracks. Each features a whole host of other tracks within that are not named or discerned.

Final Tones

So, there you have it! Hopefully, you are feeling more knowledgeable about what is an EP album in music, especially when compared to its brethren, the LP. It is our hope that you are now able to see just how important the EP has always been. But especially how important it is in the 21st century.

In an age of dwindling attention spans and instant gratification, it is more and more the case that the EP is the missing link between the album and single in keeping listeners listening and fans buying. This shorter form, while certainly less than a full-length album, still offers so much room for an artist to breathe and flex their creative muscles.

FAQs What Is an EP?

What is an EP vs an album?

An EP is technically an album in that it is a longer-form release intended to be heard by a listening public. The real distinction lies between the EP and the LP. An EP tends to mark the gap between larger releases with a more cohesive and grand artistic statement. An LP, on the other hand, is the larger release that promises this grander statement.

What does an EP mean?

EP stands for Extended Play. It is a bit of an antiquated term that attempts to split longer-form releases like an LP from these kinds of releases that were traditionally used for promotional purposes. The lines are a little more blurred nowadays. EPs have a far more authoritative position in the popular cultural landscape. Rather than simply being in-between statements between larger releases, EPs are now considered more important critically.

What does Spotify consider an EP?

By their own definitions, an EP must meet one of the following requirements: The release has a total of one to three (1-3) tracks, one or more of the tracks is/are 10 minutes or longer, and the entire release is less than 30 minutes. These seem like pretty harsh guidelines. But they speak greatly to the liminal nature of the EP.

By Robert Halvari

My name is Robert Halvari - audio engineer and a total audiophile. I love vinyl because it has that natural character which brings music to life. I've been using and testing vinyl record players for around 15 years and I'm sharing my love and knowledge of vinyl by publishing all I know at Notes On Vinyl

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