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.
What Is an EP?
So, what is an EP? EPs are a type of album release that tends to be shorter than full-length albums but longer than singles. For something so important, there is often much confusion over what exactly constitutes an EP. Why can an artist not just release music and be done with it? Why is there such a need for precise labels for formats?
In a sense, an EP is essentially a mini album, coming in at a considerably shorter length than a full-length album. And yet, if we look back a few decades to, say, the 60s, we are in a time where the average album was not much more than half an hour long. Precisely the length that many people believe an EP can be.
For this reason, EPs are even referred to as ‘EP albums.’ Literally, the abbreviation ‘EP’ stands for Extended Play record. It comes from a time when there was not much of a space between the short single and the Long Playing album.
To release an EP was, thus, to strike a liminal space in the middle, to release a vinyl record that is worthy of note but perhaps not as grand a statement as a full album. Many artists use EP releases as a vital forum in which to experiment and feel their way through to their next grander statement.
The band My Bloody Valentine, for example, released a number of EPs in the late 80s and early 90s. This considerably bridged the gap between their earlier material and their magnum opus Loveless. Now, there is a compilation that brings all of these releases together in one place. But at the time, fans would have been putting all the pieces together themselves and wondering where it would go next.
Why Release an EP?
What tends to confound some people is the liminal space that an EP occupies. If the EP is such an in-between medium, then why release one in the first place? Surely it is better to preserve your energy for releasing one of those larger statements we spoke of just now, right?
Well, for some of the reasons stated above, artists still choose to release EPs. Yes, even despite the fact that the vinyl record is no longer around to act as a barometer and shape around which to structure the length of releases, this liminal medium persists.
EPs can be good for financial reasons. Being inherently shorter and usually featuring fewer tracks than full album releases. There is less expenditure to account for overall. This allows an artist to spend more time thinking about the music and less time on the finances.
Besides being a perfect way to show fans what a band is working on, an EP is an apt way to do this without showing too many of its cards straight away. This is a particularly useful tool for emerging artists who do not want their fans to see all of their tracks straight away.
In these instances, such an artist will want to drum up interest and entertain a following while also retaining a level of an enigma. All while creating a release that they are proud of. No pressure, then!
Who Releases EPs?
So now that we know what is an EP, let’s focus on who releases them. 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 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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
History of the EP
We have covered pretty much every aspect of what is an EP. It is now time to focus a bit on its history. Until twenty or so years ago, the EP was little more than a vehicle for unsigned artists to prove themselves to a fresh listening public. They were, of course, used by signed artists too. Though this was far more a vehicle for experimentation or to sate an audience between the release of longer-form projects.
Many musicians do still follow this practice and use the EP format in much the same way. Though there are plenty of other uses and opportunities with an EP today. These other uses would not have been obvious to an older audience back in the day.
Now, artists can provide music in more regular workflows. Offering music in smaller doses so that an artist can analyze their audience’s response in greater detail. In this way, an artist can far more easily sell their soul and adjust their sound or marketing strategy over time. Depending, of course, on the audience’s response.
Still, the EP has always been a great way for an artist to exhibit their development for the world to see. Especially useful if this artist has a worldwide listener base that can’t otherwise see them perform. Indeed, many artists will develop their acts on the road. And if some of their fans live in places that they are not touring, then they are hardly going to see them develop in the same way.
Here, an artist can show the world where they are heading without giving too much away.
EP vs LP
Despite the relative fluidity of the EP and the LP, there is still a concrete idea of what is an EP and an LP, right?
The EP was once a shorter form of an LP. It acted as a bridge between larger releases. It was a marketing tool that allowed artists to deliberate on their sound while not letting fans down.
The LP was once thought of as the superior format. Operating as the larger release that the EP was building hype for. Rather than being a marketing tool, the LP was the thing that the marketing was aimed towards. This grand artistic statement was supposedly intended as part of the artist’s canon and overall cultural legacy.
Nowadays, though, the lines are a little more blurred. Interestingly, the LP and EP have both gotten considerably longer in their bounds since the definitions above. In the age of vinyl vs digital recording and release of music, the LP is essentially infinite. Artists like Autechre have shown that music can be just about anything you think it can be. LP’s much the same, releasing 8-hour gargantuan epics of unlistenable soundscapes.
They are both traditionally played at different speeds, though, as dictated by the turntable pitch control. There are some pretty big differences between 33 vs 45 vinyl, after all.
An EP, too, has morphed into something else. Once upon a time, LPs would have been around half an hour long. There was, in fact, a time when anything longer was seen as a bit decadent. Nowadays, an EP can be this long, and no one will really bat an eyelid. Today, an EP will often be measured more by the number of tracks than its length
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.