The EP is an interesting record option with an interesting history. We have come to accept it as being halfway between a single and an album. But, is that all it is? So, let’s look a bit closer and answer some questions about EP albums.
What is an EP, what does EP stand for & EP meaning to the record collector? But where did it come from, and has the purpose of an EP album changed over the years?
A Product of The 50s
RCA introduced the EP in America in 1952. The first EP’s were released in the UK in 1954. They were used for a variety of reasons. Sometimes for a collection of singles by an artist, at other times, as a tester or sampler for a forthcoming album.
They were played at 45 rpm and were a seven-inch disc, the same as the single. However, because the grooves were narrower than on a single, you could fit just over seven minutes of music on each side.
RCA found some success in certain musical circles, but not all. They issued 28 Elvis Presley EPs between 1956 and 1967. Most of these were very successful. In some countries, they even created a separate EP chart. But, it wasn’t a format that caught on at the time in America, and they were not the most common of music formats.
In the UK and some other European countries, EPs were widely sold and were especially popular in the 60s. Furthermore, in Sweden, EPs were the most popular of all three record release formats – Single, EP, and LP. For a time, they achieved a market share of a remarkable 85% compared with the single and LP.
What Does EP Mean?
We keep using the term EP, so it is probably a good idea to define what EP means. EP stands for “Extended Play,” and it came into existence for more than just the usual reasons listed.
You will hear comments like, “The EP is used as a sampler for a forthcoming album by a known artist.” Perhaps a small compilation of previous singles but now located all in one place. Both are true, but in the early days of the EP, there was another driving force.
In the 60s…
When I bought the two I have listed, it was a cost issue. With a single, you only got two songs. If you couldn’t afford the album, or LP as it was known, there was no other choice. The EP solved that problem to a certain extent.
For a while, it became a competitor to an album on a purely cost basis. Four or sometimes five tracks were better than the two of the singles if you could not afford the album. In Europe, at the time, it was a popular option. Therefore, to say that it didn’t take off until the more modern times is not wholly accurate.
The Extended Play Option
Extended Play was often the term used when it was first produced, so EP was the natural abbreviation. It was, and still is, usually, four, five, or six tracks in length, depending on the length of each track.
It is the same size as the seven-inch single, plays at the same speed, 45 rpm, and is made from vinyl. You usually get a dust jacket with photos and information about the EP. So, the only real difference between an EP and a single is the number of tracks included.
What Is An EP, What Does EP Stand For & EP Meaning – Benefits in Today’s Music
Earlier, I mentioned costs and how it was often an option to buy an EP if you couldn’t afford the album. That is a consumer decision. But, there is another cost element of an EP to consider. What about those artists who want material out there but can’t afford to record a full album? Recording a full album can be a costly experience.
It is true that with advances in technology, some songs can be recorded without the need for a studio. By using a good DAW and a simple audio interface, you can record them virtually anywhere. But they still have to be EQ’d, mixed, and go through a final production if you want a quality product. That means a recording studio, and usually, a quite good one.
Releasing an EP is then a viable option. It allows the artist to get up to six tracks out but reduces the costs dramatically. For those who are just starting their careers, it becomes something to consider.
For The Artist
When I was a young musician, there were information-sharing problems. Some of you may have had a similar experience. People would say, “Oh, you need to do this,” but then didn’t tell you how. So, let’s just offer some basic advice and information on releasing an EP.
How Many Songs Should You Include?
According to Spotify and iTunes, a genuine EP has 4-6 tracks. How many you include is your choice, but it will depend on your style of music and what the EP is for. Normally, there are three reasons to record an EP. Let’s comment on each.
As An Introduction To A Record Company
It would be best to include a variety of different types of songs to demonstrate different styles.
You might be hoping to make some sales or downloads through a website. Or, you might choose to look at companies like RouteNote, Bandcamp, ReverbNation, or Soundcloud.
In that case, you should probably choose songs that highlight your performances and fit your profile, whether it be Pop, Rock, or whichever genre.
As A Giveaway
If you are just giving an EP away as a promotion, then don’t include too many tracks. However, they do need enough tracks to allow people to form an opinion.
EP Track Lengths
This will depend on your style of music. Progressive rock tracks tend to be longer, but if you are trying to provide a taster, include as many as possible. That will mean the average track length for an EP is about three minutes or slightly less. Although, remember that iTunes and Spotify will only classify it as an EP if it is less than 30 minutes of total track time.
If you are doing all the promotion and initial marketing yourself, here are some thoughts on the best ways to release an EP.
- Set a date and build a release plan including everything you want to achieve before the date.
- Get the EP on as many of the available online channels as you can.
- Very important – make sure the metadata is accurate. If it isn’t, any potential royalties might not get paid.
- Announcements on all your social media platforms, also using friends and their contacts.
- A release function or party where you invite people to socialize while listening to the music.
- Make sure your listeners know what they are getting by including the label EP in the title.
First visual impressions are important. It may be that people listen to the music, only if the EP cover is attractive as well as interesting. Using someone to help come up with artwork could be a good idea. If you want some ideas for EP cover art, check out our thoughts on the Best Album Covers of All Time.
It becomes even more important if you are creating physical copies as well as downloads. The cover should include contact details, and you might want to include what is known as a “Call To Action” or CTA. This is just a way of getting those who listen or make contact to do something. It could be just to ‘like‘ a track on YouTube. Or, you could be asking them to visit a merchandising page on your website.
The purpose is to try and visibly increase your fan base. That could be just by adding them to a mailing list. It is a sad truth, I am afraid, that some people will not even listen to a track, however good it is, if it hasn’t got enough “likes.”
Why Have I Included This Information?
Since the 60s, the EP has changed. At one time, it was just a record you bought, as I did, halfway between an album and a single. But now, its emphasis has changed. It is not just a consumer product; it is something you can use. A marketing and promotional tool.
Part of the reason for that is the advancements in technology. Not needing to use so much expensive studio time has made it possible for most people to create an EP of their music. And there are plenty of places to market what you do.
There Have Been Some Interesting Changes
Despite the EP losing a bit of favor during the 70s and 80s, some changes evolved. The EP became less standardized.
- The standard 7-inch vinyl disc was expanded to include ten-inch and twelve-inch options. Some ran at 45 rpm and others at 33.
- Color discs became available.
- Picture disks were produced.
All of those added to the individuality the artist could create. Also, you can buy some artists’ material that has two EPs as part of the same package. That effectively makes it an EP Double Disc.
Interested in Recording and Releasing Music?
If so, check out our thoughts on the Best Portable Audio Recorders, the Best Multitrack Recorder, the Best Audio Interface, the Best USB Audio Interfaces, and the Best iPad Audio Interfaces you can buy in 2023.
Also, have a look at our reviews of the Best Studio Headphones For Home Recording, the Best Audio Mixers, the Best Desktop DAC/Amp, the Best Microphones For Recording Vocals, the Best Microphones For Recording Electric Guitar, and the Best XLR Microphones currently on the market.
What Is An EP, What Does EP Stand For & EP Meaning – Final Thoughts
Time has certainly moved on, and technology has advanced the effect and value of the EP. Some music we just accept for what it is without even realizing or remembering it was an EP release at first. A good example of that is the Magical Mystery Tour EP by The Beatles from 1967.
In my view, the EP always had a place in the music world. And, as creative people find new ways to use an EP album, it will only become more important.
Until next time, happy listening.