While most music listeners are familiar with singles and full-length albums, the EP often remains a mystery. What is it? Why would an artist bother making one?
In music, an EP (Extended Play) is a set of recordings containing more tracks than a single, but not enough to be classified as a full-length album. They usually contain between 3-5 tracks and are most-commonly released by up-and-coming artists.
Keep reading for a full breakdown of the ever-popular release format, as well as a full FAQ.
What Does EP Stand For?
EP stands for Extended Play. The term was first coined by RCA Records in 1952, who introduced the product to compete with the LP (which had been introduced by Columbia Records in 1948). Featuring narrower grooves, the original Extended Play held up to 7.5 minutes of audio per side, yet could still be played on a regular 45RPM phonograph.
Throughout the 20th century, EPs primarily consisted of single and B-side compilations. Nowadays, they serve as a more concise form of the traditional LP (Long Play) record. Having briefly dropped out of popularity in the late 20th century, they’re becoming increasingly popular in the present-day music market for several key reasons (which I’ll outline later on in this article).
How Many Songs Do EPs Have?
The Recording Industry Association of America states that EPs must contain “at least three, but no more than five different songs” to qualify for gold & platinum certification.
After reviewing 20 EP’s from Radio X‘s ‘Best EPs Of All Time’ list, I found the average number of tracks per EP was 4.9.
From this data, it can be presumed that EPs generally contain around 5 tracks.
How Long Is An EP?
According to archived data from MusicBrainz.org, an average 21st century song clocks in at around 4 minutes, inferring that EPs have an average run time of around 20 minutes.
However, run time can vary drastically from genre to genre. Prog-rock EPs often have a run time of around an hour due to the genre’s affinity for lengthy songs. Conversely, it’s not uncommon for a punk rock EP to have a run time of around 10 minutes.
Why Do Artists Release EP’s?
Now that you know what an EP is, you’re probably wondering why an artist would want to release one. Here are a few common reasons:
- For promotional use: Booking agents, record labels, managers and potential fans will want to gain a broad overview of an artist before engaging them. However, they likely won’t have upwards of an hour to listen to an entire album. EPs allow an artist to showcase the breadth of their work in a very concise format.
- Financial restrictions: Recording music is expensive. With most artists being on a tight budget, a full-length album is often not a viable option. EPs allow artists to release a varied body of work without completely breaking the bank.
- Time restrictions: Following the inevitable decline of record sales at the turn of the 21st century, artists now rely on touring to form the bulk of their income. With most artists being on tour for 8-10 months of the year, EPs are much less time consuming to record and release than full-length albums.
- To overcome short attention spans: The rise of social media has led to an extremely over-saturated music market. Similarly, fans now expect to be engaged and entertained on a constant basis by influencers. In order to remain relevant and create a constant sense of hype, many artists now release EPs every few months rather than releasing a single album every year or two.
- To try out a new musical direction: Most artists will want to develop (or even completely change) their style over the course of their career. However, recording an entire album of songs in a drastically different style can be risky in case it isn’t well-received. An EP allows the artist to ‘test the waters’ with a new style before committing to a full-length album.
Due to the above reasons, EPs are most-commonly released by up-and-coming artists. With a very limited budget and a need to affirm their sound, the EP serves as the perfect release format for someone trying to establish themselves in the music industry.