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What is an EP and Is It the Best Choice for Emerging Artists?

What is an EP and Is It the Best Choice for Emerging Artists?
What is an EP?

When you’re an emerging artist preparing to share your music with the world for the first time, one of the things you’ll have to think about is format. Should you release a single, an EP, an LP, or a mixtape? What’s the right choice for your unique needs and goals? While it might be tempting to go full out and release a full album, or LP, if you’re just starting out in the business, that might be out of your budget and a risky move. 

There is a reason why most newcomer artists, and even established artists, choose to release an EP to test the waters and create buzz around a potential full-length release. If this is the first official release of your career, it can be nerve racking, not knowing if the audience is going to respond to your music the way you expect or want them to. But this is precisely why going for an EP release might be the most cost-effective, low-risk option for you. But what exactly is an EP, and why should it be your top option?  

The background: what is an EP?

EP basically stands for ‘extended play,’ but don’t let this name fool you. An EP is actually shorter than an LP, which is a full-length album; it’s more like a mini-album, but it’s called ‘extended’ because it’s longer than a single. Still confused? 

RCA Victor developed the first EPs back in 1952, in an effort to outshine their competitor Columbia, which pioneered the popular LP format. RCA came up with a smaller, 7-inch record played at 45 rpm with just 7.5 minutes of audio per side. This new format became instantly popular, because it allowed artists to release singles, B-tracks, rarities, covers, and more between LP launches. This allowed them to keep their fans entertained and build anticipation for their full-length releases without investing huge amounts of money and spending a lot of time in the recording studio. 

How long is an EP?

There’s really no clear set standard length for an EP nowadays, however, it’s always shorter than an LP and longer than a single release. Most EPs consist of around three to six tracks with a total playing time of 15 to 30 minutes long. This length can vary depending on the genre, preferences, and track length, but basically, if it’s longer than 45 minutes, it’s considered an LP, not an EP. Anything shorter than 15 minutes is considered a single.

Why release an EP over a single or an album?

Releasing singles and EPs between full-length albums is a great strategy to keep your fanbase engaged and build buzz and anticipation for your next release. It’s also a good way to test the waters and see how your fans respond to your music, before investing a lot of time, money, and effort into launching a full album - something that we call the ‘waterfall strategy.’ 

If you’re an emerging artist trying to build a fanbase, launching a single or an EP is a cost-effective way to see if there is enough interest for a full-length release. Writing, recording, producing, and marketing an LP is a big effort, and a big financial investment, so you want to try to make sure that there is potential for success on the market. With a single or an EP, you can also test out this potential on Spotify and other streaming platforms, where your music can land on popular playlists and gain some traction that helps create buzz for an LP. An EP is also a good choice if you’re not signed with a record label and have to invest your own money in launching it. Recording time in a studio, working with a producer, working with a publisher or an A&R, these things are expensive, and they’re exponentially more expensive when it comes to launching an LP. 

When should you release an EP?

When is the best time to launch an EP as an emerging musician? There’s no definitive, one-size-fits-all answer to this question, because the timing of your release will depend on various factors. You should take as much time as you need to polish and refine your sound, to produce and mix your tracks so that they sound professional and high-quality, to prepare your artwork, and promote your upcoming release. Release teasers and spread the word on social media channels, to let your fanbase know that new music is on the way, to create buzz and anticipation. 

Another good thing is to research industry trends and events for your genre and the local music scene, to find the best time to launch your new EP. If you have live shows, TV or radio appearances, live streaming events, or a tour coming, you can schedule your EP release to take place right before those events, to generate interest and excitement. However, if you feel like you need more time to work on the songs or promote the upcoming EP, don’t rush it. It’s perfectly fine to delay the release to make sure that it’s of the highest quality and that you’re completely satisfied with it. 

How much does it cost to produce an EP?

An EP is significantly more cost-effective for emerging artists than a full-length LP release, but that does not mean it’s cheap. The final cost will depend on several factors, including the level or production quality you want, what producer you want to work with, the recording studio you want to book, and the visuals you want to create. If you need to work with a songwriter or a graphic designer, and maybe a marketing agency or marketing specialist to promote your music, it will cost you a lot more. If you want to do all of these things yourself, it will be a more cost-effective strategy, but it might take longer to get it all finished and it will require quite the effort on your part. 

It’s crucial that you set a budget before you start doing any work on your upcoming EP. This way, you’ll be able to figure out if you have the means to work with a top-notch producer or a graphic designer. Ultimately, producing an EP can cost you a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. If you already have recording and mixing equipment at home, you write your own lyrics, create your own visuals, and self-promote on social media, it will be more cost-effective. If, on the other hand, you want to work with session musicians, record in a professional studio, work with an experienced producer, and so on, you’ll have to fork out a lot more money to get your EP ready for launch. 

A good strategy for emerging artists is to invest primarily in recording and mixing your EP, to ensure the best possible sound quality, and try to create your own artwork using AI or different design tools, and use organic social media to create awareness and buzz. 

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How do you promote your EP?

A big component of a new EP release relates to marketing and promotion. It doesn’t matter if you create a killer EP if nobody knows about it or has the opportunity to discover it. This is why you’ll need to craft a well-thought-out marketing strategy ahead of time, to generate buzz around your upcoming release, build your fanbase, and gain exposure on social media, streaming platforms, radio, and so on. 

You’ll first need a strong online presence on social media, being active and constantly posting on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and other music-related forums or platforms. Share behind-the-scenes content, interact with your followers, and collaborate with other artists for cross-promotion whenever you can. Then, you can reach out to local media outlets to try to get the word out on your music and your next release, and schedule as many live shows as you can. Try to make the best of Spotify for Artists or Apple Music to get your songs featured in popular playlists and generate traction for your music. This will help you build anticipation, get your name and your songs out there for people to discover and listen to, and establish yourself as a dedicated and professional artist who deserves people’s attention. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do artists release EPs?

Artists release EPs for various reasons, such as introducing themselves to a new audience, experimenting with new sounds, or providing a taste of what is to come in a full-length album.

What sets an EP aside from a mixtape?

An EP typically has more original songs than a mixtape and has a more cohesive concept or theme, while a mixtape can include a variety of songs and may contain remixes or covers.

Which is better, LP or EP?

The answer to whether an LP or EP is better depends on the artist's intentions and the listener's preference. EPs can be an excellent way for an artist to showcase their work and experiment with new sounds, while LPs can provide a more immersive and complete listening experience.

How many songs should an EP have?

The number of songs on an EP can vary, but typically an EP consists of 4 to 6 songs. This allows for a substantial musical offering while maintaining a concise and focused release. With this length, you can showcase your artistic range, capture the listener's attention, and provide a cohesive experience. However, it's important to remember that there are no strict rules, and the decision ultimately depends on your artistic vision, the length of your songs, and the overall concept or theme you want to convey with your EP.

Want to learn more about launching your next EP or LP?

‍Join Xposure Music and gain access to some of the best music industry professionals in the U.S. Top experts from Sony, Columbia, Def Jam, or Universal have already joined our platform, and they’re ready to give invaluable, on-point feedback on your work, which can help you land that dream record deal or publishing deal you’ve been working towards. Sign up now and reap the rewards.

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Gregory Walfish
Co-founder of Xposure Music, Gregory Walfish stands at the intersection of music, tech, and culture. With a software engineering background, he's passionate about artist development and technology.

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