Ever since attending last Saturday’s interview with John Oates, I’ve been talking to folks about the pros and cons of working on albums vs. EPs. There’s a school of thought among music promotion professionals right now that you might not even want to focus on EPs, choosing instead to release a steady stream of singles. I think that’s too extreme a response for most musicians, and here’s why:
- The opportunity costs of recording are still too high. Even though it’s cheap and easy to lay down tracks, the focus and attention you need to produce something memorable takes lots of energy. If you’re going to get that focused for even a single day, why not lay down as many tracks as you can? They won’t all be perfect, but even a 3-song EP could get you three times as much revenue for the same day in the studio.
- The EP remains the minimum threshold for bargaining with taken buyers. Even though many fans still settle for buying one or two tracks online from a band they love, talent buyers want to hear how you might stretch a set together.
- A series of EPs builds a foundation for your branding and your merchandise strategy. A physical EP works more as a souvenir of a great show than as a recording. Craft an artifact with great packaging, and you’re building a mythology based on quality. String a few together in a short amount of time, and new fans will think you’re extremely accomplished.
- EPs are very spreadable. Lori has a habit of buying 5-6 EPs when we see a band age likes, show she can mail them out to her friends. For the same price as a major label album in a chain store, you can sell a bundle of EPs. It’s like getting paid to let your fans promote you.
As always, it’s important to balance frugality with craftsmanship when planning your release. I never advise bands to go into debt when producing records, and I’m a fan of small runs (collectors’ editions!). Think about your release strategy as a 9-18 month timeline, so you always have something new to talk up, plus stuff you’re working on.
Does this all mean I think you shouldn’t work on an album. No. If that’s where your passion lies, and you have the songwriting and production chops to pull it off, go for it. Just remember that audiences’ biggest criticism of musicians over the past two decades has been the lack of depth on most albums. If you’re not ready to compete with the Arcade Fire, don’t sweat it. Remember that the Beatles were pretty much singles-oriented for the first 2/3 of their career, and they turned out okay.1