Many artists occasionally release a “short album” called an EP – How many songs are in an EP?
EP stands for “extended play.” It’s a record that is 4-6 songs long and no longer than 30 minutes total. The total length is what determines if a record is an EP, not the number of tracks. This means that it’s longer than a Single but shorter than an LP (album). The definition of what is considered an EP can vary slightly depending on the store selling the record. Keep reading to learn more about EPs.
What Determines If Your Record Is an EP?
There is no official classification of a record as an “EP” and the definition can vary depending on the store selling your record.
However, the main determining factor seems to be length. Fifteen to less than 30 minutes could be considered an EP.
Some examples of how EPs are classified:
iTunes will label a record as an EP if it contains 1-6 tracks and is less than 30 minutes. If the record is longer than 30 minutes it will be considered an album, regardless of the number of tracks
Spotify will categorize a record of 4-6 tracks with a total length less than 30 minutes as an EP. Again, if the total length is over 30 minutes, it will be considered an album.
The Recording Academy, known for the Grammy Awards, doesn’t have an official category for EPs. Instead, they simply define any record that is 5 tracks or more with a total length longer than 15 minutes as an Album.
The Origins of EPs
The idea of EPs come from the limitations of vinyl records. In those days major record companies had to compete with each other based on the physical format of the music.
As a way to compete with Columbia Records, their rival RCA Victor introduced a 45 rpm vinyl record that had narrower grooves and could fit 7.5 minutes of music on each side. Before this time, 45s could only hold 4 minutes per each side.
This means that record labels started releasing music that could fit on this format. Most EPs in the 1950s and 1960s were between 4-6 songs in length and not longer than 15 minutes.
Why do artists record EPs?
Less Expensive to Produce
Some of the benefits of releasing an EP is that they are shorter and less expensive to record than full-length albums.
EPs are popular with new artists who don’t yet have enough material to release a full album, but want to start promoting a record.
This is a good way to for artists (and their record label, if they have one) to test the potential of the band and see how audiences respond.
Another benefit of EPs is that they are less expensive to produce compared to an album.
Until recently, the cost to produce a commercial full-length requires a significant investment. Even in 2019 the cost to record an album can be substantial.
However, a shorter EP is easier and quicker to produce financially and creatively. (Many famous and successful records were recorded in bedrooms and home studios, so don’t let this worry you too much.)
A Way to Test New Material
For established artists a short EP is an opportunity to test new material. A band can experiment with a new sound and give fans a taste of their new musical direction.
If fans respond positively it can be an encouraging sign to the artist to feel confident recording more songs like this.
To Have A New Record to Promote – Stay Relevant
Another reason to record an EP would be for a band to have something new to promote while on tour after the initial buzz of their last album has worn off. It can show audiences that the artist is still active and prep them for their next full-length release.
Famous examples of EPs
Here are some famously successful and influential EPs in a variety of genres:
‘Verve’ EP by The Verve – This record was the first release by the band and led to a string of 3 singles reaching the top of the UK charts in the early 1990s.
‘Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ EP by Yeah Yeah Yeahs – This band became underground New York superstars with the release of their first record on their own label. The first single also launched them to the top of the UK Indie chart.
100 Miles and Runnin’ EP by NWA – This record is the only EP ever released by legendary rap group NWA.
‘Magical Mystery Tour’ EP by the Beatles – Originally released as the soundtrack for their film of the same name, this EP ended up getting re-leased as a full-length album with more material added.
Indie and Punk Bands
EPs were especially popular during the early days of Indie and Punk because 7-inch vinyl EPs were cheaper to manufacture.
In the early days of independent music (without the financial support of a record label) manufacturing a vinyl record was expensive, so many bands opted for releasing their music in this format.
In the early 2000s vinyl EPs saw a comeback, with Indie rock bands releasing music in this old nostalgic format.
Does the concept of an “EP” matter anymore in the age of Digital Music?
Since digital music has become more prominent the usefulness of an EP has been questioned.
In the last 20-30 years the original idea of EPs, LPs, and singles has been turned on its head. Digital formats of music have virtually no limitations.
Music doesn’t have to be physically owned in order to listen to it anymore. Streaming on demand online and digital downloads have made these old ideas of music formats (and their physical limitations) obsolete, as far as length goes.
Now it’s not uncommon for artists to simply release a series of singles online on YouTube or Spotify. It’s not necessary to fill up all the space on a vinyl record, like before.
I don’t think the idea of an EP is going anywhere for a while. People have gotten used to listening to EPs. In fact, fans love to buy merch to support artists at live concerts and it provides a valuable source of income for new artists.
This is yet another example of how the technical limitations of recording and sound hardware have combined with the creative ideas of artists to create the musical landscape that we know and love today.