Album or EP? Does the format even matter anymore?

The album isn’t dead. Let’s just get that out of the way.

Vinyl, cassettes, CDs, downloads and now streaming (+ vinyl again) shaped the release, dictated the format and set the distinction between singles, EPs and albums. Nowadays it’s dictated by you. There are no rules. People are still releasing music on cassette and that’s fine (although I don’t own a player anymore). USB sticks, QR coded download cards, pop up cds, you get it, there’s variation. So what works for you is what works for you, unless you listen to others…

I remember when sending out emails for review about our last release (Short Code), a blogger got back with some advice –

“if I counted correctly you now have 73 minutes of music (not counting the remix EP) ~ perhaps it’s time for an album?  Best advice there would be to choose the tracks you are proudest of, plus any fan favorites, and add a few newbies while dropping those you no longer liked as much.  Then pick a great cover and post it!”

Now that got me slightly rattled. I’m not really sure why. Maybe the simplicity of it. Our releases are solid things to us, not something we would just jigsaw together like a ‘best of’. They’re done, they exist in their own space. We move on. The album to me is a great thing. I buy them regularly but why do I have to make one? It hit me hard. Do bloggers favour albums over EPs? Does that matter? Yes, well sort of. Why should it matter what bloggers think? They help against obscurity. We love to create but we do create to be heard and blogs help. It got me thinking, is EP a dirty word? I always opt for the term ‘release’ nowadays. When it’s done, release. There was a hastily made decision –  “We must make an album!” without actually thinking if that works for us.

I wanted to get some views from other bloggers I knew and get their personal perspective on the subject. Does the distinction between EP and album actually matter nowadays?

Dan Salter, Editor at Echoes and Dust

“Interestingly, this is something we’ve been discussing internally with our writers for some time and in fact in this year’s record of the year poll we removed the distinction between album & ep altogether as I feel it’s no longer a valid distinction. Especially with the kind of music we cover, we’ll get albums submitted that have 2 tracks on but is 60 minutes long and EPs that have 6 tracks on but only have 25 minutes of music! I mean this morning I got an email about a double EP from a band! WTF is that if it’s not album?!

At the end of the day both terms were adopted to describe a physical format, in this digital age they’re pretty meaningless.”

I think this is a very interesting and forward thinking perspective. Removing the distinction gives a level playing field. It doesn’t favor one piece of work over the other just because it comes with a different label. You’re critiqued on your release alone. Brilliant.

Ashley has an interesting point when it comes to the volume of a musician’s work:

Ashley Collins, Founder at Noted

“I value both equally, but it is largely as a result of having the site. I used to treat EPs as inferior but now I completely see their worth in a catalogue. When an artist has a constant stream of output though it can be a bit intimidating, and keeping up can be laborious. Sometimes I’d much rather wait for a fuller release, often they feel more complete. It’s one of those case-by-case things for me, lots of variables to consider.”

I can totally understand this, especially from a listener’s point of view – where do you start? I think that’s pretty much up to the musician to keep a clear road map. Having an excessive output can be an issue and I can relate to that. In 2013 we released three EPs with little time between the last two. This was a little confusing to some people and in hindsight I can see why.  The announcements became noise and it was hard to keep up. Just imagine if your favourite band put out stuff as close, it’d lose novelty really quickly. I would definitely spread things out a little more from now on and make each release more of an event. I suppose an album flags more distinctively or ‘newsworthy’ than an EP. The trick here is to not use labels.

What about other musicians? I wanted to hear their views too.

Adam Rowley of Afternaut

“Good topic! It’s something that makes my heart sink a little to be honest. I listen to music as albums. I like absorbing into an artists work for 40+ mins. But as an artist it takes a very long time to craft something to that length, in a culture that digests music very quickly. It’s precisely why my releases sit in between EP and LP. Transmission could be classed as an E.P. but still had a running time of 40 mins. Purely because that’s what I’d want to listen to, it’s more of a journey.”

Transmission would definitely qualify as an album according to Wikipedia which states that ‘According to the rules of the UK Charts, a recording counts as an “album” if it either has more than four tracks or lasts more than 25 minutes‘. So I guess an EP is anywhere between that and a single track.

Jake also comments on on how quickly music is consumed but feels it shouldn’t dictate progression:

Jake Murray of In Violet

Initially I was quite set on just making EPs as they’re digestible. Commonly now we find people want about twenty to forty minutes of music as it can be consumed quickly and a good EP/short album like that won’t contain any of the fluff. With opal I just found that I wanted to feel some form of progression. I wanted to try creating something that intentionally takes longer to digest and longer to reflect on, and that’s exactly how people reacted to it. Now we’re most certainly working on another album, and this time it’s being written AS an album, so it’s kind of a progression on where we left off… but with the amount of music I’m writing at the moment, we might bridge we an EP and then a single, before releasing the album.

Stuart makes the case that an album isn’t just a set of songs, more of a story/concept:

Stuart Cook of Capac

I think the form does matter a great deal, I feel there’s been a shift over the last 15 years or so away from the album towards EPs, possibly due to the ipod/iTunes thing changing the way music is consumed. Albums definitely have a place, they serve as a document and tell much more of a story; provided there’s a story to tell an album is relevant. What an album should NOT be is a collection of songs, there needs to be a story arc, or at the very least a theme to tie it all together. It’s tricky though because what is an album?? Some of that drone stuff I tweeted you about the other day, it’s one track per side, but lasts 40 mins. Does that constitute an album? It’s the right length, but only two pieces. We’ve been a very EP focuses band in the past partly due to practicalities, partly because we haven’t had a collection of tracks on a single theme. That changed a bit with Nested, four tracks linked thematically, plus it was long, so we decided to call it a mini-album as it didn’t feel like an album. We’re hoping to get our album out there soon though, and tell our story.

For me personally, I think you can still tell a story in EP length, be it shorter but I totally get where Stuart’s coming from. It feels more an event to start an album in the same way an author would start a novel after short stories.

It’s not just independent artists. it’s mainstream too. Röyksopp announced their latest album would be their last and that they’d be releasing EPs afterwards.

“We feel like this is a goodbye to the traditional album format. In our consecutive run of albums, we have been able to say what we want to say and do what we want to do with the LP. We’re not going to stop making music, but the album format as such, this is the last thing from us.”

I think legacy or mainstream artists have more pressure to put out albums. It can be hard to deviate and upset your fans, Even Radiohead toyed with the idea which never actually came into fruition.

Just to end I’d like to repeat what I said before – the album isn’t dead, far from it! That doesn’t mean that an artist has to be coerced into making one, do what works for you.

A big thanks to the bloggers and musicians who contributed. Please check them out!

What are your thoughts? Leave your comments below.



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