here’s something that’s a little rough to hear but needs to be sad for bands panning out their future. As a general rule no one cares about EP’s. In fact EP’s, as a general rule sell only about a third as well as normal albums do. Furthermore, most labels will straight up to refuse to put out an EP unless it’s from an already established band. I know it sucks to hear, but this is coming straight from the horses mouth as it were. This isn’t to say EP’s have no function in the place of a developing band, but rather that your ‘brilliant plan to release a bunch of EP’s rather than an album’ might not end up working. I wanted to take some time to talk about the place of an EP in the modern rock and metal industry and then when and where an EP is and is not appropriate. These types of conversations aren’t always fun, but we need to have them since they make us aware of the common limitations we see in the business and how to override them. With that said, let’s dig right on in.
So when is a good time to release an EP? Well first and foremost I think it’s always smart for a bands first release to be an EP, just because that makes it easier to shop to labels and get some initial shows without going out of your way and spending too much money on an album. It’s a great way to give people a taster. I also am a big advocate of turning a single release into an EP by adding covers or live tracks. This is a great way to get a lot of mileage out of a single song and also add another serious looking release to your bandcamp. These are both ideas that should be fairly low cost and low barrier of entry. That’’s what an EP is for. If you’re a huge band then you’re allowed to release an EP as sort of a sonic exploration, but what I outline are just about the only times that I see EP’s being successful in the modern market. Otherwise an EP feels like a sort of wet far, there is nothing of substance behind it drawing people in.
I also want to make sure that you don’t conflate EP’s with splits. Splits can be incredibly productive to boosting your band, and if you look at bands like Full of Hell they can clearly be used as a way to rapidly grow your reputation. They are built for cross promotion and frequently cater to the crazed ADD stylings of the modern fan. Splits are a lot of fun and get people to collaborate. We always talk on this blog about knowing your scene and being ingrained in your scene. Splits are a great way to do this. Not only will you have a cool bond with the other band on the split for the rest of your life but also their fans are going to check you out and vice versa. The best splits are ones where the bands don’t sound too similar but their sounds are clearly complimentary. The upcoming split between Cliterati and Violation Wound is a great example. Both bands are punk groups, but they represent totally different sides of the genre.
When it comes to why EP’s are often a bad iea I want to start off by adressing the notion that EP’s are a lot easier to crank out than albums and that you can release an EP every quarter. I have literally never seen a band who claim to have ‘four EP’s ready to go, like, whenever bro’ actually release those EP’s in a timely manner. From what I have observed, recording an album is only about 30% harder than recording an EP, even though you are laying down twice the material. This is because there is a ton of other work that goes into recording beyond just the actual songwriting process. The time it takes to get set up is the same, and the time to mix is barely longer. You’re still viewed as a single project, EP’s aren’t prioritized by studio engineers, in fact quite the opposite since they are making less. More importantly it’s very hard to get your band into a good groove. Once you get into a groove though things start happening more easily and suddenly recording another four or five songs isn’t that daunting a task.
Tied into the financial component is the fact that 7 inch records outside of specific genres aren’t really financially sustainable. They cost a fraction less and still have high setup fees. Fewer and fewer labes are willing to do 7 inches at this point just because there is no longer a financial benefit. This ties into the intangible aspect of EP’s that I think is vastly underestimated. That is to say – a lot of people don’t check out EP’s just because they are EP’s. Even if your EP is on a 12 inch, you are going to have to charge less because it’s an EP. However you’re still paying for all that vinyl. In other words people see themselves paying the same amount for less music. This sucks and gets no one motivated to get involved. That being said – there’s no reason you can’t take the Nine Inch Nails approach where for that among other reasons, they started listing their EP series as an LP series and attracting a lot more attention to what Trent Reznor and his merry men were up to.
The EP vs LP debate is a tricky one, but at the end of the day if you want to be taken seriously you are going to get a lot further with an LP. I don’t really care if you are in special situation or whatever, guess what, nobody really does. That’s not the point. What I care about is pointing you in the direction of meaningful and effective traction. Pretty much no label is going to release a fifteen minute three song EP these days. Your best bet if that’s the sort of thing you have recorded is to do it as a split. If nothing else just keep grinding it out with the vision and understanding that as you grow your back catalog more people will check it out and fall in love with your LP’s EP’s often fall through the cracks.