It's kind of funny. As I sit here reading over staff reviews for the latest EP releases, it reminds me just how many dang EP's are being released these days (Roger's going to eat this blog up!)! I know that the music industry is in a weird state right now - and the economy isn't helping! - but as the labels try not to lose their shirt on debuting new artists, the safest way it seems to go may be to release an EP. However, I've often had mixed feelings about EP's myself.
I remember the mid-90's or so, when labels would take a chance on new artists and release a full-length debut album. It gives artists a chance to really show listeners what they can do. Imagine, for example, if Jars Of Clay's debut album was an EP. What would their self-titled record be without "Worlds Apart" or "Boy On A String?" I suppose you can try that little exercise with any of your favorite bands -- If Thousand Foot Krutch's Phenomenon was just 6 songs or Hawk Nelson's Letters To The President ? Or if Third Day's self-titled album was without "Thief" or "Blackbird?" However, on the other hand, a debut EP does give us the listener less of a financial risk. "Well, I only had to shell out 4 or 5 bucks on this EP and it's just 'OK.'" ... but that proposes yet another thought... does a full album place more stress on an artist or label to make it a solid debut? Does an EP leave room for error? ("We'll save some of the best tracks for when our full-length comes out"... what if that was their thought process?). In this day and age when a lot of new artists are putting EP's out first -- do you the consumer and music fan prefer that? Does it leave you wanting more? Or do you feel a little cheated afterwards?
I do like the EP when an artist I already enjoy decides to put out something new to tide us over with. Rock N Roll Worship Circus' The Listening EP is one of my favorite EP's of all-time and a solid collection of songs from start to finish. Would it have been a stronger release with 4 more songs? I don't really know. But it was certainly a satisfying EP at six songs. I enjoyed last year's Closer EP from Jars of Clay. It gave a glimpse at their upcoming release plus added two redone classics and a rare song - three tracks you could only get on that EP. That kind of an approach seems like an ideal EP format. But what about how Forefront Records handled new artists Abandon and Philmont? They both released digital EP's last Summer, then both of those EPs released in CD form this year with 1 bonus track on each one. On the same day as the release of Abandon's EP on CD this past April, they released a SECOND digital EP, this time of all new tracks. Then, selections from both EP's made it onto Abandon's recently released full-length album Searchlights, with the addition of about 3 or 4 new songs. Is this kind of approach to debuting a new artist a little goofy, or something you think makes sense?
One last thought I wanted to add... in the 90's, with some of these aforementioned debut full-length albums, there was no way to buy tracks by themselves... now there is a way -- between AmazonMP3 and iTunes especially, we can just download single songs instead of the full album. So isn't there less stress on the consumer already if they just want to buy half the full-length album instead of the full thing. So why bother with an EP as a debut if listeners don't want to commit to a full album? They can just buy the tracks off the full-length that they want!
Just some 4am musings here. What do you guys think of the notorious debut-album-EP and the way labels are releasing them at an increased frequency these days (or not even the debut EP's but the more frequent release of multiple EP's from your favorite artists in place of a full-length album?, like the Future Of Forestry Travel EP's, for example)?
John, I couldn't have written that better myself. That's pretty much my thought exactly on EPs. I really bet it's just because of the economy, in all honesty. It takes more funds from the label to put out an album, so they "test out" new artists with EPs to see if they deliver, and then reward them with an album if they are successful. Oh, what a different industry it is today.
3. Jen said...
My Josh Wilson fan mom's reaction after listening to the new EP: "That's it?" That about sums it up. :)
I like EPs sometimes, because they're cheap and fun collectibles. And I do appreciate them as a teaser/preview between long album waits (Jars of Clay - Closer), or as an experimental series (Jon Foreman's seasons). But it is pretty annoying when the EP is so good you wonder why there isn't more. (I *loved* Danyew's, but it was too darn short and I wanted more!) Maybe that's the point... tease you into wanting more. Darn those record companies! :)
Sometimes I suspect we're so ADD and looking for the latest-and-greatest that it's hard to get listeners to commit to a full album. When you can just go grab a few $.99 tracks off iTunes, I guess the less expensive EP is one way to ease people into trying more of an artist's music beyond whatever radio single they know. I speak for myself too; I'm more likely to risk 5 bucks on someone I don't really know than $12+
It's a theory anyway.
Hurrah for impulsive 4am blogs! :)
5. Darius said...
Although EPs are good for getting a taste of whats to come with the full release, i tend to over play the 1-5 songs, so that when the LP comes out, i've already worn out the majority of the songs. It sucks because the whole album experience is gone. However, with today's digital music it's gona happen regardless. I personally buy the entire album and just play one song, unless it's a really bad album, then i won't bother with it at all. I know that doesn't make much sense.
7. Nathaniel S. said...
I hear you. this trend is really sweeping. Back in 1999 there were six EPs, and in 2004 there were 10 (at least the christian release index for each year) while in 2009 there have been 26-- In the first SIX months. I like the idea that perhaps a song or two might be put out on the market that would otherwise be skipped (Like the Jon Forman EP's or Relient K's latest EP) but with Abandon and Philont, the patching makes for less filling debuts.
9. Thomas said...
Yeah, I would agree. I definitely prefer Full-lengths over eps. Although, eps are good to "tide us over" I'd definitely prefer a full length album especially for a debut....
Thanks for the comments guys! It's fun reading your comments :o)
Jerold -- I loved the seasonal EPs from Foreman. I guess they felt, in a way, more special than your typical EP releases. But the "Limbs & Branches" release was unfortunate - in my opinion. They had released double disc sets that included all four EP's, but then condensed not two, but all four into 10 tracks from the lot of them and added two new ones. I felt like it kind of did a disservice to what Foreman had been aiming to do with that release, y'know? I'd have rather them have kept his 2 double disc releases (which went out of print when they released "Limbs & Branches") to keep his original vision for the EPs intact...
13. Dee said...
I totally agree with Jerold. Some EPs are really special and amazing, like Jon Foreman's seasonal EPs and Future of Forestry's "Travel" project. Otherwise,releasing EPs can seem somewhat pointless. A purchaser can somewhat cheated when they've bought the EP, then they buy the album only to find out the album has the exact same tracks plus a few more new songs. And, for me, they're just too short. Not enough to chew on while I wait for the "real" thing.
15. Matt W. said...
I agree. I think EPs are okay if they contain rare tracks or b-sides from albums, or if they are digitally released with about 3 or 4 songs from an upcoming album to tide fans over. But the whole Abandon/Philmont issue was just ridiculous. I also hate how they market some EPs (i.e. Luke Benward, Jasmine, Sarah Reeves) as "debut albums" in press releases and such, when they were actually just EPs. The only EP released this year that I really loved was Sarah Reeves' "Sweet Sweet Sound." Can't wait for her full length!
17. Bill B said...
I am 'dating' myself, but when I was younger, the music industry put out 45's, similar to the cd-single. Yet, this wasn't done with the sole purpose of introducing new artists.
Seems to me, in this internet-age, that there is little need for the EP. Most artists have a 'myspace' page where they introduce full tracks of their music. One can preview these songs and if you like them you would then purchase the full album. Or you can purchase single songs from the likes of itunes or Amazon.
If cost is the issue then why not just offer digital downloads and forego the hard copy??
19. Bill G. said...
Good blog. Some of my favorite EP's: Pillar's "Broken Down" (with the live acoustic tracks), Mute Math's debut EP, Subseven's EP (which I really liked but they seemed to change their sound on the follow up CD and then they split up), and probably my favorite would be Building 429's debut EP (which was a good mix but I haven't gotten into them since), and of course Jon Foreman's fantasic seasonal EPs. Just my 2 cents worth.
21. Sean MC said...
I appreciate your thoughts on EP's John. I agree with you about them being better for an established artist, more as a teaser or holdover between albums. I prefer to listen to full albums, the only EP's I own being Philmont's Oh Snap and Relient K's Bird and Bee sides. I used to have the CD version of tobyMac's made to love single, but a two song CD just didn't cut it for me... So yes, I feel any debut album, if it's good music, should be a full album. EPs are best left for the interim.
23. chris said...
he is legend
i am terrified
Subseven put out a great ep, i really digged it, and when their album came out, it was great because they re recorded the songs from the EP, they were not the same songs. And their EP had great songs, but when the album came out, it wasnt 5 songs you've already heard and 5 new ones, it was a few you've heard and a lot you havent.
He Is Legend, 90215, or some variation on those numbers. That EP was put out on Tribunal Records, and it was great, i really liked it. Then they put out I AM HOLLYWOOD and it was like a different album, not only did none of the tracks appear on the album that were on the EP, but it was a different sound.
You know who else did the same thing?
Far-less, their turn to the bright ep shared no songs with their full length. of course their following albums were great.
There are some bands tempting the waters like I Am Terrified. Their EP is pretty solid, i like it. We'll see what happens next.
25. Cody said...
I guess my thoughts on EPs are two-fold. First, EPs offer artists the opportunity to build thematic songs or tie the songs together either lyrically or musically. Most often only 2-4 songs per full length album are what the band is known for anyways, so an EP allows a band to filter in only the top quality songs. That said, that is ideal and often does not happen. Too often EPs arent strong by themselves but rather a way to get music out early that will later be released again. For the fans of the archaic "CD", this sucks because we get caught buying the same songs multiple times. To me, the ideal would be Mutemath's EP, with all original work. The debut EP has more going for it than an EP with an already established band, yet when a band hasn't come out with anything in a while, an EP is ok. So while the EP gives the label less risk, it also gives them less reward (Cliche...i know)
27. David King said...
I completely agree with you. I am often nervous to purchase an EP as I will potentially loose the full value of the album if they release the tracks in the same format.
I live in New Zealand and use iTunes to buy most of my music. So I often but a few tracks if not sure and then "Complete My Album" later if it really sits with me. However when you get an artist you trust I will most likely purchase the album without listening top amy clips.
Not really a fan of the EP.
John, you are so right. Although I think EP's irritate me even more. It makes me so mad to buy a debut EP, really like it and then, a month later, realize that their full-length came out. That's a waste of my money and shelf space! Plus I like the traditional feel of a regular full-length album.
I don't like itunes either. I encourage everyone to buy actual albums for many reasons. First of all, the money goes directly to the band, secondly it's nice to be able to flip through the booklet and see lyrics. Lastly if your computer crashes, you lose all your music but you still have your CD's as back up!