If you’re an artist, you’ve probably heard the terms EP and LP being thrown around on more than an occasion.
EPs and LPs were originally used to label vinyl recordings. While the term LP is not as common today as it was before, EP has stuck. What exactly sets one apart from the other?
It may not seem obvious to many, but for a musician, it is important to be able to answer that question. But do not worry, this article is here to discuss all you need to know about the differences between an EP and LP.
What is an EP?
EP stands for Extended Play or sometimes Extended Playlist.
It is also known as a ‘mini album.’ It has more music than a single would, but it’s never long enough to be considered a full-length album. An EP usually contains between three to six tracks, with a total running time of thirty minutes or less. Some might even draw it out to seven tracks. This leads to confusion and people wondering, “why the name extended play if it only has a limited number of songs?” EPs are more like an extended single album. Back when vinyl recordings were still popular, the term was used to label any record other than the standard 78 rpm (a flat disk record popular in the late-19th century and mid-20th century) and, of course, an LP.
EPs became popular among bands as well as indie and punk musicians.
In today’s music, they’re mainly used by artists who want to give their fans something to feast on before the release of an album, or by independent artists trying to establish their presence on the market. They’re also favored by many because they’re cheaper to make (thanks to the limited number of tracks), less time-consuming, and easier to release without a label’s support. Artists usually put the songs out one at a time until the full EP has been released. Additionally, due to the digital format of nearly all modern songs, some artists might go as far as fitting eight or more tracks into their EPs, yet making sure that each song is short enough to avoid making an album.
But EPs have a fair share of cons as well.
Since there are so many small and big artists releasing their own, in order to stand out you must bring something new to the table. Many artists unfortunately make short, generic songs, cram them into an EP and hope for overnight success when in reality, it requires a little more work than that. You must decide what kind of sound you’re bringing, and from there make sure the three to seven tracks you’re putting out fit with that theme. Marketing can also be a problem. Considering how many EPs are out there on the market, it’s hard to find original sounds since everything just seems to sound the same nowadays.
This now brings us to our next question.
What is an LP?
Contrarily to EP, the term LP (‘Long Play’ or ‘Long Playing vinyl record’) is not as common today as it used to be.
While it is the standard format for vinyl records, over the years, it has simply become known as a full-length album among modern artists. In the 20th century, LP referred to the 33 and one-third rpm microgroove vinyl records. Now, I know that term is complex and confusing, so I’ll summarize it. The microgroove’ technology was introduced in the mid-20th century. Before, standard 78 rpm discs could only hold ten minutes of music on either side. With this new technology, the discs went from ten minutes to twenty minutes per side, increasing the play time from twenty to forty minutes.
An LP is generally considered to be between eight and twelve-track long, with many pushing it to fifteen tracks at the max, and a running time of over thirty minutes.
It is therefore more time-consuming than an EP would be, and more expensive, which is why it isn’t recommended for artists who haven’t already made a name for themselves. Without a proper label and studio, they’re very hard to make because they require much effort , dedication and, as you guessed it, money. In the end, though, all your hard work will be worth it for two reasons. One, listeners will get a better sense of who you are because you have more tracks to promote. And two, the marketing side is easier precisely because you have more tracks to promote.
One of the major inconveniences of an LP album is that each track is final; once it’s out, there’s no taking it back.
Another big inconvenience lies in the amount of time it takes to bring the album to completion. Say there’s a certain style that’s trending, and you want to make an album that embodies that style. You get to work, and spend seven months working hard on your future masterpiece. Within those seven months, that style you were trying so hard to capture has gone by, and everyone has moved on to something else. This isn’t always the case, of course, but if you’re going to release a full-length album, make sure you have the courage to go through with it, and make sure that once it’s been released you have minimal regrets.
What sets an EP aside from a mixtape?
The line between the two can often be blurry.
There isn’t a set definition of a mixtape, as it’s changed over the years, but it can be described as a compilation of songs, remixes, collaborations and even tracks that didn’t make it into an album. Artists release these mixtapes in between albums to keep fans hooked, or for promotional purposes. Originally, they made their appearance in the late 20th century among hip-hop artists. They would record them on cassettes, then trade them among each other and pray to either discover or be discovered. Still to this day, Rap is probably the only genre where mixtapes remain popular. Other genres are not too big on them, though by all means, if you’re a Rock or R&B artist who wishes to release a mixtape, go for it. It could be a new experience not only for you, but also for listeners. It’ll most certainly draw attention to your sound, especially since mixtapes are free for listeners, or at least a lot cheaper than buying an album.
One artist that’s made a name for himself thanks to mixtapes is Chance the Rapper.
His debut mixtape, Acid Rap, caught the rap community’s attention and later on, the mixtape Coloring Book (2016) went on to propel him to the top of the Billboard 200 chart. In that sense, much like an EP, mixtapes can help an artist establish themselves in the industry, but the two aren’t exactly the same.
Which one should you go for?
A single would really be your best option here if you’re an artist who’s just starting out or hasn’t really released anything yet.
If you’ve gotten a few tracks out already, though, and built a small fan base, then you should try going for an EP. Unlike an LP, or album in our case, it is less time-consuming and will save you a whole lot of money. You can re-record songs that you think might need more work and add them to a future full-length album. It will also keep you in the public eye, since your tracks are short and straight to the point. By giving listeners a taste of who you are, you will keep them hooked and coming back for more. But you have to keep in mind that if you want to stand out you’ve got to offer something fresh, otherwise you’ll get lost in the increasing number of other EPs out there.
Once you’ve established yourself on whichever platform(s) you’re using, that’s when you should consider releasing an album.
It will not only help you reinforce your presence, but considering how much time, dedication and patience an LP takes to make, you can go a full year before deciding to come out with another one. On top of that, with an LP album you have a lot more room to tell your story or showcase your theme; each track is like a piece of the puzzle, and once your fans have listened to all of them, they see the bigger picture.
An EP, or Extended Play is generally half of an album, while an LP, or Long Playing record can be considered a full-length album.
As a musician and artist, it’s good to know what each of these terms stands for because at some point in your career, you will most likely be tempted to release one or the other, or even both.
It’s important to keep in mind that standing out is getting harder and harder these days with how generic modern music has gotten, so take the time to experiment and find your style before deciding to put yourself out there.