You will need to release both EPs and albums during the course of your music career. This might be news to most: the decision whether to release an EP or an Album should not rest on how many good songs you have on hand.
Instead, your music release strategy should be based on the behaviors of your audience.
The important first question to ask yourself is “At which stage of my music career am I currently?” The stage you're at reveals the scope of your audience, and the expectations of that audience should determine the size of your next release.
This next fact doesn’t sit well with most musicians: not every person stumbling upon your music is instantly a superfan, ready to gobble up everything you release at any moment, and in whichever format. Once you start looking at your band from a business perspective you will see that there are a variety of personas that make up your target audience.
The right format for your audience
Listeners today have very specific behaviors when it comes to music consumption–behaviors that should inform your career strategies if you want to be successful. More often than not, listeners fall into three main categories:
- Intrigued Listeners
With your very first release, you’d want to target the explorers, as you’re going to have to attract them with intrigue. With your second release, you’d want to appeal to the small core community of fans you’ve accumulated, in an attempt to turn them into superfans. You would then want to continue releasing music to capture the attention of new explorers, hold the attention of the intrigued listeners with the goal to convert them to superfans, and finally, keep your superfans happy and hooked.
Sound hard? It definitely can be, but what you might not realize is that the album format you choose at these various stages can greatly help! Let’s explore why:
The formats: Album vs EP
A full album (LP, or “Long Play”) can consist of anywhere from 7 to 20 songs. The format can be likened to a novel; each song forms a chapter that helps develop the story. It takes you on a journey. An EP (“Extended Play”) is a short album, generally a collection of 4 to 6 songs, but it is not just a tiny collection of random tracks. It is an entity on its own. The songs on an EP should portray your musical diversity, as well as your ability to capture attention and provoke emotion. That said, the songs should not be completely disjointed.
If an album is a novel, then an EP is a collection of short stories; separate tales bound together by a common thread.
1. Start with an EP
Because of streaming
EPs appeal to online explorers for several reasons, one being the excess of music available online. With so many options, they’re more comfortable commiting to an EP than an LP at first.
On-demand streaming has been the most popular form of music consumption since 2017, and if these listeners are looking for new music, that’s where they are guaranteed to find it. According to the 2022 IFPI report, music streaming services showed a 10.3% growth in the last year. Spotify alone has over 80 million songs live on its platform at this moment (a number that grew by 50 million over the last 3 years). Competition is tight. Listeners on the hunt for new music–accustomed to consumption through modern-day streaming services–are more prone to listen to an EP than a full album if they do not yet know your band.
Because of playlists
Explorers are drawn to streaming playlists. The habits of playlist consumption have decreased the popularity of listening to artists’ full albums. Streaming services like Spotify and YouTube promote playlist consumption by making it easy for listeners to build playlists and share them, and of course, by building them for you. Reddit.com reflects interesting trends around music listening habits in 2023–namely:
“Listening to an entire album becomes a chore because I find myself wanting to "move on" to something else that I thought of.”
“Regardless of format, a good song, and at the end of the day, I'm gonna cherry-pick songs from my favorite albums on my playlist anyway.”
These new audiences are antsy, and sitting through a 20-song album can feel like a chore to them. If they do attempt to listen to a full album, they’ll often skip through it, perhaps listening to only 5 songs before making up their minds about the artist.
“If I’m checking out a new artist first I’ll listen to their most popular songs via playlists and then the highest-rated EP.”
Since this is pretty common behavior, why not give them a four-track EP to start with? It’s what they want. Reddit proof:
“Just give me your best 4 songs and I'm happy!”
Because of the investment
Releasing an EP is playing it safe. It requires less investment of time and money. This is a great option when you are putting your material out there to test the waters. Today more than ever, with digital music distribution and streaming services providing usage metrics, you have access to information on how your listeners are reacting to your music. Take advantage of these insights once your EP is released and stealing hearts.
Build a professional website where you can sell your music commission-free! Sign up and sell music with Bandzoogle now.
2. Follow with an Album
Because of expectations
Now that you've accumulated some fans through your first release, you need to continue engaging with them. Your second release should be an album targeted at your new fans–remember, the goal is to convert the intrigued listeners and to please the superfans. In general, fans are very different from explorers. Although they mostly stream music too, they are committed to the bands they love and so enjoy listening to albums in their entirety.
The second dominating trend on the same online forums mentioned previously is this:
“I listen to the whole album most of the time unless I don’t like the artist much. If I happen to really enjoy that artist, I'll play the entire thing front to back”
This said, it is true that some might skip a song here or there, and your songs might make it to one of their playlists, but in essence, the Superfan wants the “album experience”. Superfans want to understand the story being told through each consecutive song. In fact, superfans demand full albums from their heroes.
Because of credibility
Albums might take longer to record, cost more, and require a larger commitment, but the outcome will be more promising than with an EP when it comes to music sales and acquiring musicians’ credibility. Having an album in your portfolio will push you into the class of being “a serious musician,” (for lack of a better term).
This gives your presence on streaming platforms a boost, making you look solid among the millions of other artists that are one click away from listeners’ ears. It also helps you look solid for industry professionals like talent buyers, festival curators, agents, and managers.
Release EPs in between Albums
Because of demand
The same audiences that discover you and grow to love you can also be very impatient. It’s called “on-demand” because that is its main requirement: instant gratification. The collective attention span is short and so the demands from listeners are this: great music, in large quantities …ASAP!
Albums generally take two years to write and record. An EP allows you to keep the attention of listeners while you are in between albums. If it’s been three years since you started writing your new album and you have yet to see the completion date on the horizon, feed your instant-gratification-seeking, music-hungry audience with an EP. Please, before they die of anticipation.
Because you’re evolving
If you are a band that’s been releasing music for years, but you want to experiment with a new style or a different genre altogether, an EP provides a good testing field. With this format, you’ll be releasing for your fans, but also opening the door to luring in new explorers. Once again, you’re testing the waters, so keep it short: look at how your EP is being received, and let this information guide you when making decisions about the evolution of your next project.
The more you learn from your audiences through their online behaviors, the better you’ll become at determining when to drop a new album, and when it would be a good idea to let an EP slip into your strategy.
Tying it up
The job of writing, recording, and releasing music is tough (and demands all the blood, sweat, and tears you have to give), yet the process we outlined doesn’t have to be.
Launch, convert, satisfy, broaden, and maintain. Launch, convert, satisfy, broaden and maintain = new EP, new album, new album, new EP, new album… You get the picture.
Carla Malrowe is an alternative songwriter, musician and producer from South Africa, currently residing in The Netherlands. Malrowe’s music is a juxtaposition of electronic and analogue sounds with lyrics that are unapologetically macabre and melancholic. Listen to her new electropop single, ‘Dear Host’.
Build a stunning band website and store in minutes
- Promote your music on your own unique website.
- Sell music & merch directly to your fans. Keep 100%.
- Grow your fan base with built-in marketing tools.
Free 30 day trial, no credit card needed.