There are a lot of interesting opinions out there about recording music and how much music to release when considering to put out a project. Some of these opinions are based on past music distribution culture, some are based on artist ego and identity and others are based in wisdom and research. I am going to focus this blog entry specifically on making the case for recording an EP over a Full Length if you are an independent artist.
There was a time not too long ago when album sales mattered more than just earning a small profit from a person to person transaction at the merch table. Album sales were used to gauge the popularity of an artist or how healthy an indie artist's business was. Selling music in hard copy form is still the best way to get your music into a persons hands at a performance but the rules of what a sale represents are changing. In the case of an elite few artists these old rules still apply but there are fewer and fewer elites making crazy life changing money than ever before. The financial gap between the working class artists and the biggest Top 40 artists is wider than the Grand Canyon... Adele recently destroyed all kinds of presupositions about elite artist sales with the release of her new record. Her situation is likely not even the slightest bit close to our reality.
Our reality is budgeted. Our music creating reality is represented by a very specific amount of time versus a very specific amount of cash. Time costs money, both on the recording front and the personal interest front. Your music and the way that you release it is what garners the interest of your followers. Music is your first impression. Every time you release new music you are releasing a new first impression. If you are attempting to be in business as a music maker and performer, it's very important that what you release is your current best effort.
There are a lot of misconceptions in the process of making a record. Each producer has a different way of guiding the artist through the process. There is one common factor that rings true with a vast majority of successful projects and that fact is very simple. THEY NEVER RUSH. When you see a project by a mainstay artist like Coldplay, Taylor Swift or Adele you can automatically understand that the artist spent at least a year preparing for this project. Big artists never hurry the process. Adele took 6 months to finish the song "Hello". Great music is worth taking our time on. Your followers will be more satisfied by a project you suffered and toiled over than a project that you rushed to completion.
More often than not, I encounter indie artists that have set unrealistic deadlines and budgets for their projects. This is so common in fact that I often spend a lot of time helping them reshape their idea of how to release music so that they don't shipwreck their business by taking on more than they can handle.
It's very important that you know how big your fanbase and cashflow really are, and can gauge how long it will take you to make a return on your investment based on past and honest future projected sales numbers. If you continually play shows and are doing 50-100 dates per year that are payed an honorarium, you may consider doing a full length or a double EP.
However, if you are just starting off (2-3 years into your career) and have released maybe one previous project and you aren't being payed an honorarium at performances then you may consider releasing a series of singles first and then a follow up EP. The reason for this would be to engage your audience and build some excitement around your new music.
Here are 10 benefits to consider for making an EP over an Full Length album if you are an indie artist.
1. You can sell a 5 song EP at concerts for $10.00. Yes you can. People will pay for it and I've seen it done this way for years by a lot of artists. By charging $10 you are literally asking people to help you on your music journey. It creates a more sentimental connection between you and your fans because they are helping you move forward. They want to see you succeed. You are also establishing a value strategy with your audience.
2. Recording an EP is easier to manage and afford: It costs less to make, and takes less time. A full 5-6 song EP usually takes 2 weeks to track properly. Any studio that wants to crank out a song or more in a day is ripping you off unless they have a really good team working with you and an established track record. Be smart.... If your ears don't like their previous body of work then don't hire them. Big artists will spend a week or more on one song arrangment. I recommend spending 2 days on the recording of each song. Wouldn't you rather spend a couple days on one song making sure it has the time to be how you want it? It's very common for producers that work at a per song rate to spend 2 days on just the arranging and tracking of a song. You can expect to pay $1200 - 2000 per song for a seasoned and reputable indie producer. This rate usually includes the studio time and often the cost of session players.
3. You are much more likely to be able to afford working with a seasoned professional producer. Speaking from my own experience which is pretty deep and from the experience of my peers; a producer is more likely to commit time to a smaller project for indie artists and be more generous with their pricing.
4. Recording an EP allows you to pick from the best songs of your body of work for distribution. Believe it or not...It's good to be in a place where you have to make hard decisions. By picking the top 5-7 songs in your catalogue to record you are cutting out songs that people might not respond well to. Honestly, there may be songs that you love that your audience doesn't respond well to. This is a business decision. The better quality songs you release and can perform the more likely that you will grow your business and be able to sustain it. I've seen artists go into a lot of debt by recording too many songs and then not being able to get the tour support to sell records. The idea that you can just throw your music up online and people will buy it is ludicrus. You have to tour to support your music. If your aren't touring or playing shows then you are just releasing music as a hobby. That's ok if you just want a fun and very expensive hobby.
5. Releasing an EP will allow for you to release more music, more frequently. Yep.. You can potentially afford to release music every year instead of every two years.
6. It's easier to crowd fund an EP over a full length. Why? Because you are asking people for less money and they will be more likely to want to help you. If people feel like you are going to be able to make your goal they will be more likely to help you. Also, you don't want to become the artist that is always asking for more money. If you don't reach your goal and have to go a second round your risk putting people out. They may not say anything to you about it but they may not be inclined to help. When someone puts down cash to help you they are excited to be a part of what you are doing. If you don't reach your goal they also share this failure and most people aren't interested in going a second round.
7. By spending less money on the recording process you are left with the potential to spend cash on other needs... Like videos, website or a promotions company to help with your release etc.
8. If you also have a job it's much easier to get time off to record an EP than an album.
9. Recording an EP allows your sound to develop faster if you are a new artist because an EP is a smaller commitment and doesn't force you to commit to playing songs live that you may outgrow in a year. You may only continue performing 1 or two songs from a previous release anyways. Take this advice from a guy who is part of a band with a 100 song catalogue. Sanctus Real only typically peforms our newer, popular songs. Rarely do we play songs from even 5 years ago.
10. Creating a vision and plan for an EP is easier if you are managing your self. Because the amount of work you are taking on is less you are free to have time to work on other aspects of your release.
Some common missconceptions about recording an EP versus a Full Length.
1. I am not successful if I don't release a full length: Really? This kind of thinking is ego and insecurity motivated and it can cause you to go into debt and possibly lose your business. I can name artists that I've seen go through this. You don't want anything to do with this kind of thinking.
2. Labels won't be interested in me if I don't release a full length: NOT TRUE AT ALL... This is a very ancient way of thinking that some old school industry people hold. Labels want to see a large fan base, equitable and healthy business decisions, large concert turnouts and great songwriting. If you create something that is valuable people that invest will likely become interested in what you are doing.
3. I can make more money by selling full length albums: Techincally you don't start making money until you break even. So if you spend $24,000 to make a full length (Which is cheap by seasoned producer standards) it will take you way longer to break even then if you spend $10,000 to make an EP. This is simple math. Also, people are way more likely to part with a $10 bill at your merch table. It's a nice round number. If you are selling a 12 song record for $10 you are losing money according to the online price per song of $.99 - $1.29.
4. This is my shot. I've got to record a full length: Your "Shot" is what ever you make it. Spending a fortune to make a record could be the milestone you pay for, for a long time. Don't be sucked into the romance of it. Be smart, make good decisions and manage your money well. Believe it or not recording a single is actually more fun that recording an album. Once you get a month into recording a record you may feel differently about how much fun it is.