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Single(s) vs. EP vs. Album – What Should I Do?

This is a question that gets asked a lot. Should I do a single (or group of singles), an EP, or an album? What’s better?

First things first, realize there is no definitive answer to the question. Every artist’s situation is a little different, and you have to make the choice that works best for you.

However, there are a few things you can bear in mind.

The first, and most important, rule is that you should not sacrifice production quality to increase production quantity.

Don’t go to a producer, engineer, or studio you want to work with and say “I’ve got $5000 and I need 12 songs for that.” What happens there, if the folks you want to work with accept the job, is that they will simply work to a number. They have a number in their head that they know they have to get per hour to make ends meet. And they’ll just divide your budget by their hourly and decide that’s how long they’ll work on your project.

Let’s say the producer you want to work with costs $100/hour. He/she might say, “sure, I can work with your budget.” At that point, they’re going to provide 50 hours of their time.

For really high-end production, 50 hours might be what’s needed for just one or two songs. But because you’ve already stated that your budget is $5000 and you expect to record 12 songs on that budget, what you’re actually going to get is between 4-5 hours of the producer’s time per song. There are some really talented people working on music that can accomplish a lot in a small amount of time, but in the vast majority of cases, you can’t achieve the same type of sonic result in 4-5 hours that you can in 20-40 hours.

So…don’t sacrifice quality just to have more songs made. Why not?

Well, because if the purpose of you making a record is to get people to notice you, build fans, and secure deals in the industry, having your record sound fully professional is a must. Most industry professionals you’re going to want in your corner are only going to listen to a small sampling of your music before they decide whether they’re interested in learning more. If the first bits of music they hear don’t blow them away, you’re probably never going to hear from them.

It’s also because we live in a playlist culture now in terms of music consumption. Your music is going to play back to back to back with other artists in your genre, and if it doesn’t stand up to those other records in a positive light, the average music listener isn’t even necessarily going to know why, but they’re not going to be hooked by your music nearly as easily.

‍Alright, but you still haven’t answered my question. Single, EP, or album?

So long as you’re committed to quality and have found a producer to work with who you’re confident can deliver a great result, you’re in a position of what I like to call Good, Better and Best.

Good is doing a single (or small group of singles). You get strong production on new material, it can help you to define the sound of your project, recruit band members, book gigs, and push out new music into the world to fan-build from. Sometimes one single captures everyone’s attention and jumpstarts a career! You could do a music video, do a big digital push, or promote the single to radio to increase your exposure.

Better is doing an EP (4-7 songs). You get to take advantage of a reduced price per song (some efficiencies exist that will make the pricing more attractive per song than just doing one at a time). You also get something that’s worth manufacturing physical product for. An EP could be enough to justify hiring a publicist to tell a story around in ways that person can’t/won’t do around just a single. You also have a few choices about investing in things like digital advertising, music video, Spotify playlist promotion, and terrestrial radio. All this, and you’re doing it for 50-70% the cost of a full-length album. Perfect, right?

Well, there are a few downsides:

  • First of all, you won’t be seen quite as credible as some of your musical peers with big, successful careers. The Rolling Stones make albums, not EP’s.
  • If you’re working with us here at Edgewater Music Group, you won’t be able to fully leverage our distribution contract with Sony Orchard, because physical distribution for EP’s is rare. There’s only so much shelf space in physical retail stores, and those store owners want to reserve that shelf-space for higher-priced product.
  • If you are trying to pursue deals in the industry (like with booking agencies, record labels, or publishing companies), an EP will have less impact on those companies than a full-length album.
  • Your ROI (return on investment) will not be as good as with an album. For each new fan this process gains you, you have three primary ways of monetizing them. Ticket sales, merchandise sales, and record revenues. So out of the gates, one of your three major revenue streams is only about half what it could be had you done a full-length album.

Best would be the full-length album route. It maximizes the return on the overall investment you’re making in your career. It gives you the very best opportunity to attract top-flight publicists, radio promoters, booking agencies, record labels, music managers, and music publishers. It gives you the best opportunity, if need be, to attract the right ground-level team members as well (band members, merch people, tour manager, etc.). It also provides the greatest opportunity to start landing high-quality shows, and will maximize your return on a distribution contract, should you decide to go that route.

In summation, the big takeaway here is that you need to make a record that’s of a high quality level, or else you’re really just flushing money down the toilet. Once you get to that stage, it’s about finding the right balance between budget and potential return. If you can afford (or if you can raise) the money it will take to produce a full-length album, that’s always going to provide more flexibility and opportunity. But if you can’t, there are other good options that can still have a big impact on your career for lesser financial investment.

It’s up to you to choose what’s right for you. If you want help deciding, please feel free to contact us at [email protected], and we’ll be glad to lend an ear and offer some advice.

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