Albums Versus EPs – Which Format Is Better?

guy thinking

Music, especially country music has seen its fair share of debates – quality, genre lines, streaming, heck even authenticity as of late. These are just a few examples. Really, they don’t even pertain strictly to country music. They’re arguments for any and every genre in the modern world (except genre lines, since you know, country music is the only genre that hates itself). With that said, I’m a country music blogger, so today I’m going to introduce another debate that could be applied to any genre of music and come at this strictly from a country music point of view.

We all know what albums are, and we all know what EP’s are. We also know just how much of a role EP’s are playing in today’s world where things such as streaming give the consumer an unlimited (sort of) treasure trove of new music to explore. Personally, I don’t mind them, but at the same time I never want them to completely take over what an album symbolizes, and that’s the mindset I entered with when I went to read Saving Country Music’s review of the new Chris Stapleton album. I didn’t agree with a large part of it, but there was one comment made by Kyle Coroneos which reads as follows (for those who might not be able to see the picture of the tweet):

There is a reason the album cycle—even in the era of streaming—is so staunchly adhered to by many in the industry. It’s because it works, and everything else doesn’t. EP’s are systemically ignored by fans and media. The are half efforts dealt with as second-class releases. Aside from a few practical applications, they’re the worst thing an artist can do with their music. 80% of the music I get pitched is in EP form, and they make up around 10% of my coverage. And this is the same across the industry. On artists’ Wikipedia pages, they’re not dealt with as real albums. Artist think they’re thinking outside the box by releasing singles only, or releasing serial music or EP’s. All that does is confuse the public, and allow the music to blend into the background in today’s busy life. Put you best music together, release a stellar album, make a bunch of noise, and hope you can get the public to pay attention. Nobody cares about your EP.

In regards to Stapleton’s album, well first of all I don’t agree it’s an EP really or *too* short, but anyway, I agree with the spirit over all. It’s annoying to see EP’s pop up like it’s nobody’s business here, here, here, here, here, and hell, you get it. I don’t like it when artists release these EP’s when they’re going to release a full length album later on anyway. That’s essentially the only thing I had to say at the beginning of this, that’s what I had in mind when I made this tweet.

Immediately I got people responding to this on Twitter, and the conversations that ensued were honestly pretty excellent whether we agreed or disagreed. Again, I’m actually a supporter of both formats co-existing alongside one another, and I don’t think either format should be eradicated or taken over by the other format. Still, it was great to read all of these perspectives. Let’s get a rundown of the arguments and different sides to each argument:

  1. (Arguing for EP’s) They’re great for indie artists

One point that was brought up almost immediately was by both country artist Taylor Alexander as well as B-Sides & Badlands founder, Jason Scott. You can see what they said here:

For starters, these are excellent points, and it’s great to get an artist’s perspective on this matter. Like I said, my original point extended towards major labels who decide to put out EP’s for their artists (also known as swindling you out of your money) when they plan on releasing a full length album later on anyway. For independent country artists, their reasons for making EP’s are more than likely completely different.

We draw a line in the sand between mainstream and independent artists almost all the time. Everything on the radio sucks and everything that’s not on the radio doesn’t suck. That’s how it works right? Am I doing this critic thing right? Jokes aside, this is one argument where I feel the line being drawn is fair. Simply put, major label artists (or rather, the labels supporting them) have money. For independent artists…well, it’s all in the name, they’re independent. They don’t have easy access to fund full length projects. I don’t want to turn this into a research paper, but as you can see from this article, it costs A LOT of money just to record music, and while the numbers shift every so often, the one thing that remains the same is that it’s expensive. So in regards to Taylor and Jason, yes, I fully agree. I think this tweet from artist Rich O’ Toole sums up what I’m trying to say a hell of a lot better:

2. (For EP’s) – Certain songs get lost in the shuffle of an album release

This was a point brought up by artist, Kelleigh Bannen who suggested that albums might be too much music for people at one time (as you can see here)

I agree with parts of this, and I disagree with parts of this. Ultimately I do think it all comes down to the target audience though (as suggested by Derek Hudgin who replied to the same tweet). There are some people who merely listen to the radio on their way to work and don’t want to be bothered to listen to a full length album (however long that may be). Other people (like me) like to dive in and lose themselves in a record, but I know the target market isn’t focused on people like me anyway these days. It is just music, and even when people aren’t concerned about the real problems of the world, perhaps music isn’t the little thing they want to focus on in their spare time. Maybe they’re sports bloggers, or political bloggers or maybe they collect state quarters. Hell, I don’t know. We’re all different. But either way, yes, ultimately I think people do sometimes fail to listen to all of the deep cuts and hidden treasures. I would disagree in her assertion that people ignore them solely due to a lack of interest though. A lot of it comes down to just having the time to listen. There’s millions of records I’ll never get to solely because I don’t have the time, but I’m more than willing to listen. In addition, there’s nothing to suggest that deep cuts on EP’s wouldn’t be ignored either. However, considering this is a perspective coming from another artist, this is an interesting point of view to consider even if I somewhat disagree with it.

3. (For Albums) – Albums are fun to get into, and plus, most artists release them anyways. 

To give at least one argument advocating for albums, we have Michael Rauch of the Cheap Seat Report weighing in. The one tweet reinforces my argument from before, but the second tweet is also something to consider. Like I said, albums can be fun to get lost in and explore, and when done right they can be truly life changing experiences. You often miss that with EP’s (although there are extreme cases). I also agree that because EP’s are more single driven, you often do get more songs that are going more for commercial appeal. For indies, it all depends really. I’ve found from personal experience that you’ll often just get songs as they are – good or bad. For mainstream, major label artists though? Definitely. That’s what I based my entire argument on. I think both of them have their place though, which is what brings us to our final point.

4. (Arguing for both) – As long as the music’s good I don’t care what format it’s in

I think the big argument I can definitely agree with is that both formats are needed. I can’t imagine albums like Red Headed Stranger, Freedom Highway, or El Santo Grial condensed into short little EP’s while still maintaining the same impact. It just can’t be done. On the other hand you get shorter projects from the likes of Jaime Wyatt with Felony Blues (7 songs) or Colter Wall’s Imaginary Appalachia (also 7 songs) that are incredibly consistent and have a better flow than most albums I’ve heard this year. We can even go back to our friend Taylor Alexander up above who released a 3 song EP back in June of 2016. There’s a great balance here. You have a fun song with “Break My Heart Tonight”, and the other two, “Real Good At Saying Goodbye” and “Wishing My Life Away” provide more than enough meat to satisfy a country fan’s taste. I often revisit this project. Is there any thematic arc to it? No, but there isn’t any time for that. It serves its purpose of delivering three good songs and it does its job well in my view.

And I think that says something more – this is the most subjective part of the argument. What makes an album? What makes an EP? Where’s the line drawn? How many songs do you typically enjoy hearing on an album? What are you looking for in music?

See where this is going?

To answer the whole “fine line” question, for me personally, an EP stops being an EP after seven songs. Once you hit eight, it’s an album. You might think differently. Maybe you draw the line between five and six, or eight and nine, or something else. I can’t answer these questions for you. In terms of what I like hearing on an album, usually ten to twelve tracks is my sweet spot (with an emphasis on ten). You might want less songs, or you might want more. Again, that’s fine. To answer that last question….well it’s not really the time for me to answer that question, but it’s still a good one to ponder.

Anyway, let’s go back to that last point about the sweet spot, because I feel like there’s something to be said there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been disappointed by projects this year because they have a couple (or really more than a couple) tracks that just don’t serve any purpose for the album. On the other hand, the number one reason I don’t cover EP’s all that much is because they’re hard to talk about at length. I can’t grade them since I always leave wanting more, and to write even half a page is sometimes hard to come by. Plus, if I included them my list of things I had to cover, my list would be a million times longer (at least it would seem that way). So again, I think it depends on the vision the artist has in their head. Much like genre lines, there are certain things we’d like to hear from artists, but ultimately the key is to let them decide and see whether or not it’s for us.

I also think it’s important to note that my personal rule-book isn’t set in stone. I think that relates back to my argument of music being subjective, because who knows why we like what we like? Sometimes I get something like Aaron Watson’s Vaquero and I’m amazed at how much I like every song (minus “Big Love In A Small Town”). Heck, even Brad Paisley’s album length for Love and War didn’t bother me all that much. On the other hand, I’ve heard lots of EP’s that do have dead weight attached to them, so in my view there is no clear cut relationship between quantity and quality here.


So overall,  I think ultimately when answering which is better – albums or EP’s, the answer should be both, mostly because they serve extremely different purposes. We can get into a discussion of who’s focusing more on the business side of things and who’s focusing on the artistic side of things, but the argument still stands. I don’t think we can eradicate either format, and I don’t think either one should cannibalize the other. It’s sort of like the mainstream artists versus the independent ones – there needs to be a happy balance. So again, I didn’t think the discussion would lead to this many avenues, but it was interesting all the same.


Sidenote – I wasn’t sure how to relate it to the piece at hand, but one additional point that I thought was worth considering was the fact that streaming, or rather, having a vast selection of music at our fingertips has made listening to new music feel not as exciting. I talked about this in my one confessional piece, adding that maybe it isn’t the music that’s feeling stale, but rather it’s us who are getting stale because we invite that spoiler. Again, I didn’t know where to relate it to this piece, but it was interesting to see the effects that this new day and age can have on us as music listeners.


12 thoughts on “Albums Versus EPs – Which Format Is Better?

  1. To the last point you made about streaming making albums less interesting, I agree.

    I still love albums, and I’ll support EPs if there’s nothing else coming from a favorite artist. Even a mainstream EP: I’ll stream the EP and buy the album if I like it. I think Michael’s argument of I don’t want to buy the EP and have the subsequent album be the EP + 5 new songs. As you say, it’s a BS money grab from the labels.

    But back to the point, when it comes to streaming and enjoying albums, there’s something about ownership of an album that provides the joy and interest. Knowing I own the album makes me appreciate it more than when I had it through Apple Music or listened on Spotify. I think the lack of appreciation comes from having pretty much all music forever at your fingertips. Whereas you look artists who make special releases for record store day that aren’t released digitally. Those albums are treasured by the fans who bought it.

    I think streaming also invites the shuffle listen. Be it playlists or putting Alan Jackson on shuffle and letting Spotify choose any song, I think the general music listener has become accustomed to simply seeking out the hits or having background music.

    I’m probably being a snob about it, but buying albums and listening through my own catalog has helped me maintain the love and excitement for albums.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. I used to feel a joy when it came to going to the store and buying the album. I still do now and again, but it’s not the same. I guess we shouldn’t complain since after all, we do have access to so much good music, but it’s not all perfect.

      You don’t put Alan Jackson on shuffle Derek. He killed country music, remember? 😉

      I don’t think you’re being a snob either. I think every point you made is spot on. I also get my love for music back by pushing aside the current releases and just remembering the good times with other releases.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Another argument for EPs, take the. Zac Brown Band and their side project with a Dave Grohl. That Rock EP is spectacular. A great way to release a project like that.

    EPs have a place in music, but they probably shouldn’t be relied upon as the primary way to release music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also agree. Both ways have their place in music, and when they work well they work EXTREMELY well. But you’re right, one shouldn’t topple other.

      Like

  3. I see it mostly as just a practical matter. I generally prefer more music to less music, but it costs $$$ to put albums out there, and that’s a big challenge for some. Hardly anyone is getting rich off music sales in the current business model. Even the top people are making their main dough on touring and so forth, instead. I think of the music sales as part of the advertisement budget to draw fans to shell out money to see live.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point. I haven’t done a thorough research into the technical details of it, but it’s no secret that touring is the artist’s main way of “staying alive”. Unfortunately the business model doesn’t look to be helping anything anytime soon.

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  4. Kelleigh Bannen was cool in that convo. Whatever you think about her music, she gets it. We had some back and forth that wasn’t quoted. Just wanted to get that in.
    Personally, I’m not less excited or invested because of streaming. In fact, I’m more invested than I have been in several years because of streaming. I look forward to Fridays and to see what everyone is excited about. Of course I grew up in an era where you only heard music on radio or purchased it, audio unheard.
    Dude, we went to record stores and bought albums based on cover art. Or something we had heard from somebody’s cousin who thought it was good. I love that I can listen to an entire album via streaming before deciding to purchase. It’s magical. Used to, purchase the album based on maybe one song and find out the rest of the record is crap. No thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good point. For me it’s a little hard since once I see some other opinions I may be inclined to believe what they believe (although I’m a hell of a lot better at this). I do think having the ability to hear before you purchase is a key asset though. It’s prevented me from buying some albums 😉 plus there’s the whole exploration aspect of it.

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  5. Great job covering the many different reasons and perspectives on the EP vs. album debate. If you’re an independent artist having to fund all the expense to record and promote, I can see why you might prefer an EP to an album. It makes sense for a signed emerging artist too since record deals are essentially loans and you’re paying for the recording and promotional costs in a roundabout way.
    For me an EP is like a short short and an album is like a novel. Novels are more popular, get the majority of critical praise and/or coverage and when they’re really good they’re unsurpassed in their medium at storytelling. But they can be expensive, convoluted, demand a considerable time commitment, and when they’re not well executed/misunderstood they invite a special kind of soul-crushing scorn. Short stories aren’t anywhere close to as popular nor do they get the praise and reverence of a novel and are more limited in the scope of the stories they can tell. But the time and cost commitment to both consume and produce EPs is much shorter, by their nature they tend to lack any fluff, they can tell a really compelling and focused story in talented hands and their chances of leaving you exciting, wanting more and anticipating the next project are much better.
    I think the choice comes down to which fits your goals, priorities and resources best as an artist and the key is to be honest and realistic of their strengths, limitations and downsides when deciding which is the right one for the time and/or project. An EP can get an artist noticed, try out an idea or new direction and provide that little boost to get you to the next level, but ultimately it comes down to this for me: EPs or short stories will almost never make you a superstar or be praised revered and canonised like the best albums or novels.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great piece, good job highlighting all the different perspectives and angles and making the Twitter conversations make sense 🙂 for me, it’s quality over quantity, but I will say an EP has less room for error…take Lindi Ortega’s latest one, for example. For me, you had three perfect songs and one I just didn’t like, and that brought it down. Put that in a 12-song album, and it’s less noticeable. But overall, length of albums/amount of music has never mattered much to me, and both albums and EP’s have their place. Kelleigh Bannen said something in that conversation that I really enjoyed, and that was that ultimately, we just want good music to be heard, no matter how it is packaged.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have to say albums are better because they’re longer and have good songs.
    Streaming services like Spotify, Napster, Apple Music and Amazon Music makes it better to listen to.

    Liked by 1 person

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