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:
- (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.