I remember Bob Lefsetz writing a blog a few years back that started with the line, "Albums are for fans, singles are for newbies. Don't make an album expecting to reach a new audience. If you want to reach a new audience, focus on the single."
What made me decide to blog about this now is the accumulation of a couple things: first and foremost it being the topic of conversation with a few artist that I am consulting. Second, seeing so many failed attempts of developing indie artist trying to sell full-length albums or kick start their full-length album production with crowd-funding but ultimately lacking the fan base to back the project. The most recent reason being the blog from disc makers titled, "Should your next music release be an EP or an album?"
What I like about this CDBaby blog post is that it not only brings home a point that I stress with many young, or relatively unknown artist; not all your music is going to be great -- especially when you're first starting out (I don't even know how we recorded our first EP in a prototype version of garage band with no mics). It's going to be a learning experience figuring out who your fan base is and how to grow it; let alone figuring out your best sound. Asking people to give up an hour of their time is not always going to be easy, nor warranted if your music is not great.
When was the last time you listened to an entire album of an artist that you weren't already a fan of? Streaming albums of up-and-coming artists will often lead to me scanning or skipping a few songs on a record and only listening to that one, maybe three, stand out song(s) that will capture my attention for a full listen. Why burden yourself to put out a full album; just because you have the material doesn't mean you have the fan base that is eager to listen. Sure, we can quote Field of Dreams, "if you build it, they will come." But learning to curate your content is a crucial step in the process. Always put your best foot forward. Pick out the top 5 songs you have and put them out in an EP, and if you are still confident in the other songs that didn't make the EP then release them in the months leading up to and following the release of the EP -- not only do you need to gain attention before the EP release, but you have to have something to follow the EP release with.
The EP is short, sweet and to the point. It can be conceptual, themed or it can be a you best singles in a concise package to showcase what you can do. Its long enough for a local publication like LA/OC Weekly to do a write-up or review, or be featured on Bandcamp or NPR's "All Songs Considered." Its also short enough that it will leave new fans wanting more. If you are creating this independently or as DIY musician, the overhead of a smaller project like an EP is much more manageable. If you decide to take the route of giving a varied amount of sounds in the project. It can serve as a great starting point to help you narrow down your sound, or figure out what style of music you stand out in.
We first put this into practice around 2009 when we released our first project for a solo artist. It was the debut EP for Akapela Jonz. There was a lot of debate between the team working on the project in regards to how long it should be, and although we had enough material for a full length album, or three, we chose to just release the EP. We felt 20 minutes of music was enough time for us to showcase who Akapela Jonz was as an artist, and 20 minutes was a reasonable amount of time to ask someone to invest in listening to an unknown artist.
For us, it was the right move. And proved true for the following releases for Tanya Thomas, Krista Mone, and Brutis Perux. The decision definitely paid dividends in helping us to set up a college tours, landing sets on the festival circuit, garnering Pandora and Spotify streams, contracting collaborations with notable non-profits, and most importantly creating a desire from the fans for more music. I know many artist have that chip on the shoulder to put out all their music, or prove they have more substance than what is currently being played on mainstream radio -- I get it. But not everyone else will. Its something to think about when only one album outside of Disney went platinum in 2014 (according to soundscan).