Hip-Hop Daily Dose #36: Should You Release a Single, EP, or Album?



Got a request for today's show from @smokegenerxtor.


Great topic.

In this show and post, I talk about the pros and cons of EPs, singles and albums.

I find often that people don’t know what an EP is.

They’re typically not artists. 

Just as often, I find artists who seem to think an EP is beneath them. 

I’ve never quite understood the stigma against EPs. 

Why is an album better? 

Especially in the current musical climate:

People are ADD.

It’s hard to get and keep their attention. 

A lot of artists release standalone singles to combat this and give people a quick taste of their music.

Personally, (both as a fan and an artist), I’d rather hear 5 rock solid, incredible songs than 10-15 that have filler on an album.

Even if I really like that artist, I don’t tend to listen all the way through albums as much as I used to.

I want to hear the highlights.

But shouldn’t any release, whether it’s a single, EP, mixtape, or album only be filled with your best work?

That’s my mindset and how I want to approach any type of project.

My approach is that any song I write could be a single.

I’ve picked up this idea from TobyMac, who says he writes every song as if it would be the single.

I think sometimes artists get the idea that a “single” means it’s the most commercial track on the project....

Or the most pop, or has the widest appeal.

I just can't come up with a good reason to not get as many listeners as you can with your music.

That doesn’t mean you have to water it down or go “pop” or anything like that.

In my head, it means you’re bringing your best...music, lyrics, and delivery.

If somebody who didn’t know you picked any random song from your project...it should be as strong as any other song on the record.

Even if you’ve got different tempos, styles, and vibes on there.

That’s my mindset but I’m curious to know what you think.

Think of your project as your resume.

This is all that somebody has to go on right now...they’ve never heard of you before.

How are you going to approach that situation?

If you want to date somebody or make a new friend or business connection, do you bring your less impressive “filler” game?

Or are you out to make an impact on them?

You’ll probably at least try to be your sharpest, funniest, charming version of yourself.

Winning a new fan is a lot like seducing somebody (romantically, professionally, or otherwise.)

Give your absolute best.

If you’ve only got the juice to do that on 5 songs, I’d rather hear that project.

You might have to record 10 or 15 songs to get the 5 best songs.

What is an EP?

A recording project between 3 and 8 songs. Total run time doesn’t go over 30 minutes.

Apple actually inserts 'EP' at the end of your project title if your project meets their specific requirements for an EP.

Their definition of an EP is: a record than contains 4-6 tracks and is under 30 minutes.  

We tend to think of a single as just one single song, but Apple and Spotify have different specifications.

They consider a release to be a single if if has 1-3 tracks, and each track is under 10 minutes.

If any of the tracks were over 10 minutes long, they’d consider it an EP.

A lot of artists put "EP" in the title and cover art of their project on their own accord.

I'm not sure why there's such a need to make sure everyone knows this ain't a legit album!

The pros and cons of releasing an EP

Pros:

  • Takes less time and $ to create   
     
  • Easier to plan out a concept or theme 
     
  • Audience attention is on the decline (shorter projects may keep their attention)
     
  • Easier to justify asking for the sale ($5 for an EP vs $10 or $15 for an album)
     
  • Big artists used EPs to help them get a record deal, including Black Flag and Eminem 
     
  • Used by established artists to keep fans happy in-between album releases 
     
  • An excellent project with 5 tracks is better than a good project with 12 tracks 
     
  • Keeps audience hungry … you always want to leave them wanting more, not less 
     
  • Less room for disappointment 

Cons:

  • Often seen as an entry level debut 
     
  • Not taken as seriously
     
  • Media outlets don’t think it’s as newsworthy 
     
  • Weird stigma that an album is better because it has more music on it

EPs are great for artists still building their core base

You're more likely to introduce new fans to your music.

How likely are you to listen to an entire album by a random rapper you saw online?

At this point, I don't always listen to the full albums by artists I've followed for years.

An EP is easier to digest...especially if it's full of your absolute best music.

Whether it's our collective attention span or our patience that's declining...we move on quickly.

We like to stick with what we're familiar with (as much as we say we want novelty).

How will you break through to someone who's never heard of you before?

An EP can give people a taste of your sound and whet their appetite for a larger project.

Maybe people look down on EPs because they see them as an appetizer with the album being the main course.

I’d take an excellent EP over a good album any day.

But there’s no denying that an EP can essentially work as a glorified demo, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

It’s better to give people less and make them want more...than to give them too much.

Always leave your audience wanting more.

This will only help convert people to your side.

I often find that albums are just way too much (even with my favorite artists).

Save the less impressive cuts for your subscription site, mailing list, free download, or a B-side compilation later on.

You can use them for standalone singles in-between projects so people know you’re around with music good enough to release.

Sometimes artists don't release singles from EPs.

Why wouldn't you promote one project as heavily as you promote another?

It doesn't make sense to hold back on EP promotion...except that media publications don't cover EPs as often as albums.

Screw the media!

You've got social media, email, and texting accounts.

Plus doing live shows...and your website.

Get your music in front of people with or without media publications.

I love when artists release most of a project song by song before the final project release date.

Some of my favorite artists will drop a new song every week or every other week before the final release.

Only a few songs on the album are still unheard on release day.

There’s an excitement I get knowing I get to hear most of the album ahead of time if I pay attention. 

It's one of those treats you give to people who always want to hear more from you (your core or true fans).

I think it’s a good strategy to release multiple singles from a project.

Spend anywhere from 1-3 months promoting the crap out of each single.

If every song is hot and you’ve approached each song like it could be a single, why not? 

Most artists just drop the full project at one time with no pre-launch promo...

Other than some social media posts talking about the project.

You can drop one or two singles before the project is out to build anticipation for it.

This does take planning.

Here's what Quartz said in "Unless You're Adele, You Have No Business Releasing Album Tracks All At Once":

Superstars like Adele can get away with dropping a full album of new music...but it doesn’t make sense anymore for lesser known indie artists to spend years working on a new album and not drop any new music.

Quartz advocates for dropping steady singles throughout the year.

Then releasing them in a compilation such as an EP or mixtape.

Everyone's favorite rapper, Macklemore, took this approach to his success:

“More mainstream artists, like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, took similar routes when breaking into the music scene. The Seattle-based hip hop duo began pushing tracks from their debut album 'The Heist' more than a year before the record dropped in 2012 to hype it up." 

The Chainsmokers stayed creative with their track releases:

"[They] released a new original track every month, along with music videos, behind-the-scenes videos, and other social content. After fans started discovering the new and older tracks, the Chainsmokers compiled their songs into an EP called 'Bouquet,' released in October. As of today (Oct. 29), the compilation is number two on the iTunes dance album charts.”

Whether you've only got a couple singles, a few tracks for an EP, or a full album...

Take the temperature of your core base and marketing strategy.

Have you built enough momentum for a full album release?

Is it reasonable to expect many people to buy it?

If yes, an album might be great for you.

Are you still scraping just to get people to remember your name?

Maybe you could drop your hottest single and promote the crap out of it (see other Hip-Hop Daily Dose shows for ideas on how to do that).

Got people asking what's coming next? 

Drop them with a single every month or so and then compile into an EP or mixtape.

Whatever you do, always remember that it's not so much what you're releasing but how you do it, and why.

Don't give up!

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