I’m taking a week off from the “How To Skip Audio Engineering School” series to answer a question I get a lot. As a producer or an artists, I can say with 100% certainty that you’ll eventually come across this question.
Should I do a full-length record or an EP?
You’re getting geared up for a recording and the first question crossing your mind is should I do an EP or a full-length. Everyone you’ve spoken with has a vested interest in you doing more songs. Your fans want as many songs as they can get, the studio you’re recording at makes more money if you do a full-length, and your mom really likes that soft song you wrote a few years ago and insists you record it.
I’m about to do something so counter-intuitive that you won’t believe I say it to my clients. Hi, I’m a record producer and I’m going to do everything I can to talk you out of doing a full-length before your ready.
1. What three artists do you fit on tour with?
Be careful with this question. It has a tendency to devolve into a conversation about influences as quickly as a bad Rolling Stone article. Stay focused on the core of this question. You only fit on tour with artists who have similar fans as you. If you can name three artists who’s fans would appreciate you, you have an understanding of your sound (you may be ready to do your full-length). If you can’t or other band members disagree whole-heartedly, you do not have a clear enough understanding of your own sound (start with an EP).
2. Do you have enough material?
When a national act records a ten-song record, it’s likely that they wrote more than ten songs. Don’t stop writing at ten. If you stop writing at ten songs, you will likely have 5-7 that show off your artistic potential and 3-5 that don’t. Contrary to popular belief, putting the first ten songs you write on a record together as your debut is usually a mistake. If you have ten songs, pick your favorite five, and do an EP. If you have more songs, you’re much more likely to be prepared for a full-length.
3. How many different tempos do you use?
This is a great way to self-police your music. A full-length should take you on a ride with the tempos. There should be peaks and valleys created by tempo difference. There are rare cases where this isn’t 100% true (ie: Street Punk). If you have too many songs that hover around 120 bpm, time to ditch a few. That may mean that an EP is the way to go for now.
4. Have you explored different time signatures and feels?
Really think about this one. Having one song in a 6/8 time signature doesn’t cut it. Try a swing feel, write in 7/8, write a riff-centric song, write a feel-centric song, use dynamic shifts to write a song softer than your softest song, then write one heavier than your heaviest song. Varying time signatures, feels, and dynamics helps you find your musical identity and makes for a more interesting full-length. If you haven’t explored this yet, start with an EP.
5. Are you organized enough to capitalize on a full-length record?
There are a lot of benefits to doing a full-length, but most of them call for an organized effort on your part. You may save some money by booking longer sets of time or doing more songs at once. This only matters if you’re ready to move units. Doing a full-length lets you capitalize on economies of scale by buying more recording at a cheaper per unit cost. It also lets you increase your return on investment. You can usually charge about $5 for an EP and $10 for a full-length. When you start looking at the cost of printing hardcopies of your CDs (which is still very important when it comes to touring and having events like a CD release party) you’ll see they vary according to how many you buy, but the price is likely to be between $1 and $3 per CD. Lets use the CD duplication cost of $2 per cd for this example. You spent $2 per unit on EP duplication. You sell it for $5. You make $3. It’s pretty simple math, but when you compare it to a full-length you see a big difference in profit-per-unit. You spent $2 on full-length duplication. You sell it for $10. You make $8. That is a per unit profit of 266% more than your EP. If you have the ability to book a proper CD release show and make arrangements for touring/record promotions, you’re ready to do a full length.
You now know what the next step. This guide is to help you choose between an EP and a full-length. If you know now that you aren’t ready for a full length, it’s time for an EP. So, don’t put everything on hold and lock yourself in a room till your ready for your full-length. An EP can help you answer a lot of these questions. It’s a great way to test how your music is connecting with your fans. You can get real feedback, and your fans can show your music to their friends. This will increase your viral fan-base growth. The experience you get by recording will help you as you continue to write, and you’ll have a better understanding of your own songs. No matter which route you choose, send me a link to the finished product. I can’t wait to hear what you come up with!