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Albums vs EPs vs Singles: A Guide to Releasing Music in 2024

Albums vs EPs vs Singles: A Guide to Releasing Music
May 23, 2022
The results are in! EPs are officially on the rise whilst albums are in demise - and we've got the data to prove it. Read on to check it out for yourself!

Well with digital streaming taking a hold of the new music industry, we're beginning to wonder where that leaves the EP and traditional album formats in 2024 - and more importantly - which one is best suited for new artists to who want to know how to release music. All will be answered in due course. But first, let’s open the floor with a basic run-down of what each is and how they differ.

What's the difference between an EP and an album?

What separates a single, album and EP comes down to 2 main things;

1. Length (i.e. the number of songs which feature on the track list)

2. Duration (i.e. the total running time) of the entire project

An album or LP (Long Play) refers to a full length body of work, features between 7-29 tracks and has a running time of roughly 35-60 mins.

An EP (Extended Play) refers to a half-length body of work, features between 4-6 tracks and has a running time of roughly 15-22 mins (but can be up to 30 minutes).

A single is the shortest body of work you can release, features between 1-3 tracks and has a running time of roughly less than 10 mins.

Albums vs EPs vs Singles: A Guide to Releasing Music in 2023

How many albums, EPs and singles are released each year?

As you can see by the graph below, since 2016, album release numbers are plummeting while EPs & singles continue to skyrocket.

Albums vs EPs vs Singles: A Guide to Releasing Music in 2023

According to data from Ditto Music, over the past 5 years the number of album releases has seen a consistent year-on-year drop. While albums made up 35% of all releases in 2016, their popularity has dropped significantly, with albums making up only 9.7% of all releases last year in 2021 (that's over -25%!)

On the other hand, the number of singles & EP releases has seen continuous growth over the same 5 year period, making a whopping 90.3% of total releases in 2021.

So by a majority and popularity count, singles & EPs definitely come out on top.

Should I release an album or an EP?

Deciding whether or not to record and release an EP or an album ultimately comes down to a couple of different individual factors, including your budget, your target audience and ultimately, your music goals.

1. Budget

Albums vs EPs vs Singles: A Guide to Releasing Music in 2023 - set your budget

In terms of money, EPs are cheaper to make than albums.

With almost half the no. of songs, you’ll also be halving any money spent on things like studio time, production costs, instrument hire, session musicians - the list goes on!

2. Target audience

Albums vs EPs vs Singles: A Guide to Releasing Music in 2023 - know your target audience

Which album format you choose will directly influence your fans.

Whether that’s explorative audiences, your luke-warm fans or even your diehard superfans.

An EP tends to attract new listeners whilst also turning already gained listeners into luke-warm fans. Once you start releasing even more music in the form of an album, you’ll be strengthening your relationship with your luke-warm fans, but also turning some into die-hard superfans. Makes sense right?

So to cut it short - putting out an EP tends to work better if you’re a new artist with the aim of getting discovered by new listeners.

3. Your music goals

Albums vs EPs vs Singles: A Guide to Releasing Music in 2023 - set your goals

What are you aiming to achieve with your release?

For example, raising your artist profile, changing up your sound or launching new merch/a tour might be better suited to an album.

Whereas if you’re still finding your sound, getting your music into the ears of new listeners or simply focussed on getting music out quickly and consistently, an EP is arguably the better option.

So what does all this mean?

Well, although there’s no one-rule-fits-all for this kind of thing, for new, upcoming artists who are just starting out (which is probably you if you’re reading this post!), there’s a general consensus that releasing an EP is the better option during this early stage in your music career.

Read on to find out why!

Why release an EP over an album?

1. The streaming industry

With on-demand streaming taking the new music industry by storm, digital streaming platforms like Apple Music and Spotify, as well as social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram are now the main places where listeners are looking for new music.

So it makes sense that a short-form EP works perfectly to release on these big platforms, plus smaller ones like BandCamp and SoundCloud too.

You can show off what you and your brand is all about by really playing on your strengths as an artist, through a more specific selection of tracks that exhibit your strongest work to date. Talk about a crowd pleaser!

And if you aren’t already releasing music to major streaming platforms and stores, then what are you waiting for?!

Sign up and get started with Ditto today.

2. Playlists & music consumption habits

With millions of songs available to listeners at the touch of a button, listeners are becoming conditioned to listen to more artists and a shorter collection of songs.

This is down to modern consumption habits - including a shortened listener attention span as well as streaming giants like Apple Music and Spotify highly promoting more playlist consumption.

New listeners now rely on algorithmic playlist recommendations from the likes of ‘Discover Weekly’ and ‘New Music Friday’ to find new artists and tracks to listen to - and you’ve got a much better chance of your favourite singles from your latest EP landing on there, that could otherwise get lost in the clutter if you released it within a longer-form album format.

Learn how to get your music on Discover Weekly & Release Radar playlists!

Did you know: A global streaming study found over half (54%) of people interviewed are listening to fewer albums now, than they did 5 or 10 years ago.

3. Maintain a regular release schedule

For new artists entering the music game, releasing singles that form an eventual EP over time might possibly be the best strategy to stay relevant, keep your fans engaged and even buy you some time should you want to eventually release an LP.

At this early stage, you don’t want to be spending so much time and money recording, producing and marketing the perfect 12 track concept album, putting it out a year down the line, only to realise you’ve lost all the listeners and fans you’d already gained in the process because they got tired waiting to hear new music from you.

Growing a fan base is important - yes - but like any kind of business, it’s important to hold onto the fans you already have, and turn them into superfans.  

Having a predictable and regular release schedule is the way to do just that.

Releasing an EP means you can still target new fans with a high standard of music that reflects your best work, whilst also marketing to current fans by releasing regular music.

4. Releasing music that didn’t fit the bill

Have you ever written an epic track but it just doesn't fit the theme or soundscape of your project?

Don’t dismiss it! Get it out there through an EP.

Artists like Tech N9ne pledge to never waste a song - and he’s right! He puts out every song he ever records, and you’ll see this if you've ever had a gander at his discography. His output is huge - and a lot of that comes down to regular EPs that exist because the tracks on them didn’t fit on his previous albums.

5. To act as a stop-gap between LPs

Between every major album or LP, some artists will choose to release an EP as a sort of precursor if you like, to their next project.

The point of the EP in this scenario is to introduce or hint at themes and concepts that will be revealed in the content of their bigger album.

Maybe your LP will explore a radically different sound that your fans won’t have heard from you before? Use an EP to slowly introduce them to your musical evolution.

Album vs EP release strategies

The best EP release strategies

When you’re releasing an EP, don’t leave your fanbase waiting for new material. Releasing an EP by dropping some regular, killer singles is the most logical way!

This is what’s been termed in the industry as the ‘Waterfall Strategy.’

Hit play on the video below to hear how it works!

The point is - by releasing singles consistently over time, you’ll actually be making an EP in the process.

This way you’ll be able to handpick a selection of 4 - 6 tracks for your EP based on singles which have performed the best among your fans, which almost guarantees a highly successful EP release.

It’ll ultimately serve as a portfolio of your best quality work to date and help you find out what your listeners love hearing from you, which can influence your approach to future singles, future EPs or an eventual LP down the line.

If you’re not sure how, find out how to release a single.

The best album release strategies

An album release plan is totally different from a single or EP.

Writing, recording and promoting an album can take months - if not a year or more - of hard work and dedication.

Which leaves a good gap of time to fall out of the listening space of your audience.

That’s why even when it comes to making and releasing an LP, you should never stop with the single output!

Loads of big artists opt for this release strategy. Just last year Adele made a huge comeback with her single release ‘Easy On Me’, before releasing her entire studio album ‘30’ just a few weeks later.

Drip-feeding content first to build a following and thinking about the post-album release is just as important as the actual album drop itself.

Should I release an EP before an album?

The short answer - yes, probably.

Once you’ve got some singles and an EP or a few under your belt, you’ll soon be able to predict what your fans want to see from you which makes the time, effort and cost of an album well-worth it.

It’s also really important you don’t rush into an album release.

Your first album (and the ones after) will be a hallmark moment in your music career. They’ll generate a lot of interest from not just fans, but music critics, fellow artists and alike.

So put in the time to make sure that like your EPs, your album is an accurate reflection of your best work.

And don’t be put off by consumption habits!

People will still listen to longer-form. You just have to lure them in with short-form first. Earn their time through quality and consistency.

Album vs EP. Have we settled the debate?

Like we mentioned, there’s not one-size-fits all. Every artist is different and so too will their approach be to either an EP or album release.

But it’s important to have all the facts on both before you start putting out your own projects.

Whatever you decide to do, base it on what’s right for your budget, your target audience and your musical goals at this stage of the game.

Albums vs EPs vs Singles: A Guide to Releasing Music in 2024

Music Promo
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