If you’ve been in the music industry for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the terms “LP” and “EP” before.
But what exactly do these terms mean, and what is their significance?
This is something you should definitely be aware of as an artist, so let’s take a look.
The Origin Of LPs & EPs
First of all, it’s important to understand that the terms “LP” and “EP” originally came from the vinyl record format.
The interesting part is that the term “LP” isn’t really in common use any more, while the term “EP” is still used to describe a release that’s about three to five songs in length, roughly half of what a full-length album would typically be. You could even call it a “mini album”.
This isn’t what the term EP actually means, but we’ll talk more about that in a moment. First, let’s take a look at what an LP is.
What Is An LP?
An LP refers to a long-playing vinyl record, which is where the abbreviation “LP” comes from.
It used to refer very specifically to a 33 1⁄3 rpm microgroove vinyl record, which is still in common use today. Many people enjoy the “analog” sound quality of a record, versus the digital sound that was popularized by the introduction of Compact Discs. Today, of course, digital downloads and music streaming are popular options for listening to digital music. Even so, there is a growing market for vinyl records due to a recent resurgence.
Over time, LP came to refer to a full-length album, as most releases featured an album’s worth of music. Track number and play time can vary somewhat, but is usually somewhere between 30 to 50 minutes and 10 to 12 tracks in total. A record is capable of holding 40 minutes of music per side, but the quality tends to degrade after a certain point, which is why you won’t find too many 80-minute albums on vinyl.
The term LP stopped being used as CDs became the dominant format for music releases. As far as the modern age is concerned, an LP can be equated with a full-length album, which is still a popular way to release music today. However, because of the growing popularity of vinyl records, it is good to know what LP used to mean – a long-playing vinyl record.
What Is An EP?
We’ve already looked at what an EP is, but in short it refers to an extended play vinyl record. It usually contains more music than a single, but less than a full-length album, about three to five tracks as I mentioned earlier.
But the name “extended play” might be a bit confusing, as a long-playing record is longer than an extended play record. This is because extended play actually means “an extended single.” In other words, it’s a longer playing single.
The term used to be applied only to vinyl records other than the standard 78 rpm and LP records, but as we know, it’s not unusual to hear the term “EP “in connection with a Compact Disc or digital release today.
The EP has been a popular format with punk and independent bands for decades, but there aren’t any genre or stylistic limitations. Length can also vary. I actually worked on the artwork for an EP that spanned eight tracks. In the end, it’s more a matter of how the artist or management sees the release as opposed to the number of tracks it contains.
Any release with more than 10 tracks is usually considered a full-length album. But Van Halen actually has several “albums” that only have nine tracks, and depending on the length of individual songs, there are examples of albums that have even fewer tracks (Iron Butterfly’s second studio album, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida only has six tracks total, though the title track is about 17 minutes long). What this means is that oftentimes the total length of the release matters more than the number of tracks it has on it.
For all intents and purposes, an EP today is just any release that’s about half the length of a full album. But with the return of vinyl records, it’s not bad to be aware of its original meaning as well.
Why Is This Difference Important?
Though vinyl records are rising in popularity again, streaming is the more accepted way to listen to music today.
When vinyl records were still commonly sold and used, EPs often served as promotional tools. Artists and labels sometimes used them to highlight a few songs (or singles) from the artist’s back catalog, and were used as publicity or promotional tools.
Singles were often re-released as EPs as well, and bonus material was added to them – remixes, demos, or other extras.
Today, it is more common for an EP to be made up of entirely new songs that round out an artist’s catalog.
Meanwhile, very little was ever added to vinyl LPs, since they were meticulously planned out. Artists and labels had to think carefully about track sequencing and length to maximize the medium. Adding tracks could mean sacrificing quality of the audio or the impact of the track sequence.
Since the introduction of the CD, it has not been uncommon for full-length albums to contain bonus tracks.
In summary, an LP is a long-playing vinyl record, and an EP is an extended play vinyl record. Not too complicated, right?
It’s okay to think of an LP as a full-length album and an EP as a half-album, because that’s pretty much what they mean today.
Any artist looking to release music should be aware of these differences, and strategically release singles, EPs, and full-length albums as they see fit. An album is a great format when you feel you have a story to tell or an important statement to make. Singles and EPs can be great when you’re looking to experiment, or if you want to keep your fans engaged while you’re working on longer releases. New releases can also draw attention to your back catalog.
It’s usually best to have a varied strategy in today’s music arena, unless you’re confident that every album you release is going to be a masterpiece.