Biz Buzz: EP or Not EP? Is It Good or Bad for You?

Phil Sweetland's
Biz Buzz

In June, a curious thing happened on top of the Bill-board 200 albums chart: The No. 1 album wasn’t really an album. It was an EP.

The No. 1 disc was a soundtrack from the TV show “Glee,” and the EP listed for $6.98.  EP stands for Extended Play, usually consisting of between 4 and 6 songs.

That week, the No. 2 album on the Billboard 200 was a conventional album, a movie soundtrack from the “Twilight” film. It was a normal size album with a list price of $18.98.

Which of these two hugely different formats – EP or album – is better for you and your music in today’s turbulent music marketplace? Price points have never been as important as they are today, in what the Associated Press recently called “The Great Recession,” a fascinating term that is a modern spin on the Great Depression of 1929-1940.

Earlier in June, the head of one of the few successful Music Row labels, Scott Borchetta of Big Machine, told the Billboard Country Summit at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, “We can’t survive on a $6 CD.”

One label that recently bit the dust, Golden Nashville, couldn’t survive on a $16 CD either. Noel Gordon, the label’s CEO, told Country Aircheck that, “we simply do not have the leverage required in today’s world to get our music played on country radio, and the amount of money it takes to work an act no longer makes business sense.”

So maybe the question isn’t whether Music Row can survive on a $6 CD as Borchetta says, but whether Music Row can survive without a $6 CD that’s really an EP?

These days, radio is so brutally expensive in the country format and so agonizingly slow to turn over singles that even superstar acts can’t release more than one album every couple of years. That’s too long a gap. And here’s where indy artists have an edge. Unlike ma- jor labels whose business models have been entrenched for decades, nobody says you can’t release one album a year, instead of once every two years, and nobody says you have to have 12 songs on each album.

Instead, why not try an EP with 6 songs that you sell for about $7, and you pay all parties involved (producer, engineer, songwriters, session guys) half of what you’d pay for a normal album? The next year you repeat the process.

Why? Price, price, price. Why do you think Wal-Mart and McDonald’s are booming during the Great Recession? Starbucks had to begin offering free Wi-Fi at all its stores on July 1, according to the Wall Street Journal, because McDonald’s had done it a couple months before.

Even the touring business is off this summer. So is NASCAR. Lots of tours have been canceled. Part of that is because of Ticketmaster’s reportedly horrendous customer service, but another reason is that folks don’t have the discretionary income they did a couple years ago. Besides, over 10 percent of the country is out of work. Amazingly, according to The New York Times, more than 50 percent of adults under age 25 are unemployed.

But there’s more to EPs than cutting costs. They give you the opportunity to adapt your music to changing tastes on an annual basis. Find out what works at radio and what doesn’t, then make your adjustments. That’s a lot less risky than waiting 2 more years before releasing a new album, which may or may not work. These are tough choices, and think carefully before abandoning a product you sell for $15 (a CD) for one you sell for $7 (an EP). Nothing is more exciting than a multi-platinum album. Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Taylor Swift, George Strait, Lady Antebellum, and Darius Rucker have all done just fine with the tried-and-true album format.

But look at the millions of dollars that’s been spent on those acts by their labels. Do you have similar resources? If not, do you have investors or bankers willing to forward that type of money in this economy?

Chances are, the answers to the last two questions are no. Despite being bailed out by taxpayers, the banks are historically risk-averse when it comes to lending small businesses money these days. And many artists’ are not reaping the tour money they normally do this summer. With CD sales tanking, road income was one of the few revenue streams left.

So maybe the EP, and the flexibility it allows, could provide an alternative approach for you or your artist.

By: Phil Sweetland-

Phil also writes Bios for artists, executives, and air personalities for $300. Bio clients have included Jamey Johnson and Rusty Walker..   Phil Sweetland, 3107-3 Belwood St., Nashville TN 37203-1210.

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