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Today’s musicians are dealing with an ever-changing music scene, so figuring out the best way to share new songs with fans is always a bit of a puzzle. For new artists, should they focus on regularly putting out individual tracks or work on a bigger project like an EP or album?

While releasing singles helps attract attention and build a fanbase before dropping a larger collection, artists at any stage can find value in creating an EP. So, what is an EP in music?

What Does EP Stand for in Music?

EP stands for extended play. It’s essentially a mini-album comprising a set of tracks that is shorter than a standard album yet longer than a double-sided single.

Many bands and artists release EPs early on, even before their first album. Some songs from these EPs may end up on later albums, while others stay as separate releases. For example, James Blake’s 2020 EP Before is a standalone release.

How Many Songs Are on an EP?

EPs typically feature a tracklist of 3-6 songs and have a runtime of under 30 minutes.

RCA Victor introduced the first EPs in 1952 to outdo Columbia, the creator of the widely popular LP format. RCA’s innovation was a smaller, 7-inch record played at 45 rpm, offering just 7.5 minutes of audio per side. This format quickly gained popularity as it enabled artists to release singles, B-tracks, rarities, covers, and more in between LP releases. This strategy kept fans engaged and built anticipation for full-length albums without requiring extensive financial investments or prolonged studio time.

EP vs Album/LP vs Mixtape vs Single: Differences

Let’s compare:


Number of tracks

Running time

Purpose and description



30 minutes or less

- Intended as a shorter project compared to a full album

- Used by artists to showcase new material or experiment with different sounds

Album (LP)

7 or more

Longer than 30 minutes

- Considered a more substantial and cohesive body of work compared to an EP

- Tells a more complete story or theme through its tracks




- Historically referred to as a compilation of tracks mixed together by a DJ

- Can include original songs, remixes, covers, and collaborations

- Initially distributed for free or as promotional tools

- Can also refer to albums released independently by artists outside of traditional record labels, with a more experimental or raw sound



Usually 3-7 minutes

- Standalone release, promotes a specific song

- Traditionally used for radio play, focuses on hit potential and chart success

What about a combination of these? For example, what is an EP album? This can be a bit confusing because EP and album are different formats of music releases. But in certain contexts, an EP album refers to a collection of songs released as an EP but packaged and marketed like a traditional album.

Another intersection is a mini-album or short album. These are used to describe releases that are longer than a traditional EP but shorter than a full-length album. These usually contain around 7 to 9 tracks or have a total running time of 25 to 35 minutes.

Is It Better to Release Singles, an EP, or an Album?

Releasing singles and EPs between full albums is a great way to build excitement for your next big release. Consider it testing the waters before diving in with a full album, which the industry calls the waterfall strategy.

For new artists trying to grow their fanbase, launching a single or EP is a smart move to see if there’s enough interest before investing in a full-length album. Making an album involves a lot of time, money, and effort, so it’s important to gauge potential success. Plus, singles and EPs can get your music on Spotify playlists and other streaming platforms, thus creating buzz for a future album. EPs are especially useful for indie artists who have to manage their own budgets.

How Much Does It Cost to Make an EP?

The cost of producing an EP varies widely depending on factors like location, studio rates, the complexity of the music, and whether you hire additional musicians or handle everything yourself. In general, here’s an overview:

  • Studios can charge anywhere from $60 to $600 per hour, with daily rates typically falling in the $400 to $600 range. For a 4-song EP, budgeting at least 2 to 3 days for recording is common, possibly more for intricate productions.
  • Mixing rates range from $125 to over $250 per song. Mastering costs vary but typically fall between $50 to $150 per track.
  • If you need to hire musicians, photographers for album art, or graphic designers, expect to budget between $1,000 to $4,000 or even up to $10,000 for a more elaborate production.
  • Uploading your music to platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, etc., is usually done through a distributor like DistroKid, TuneCore, or CD Baby. These services charge an annual subscription fee (around $20) or a per-release fee (typically $9 to $30).

If you’re tight on money, consider recording your music at home with friends’ help and releasing it on SoundCloud. For $2.50 monthly, SoundCloud can send your tracks to Spotify and other platforms, and you can also earn money from your SoundCloud uploads.

What Counts as an EP on Streaming Services?

Both Apple Music and Spotify classify a release as an EP if it meets either of these criteria:

  • Four to six tracks with a total running time of 30 minutes or less
  • One to three tracks (one track can be 10 minutes or longer) and a total running time of 30 minutes or less

If a release has seven or more tracks, it will be categorized as an album.

How to Make the Perfect EP

Choose the right tracks

When curating a release with just 4 to 6 tracks, it’s crucial to select the songs that best represent your sound and style.

Structure around a song

Structure your EP around a standout track that has playlist potential. Given the trend of playlist-focused listening, a strong single can attract listeners to explore your entire EP and discover your full music catalog.

Focus on production quality

Invest time and resources into producing your EP to the highest quality available to you. A polished sound not only sounds professional but also resonates better with listeners. Even if you can’t do it in the studio, there are budget ways to make it sound nice.

Create attention-grabbing artwork and branding

Your EP’s visual presentation is arguably just as important as the music itself. Get help from talented designers to create catchy artwork that matches your music’s vibe. Keep the same look everywhere so your EP sticks in fans’ minds.

Plan the release and promotion strategy

Pick the right time to launch your EP and match it with promotions like videos, social media, and press. Connect with fans and influencers for more exposure.

When Is the Best Time to Release an EP?

The best time to release an EP as an emerging musician isn’t set in stone — it depends on a few factors. Firstly, take the time you need to refine your sound, produce and mix your tracks professionally, prepare artwork, and promote your release. Tease your fans on social media to build buzz and anticipation.

Research industry trends and events in your genre and local music scene to find a strategic release window. If you have live shows, TV/radio appearances, live streams, or a tour planned, consider launching your EP right before these events.

However, don’t rush the process. If you need more time to perfect your songs or promote the EP effectively, it’s okay to delay the release. Quality and your satisfaction are key.

Final Thoughts

What does EP mean in music? It’s a release that contains more tracks than a single but fewer tracks than a full album, and many musicians love the format. It’s interesting to see big artists like H.E.R., Nine Inch Nails, The Weeknd, and Aphex Twin break up their album content into shorter releases. This keeps their marketing efforts going strong for a longer time.

When it comes to your own music, it’s up to you to decide how you want to release and promote it. EPs offer a lot of flexibility, both creatively and financially. They allow you to create projects that are more substantial than singles but not as overwhelming as full albums. You can strategically plan how to attract new fans while also keeping your loyal listeners engaged and excited throughout the process.