Strategies

The Lead-Up EP

Some argue that the album release cycle is a thing of the past, and that artists have moved into an “always on” mode of promotion. Even in the studio, we blog, Twitter, and post videos of our recording sessions on YouTube. Some argue further that the album format itself is dead. Personally, I’d like to release another album, but I know better than to disappear for five years again. I recently wrote about the benefits of releasing a follow-up EP. Moving forward, I want to turn that concept on its head by releasing a series of lead-up EPs, which have many of the same benefits.

The Lead-Up EP

My plan is to record six songs – five originals and a cover (to draw in iTunes search traffic) – and release them as a digital-only EP. Then I’ll do it again, twice. At the end of the process, I’ll dump the covers and the weakest original from each EP, to create an album of 12 originals. If the physical CD format still has some life in it (or I win the next phase of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest – we’ll know tomorrow!), I’ll press 1,000 copies and promote it aggressively. A few months later, I’ll follow that up with an EP of the three rejected originals plus remixes.

The result is a near constant stream of five releases, all from one album’s worth of material! Perhaps the die hard fans who buy every EP won’t bother with the album, since they’ll already have the songs. I could always eliminate the third EP and save that material for the album and follow-up. Then again, the album versions of the songs might be different enough from the EP versions to warrant the purchase. I’ll make that call when the time comes.

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Todd Durrant
    April 30, 2009 at 9:31 am

    I agree that the traditional approach to the “album” is changing, and it may actually lead into something that I end up enjoying even more. Before I was ever converted to the joys of the “album”, I was a huge fan of the old school “maxi-single” where I could hear the main song with different versions and an exclusive b-side or two. I rarely purchased albums in high-school and college, except by my very favorite bands. I purchased a LOT of singles.

    I find it odd that the single was considered “dead” only a few years ago and labels / bands were abandoning all hope with the format. Yet now, it seems that the digital market and the need to create a steady stream of releases to keep the public interest has meant the rebirth of the single. It may not be the exact same approach to the single these days, but really, that’s what it is. It’s a way to say, “look, I have new stuff, and you don’t have to wait for my album to hear it!” I think if you can keep something new coming out every three months or so, you’ll ultimately be better off.
    Interestingly, part of my own experiment with Saudade is to forget about an “album” in general. Instead, there are just releases, physical or digital, which may feature 4 tracks, or may feature 10 tracks. They’ll still always be cheap, and they’ll just be steps in a constant stream of “everything I’m doing with music” instead of “10 tracks I polished during the last 3 years”.

    -Todd

  • Reply
    Mark Nicholas
    May 1, 2009 at 7:33 am

    Perhaps the biggest trick to this approach is to maintain quality in the releases. When I first write a song, I always want to release it ASAP ’cause I’m excited about its newness. But if I let myself do that, I’m pretty sure the quality of my releases overall would go way down, because I haven’t taken the extra time to get the mixes closer-to-right, or add the subtle polishing elements. (I’ve got the “original demos” of most of my songs to prove this. Not exactly top-notch.) I too used to love the maxi-single format, back when it seemed like every Depeche Mode and Erasure single was full of enjoyable remixes and B-sides. But post-“Violator” and post-“Chorus”, I feel like the quality of those singles pretty much fell apart, and I stopped buying them.

    So, while I totally agree with the marketing benefits of having something new come out every 3 months or so, I feel like I personally could never accomplish it with any kind of sustainable quality level. I need the time to let my first crack at the recording/production sit a little before I gain enough perspective to tweak it into something more likely to have appeal beyond my own eardrums. Who knows, though? Maybe I’ll be able to adapt to the quicker turnaround at some point. Maybe if I had more time to work on the music each day. For now, I’m sitting on 4 Cosmicity songs ’til the end of the summer ’cause I think/hope it’ll ultimately result in better arrangements.

    -m

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    May 1, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    I totally agree with what you’re saying Mark, and I imagine that the album versions of my songs will be more polished than the EP versions. Of course we always want to put out quality stuff, but I’m not going to be too hard on myself for the EPs. In a way, they’re like demos. Of course, we run the risk that like with demos, the fans will prefer the EP versions to the album versions.

    I’m confident that in the long run, putting out the EPs will make for a stronger album.

  • Reply
    Monty Singleton
    May 1, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    I’m with Mark on this one, quality is key. SO many people are releasing new music every day the last thing we need is more music. What we need is more quality music. I just picked up The Decemberists’ album “The Hazards Of Love”, now that’s an album! It’s a concept album, and was a welcome change from everyone pushing singles. Also, VAST did this multiple EP strategy, realeasing EPs (called his Generica series) for a total of 40 songs over the period of a year or so and then released an album with them on it. I didn’t pick up the album but I picked up the EPs. VAST has done this in the past and it really reduces the impact of the album because you’ve already heard the songs before. 5 years is too long but you don’t want to over-expose yourself either. I think a good goal is a full LP every 12 to 18 months followed up with a b-sides EP 6 months later. Or, maybe release an EP of demos like with your BSOTW every 6 months, just piano+vocals. But, it all depends what you are going for. David Nevue has 143 songs, Cave Doll has 250 songs, some artists seem to thrive on quantity over quality. I really like how Depeche Mode bridged the gap with studio video footage. Between blogs, twitter, youtube, etc. I think this would give you more time to put out material, not less.

    Time to install a webcam in your studio? Hehe. Or, maybe video yourself mastering, recording some vocals, playing piano, and putting up some clips on YouTube every 6 months to let people know what you are up to. Personally I think it’s a lot more interesting watching an artist work on a new song in the studio than listening to a posted demo of that song.

    Monty

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    May 1, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Lots of good stuff to think about! I’ll have a better idea once I get a few new songs under my belt. I’m definitely going to do something with YouTube. I picked up a Flip Mino HD for that purpose. I’m a little awkward in front of the camera, but I suppose I’ll get used to it.

    I’ll pick up the new Decemberists. I was lukewarm on the last one, though I love “Of Angles and Angles.”

  • Reply
    Monty Singleton
    May 1, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    It’s all about the editing! Sony’s Vegas is cheap and works very well. I would just put the camera in the corner and forget about it when you are doing something interesting like recording vocals or going to an award show! I put together a short video for live event applications. It’s not pro quality, but used to show that I can get musicians together and that I can put on a live show that’s not just a man and his laptop.

    http://www.youtube.com/destroytheevidence

    I didn’t know of the Decemberists until I saw them on the Colbert Report a few days ago. I’ll have to look into “Of Angles and Angles”.

    Monty

  • Reply
    Monty Singleton
    May 1, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Oh yeah, I had one more idea.

    You might want to take your win of the JL comp as an excuse to perform the song live on a local TV network. We have a local network called “Park City TV” and any band can get on there and get a great broadcast quality video since they have proper lighting, video rigs, and sound recording equipment. Does OC have a local TV network that’s band friendly? That would make a great YouTube video!

    Monty

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    May 2, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    Nice video Monty! I was surprised the first time you cut to another song, but in retrospect I think it was a good call to mix it up and show some variety.

    Your local TV idea would totally work for someone who had performed live in the past ten years. I’d probably just suck it up or have an allergy/asthma attack ;). Our local station is pretty weak anyway.

  • Reply
    Grant
    August 3, 2009 at 5:58 am

    Monty,

    I’m a bit late to the post, but I enjoyed reading your comments about a local TV studio… we were actually able to that (probably AS you were writing that very post 🙂

    It was very fun, and we were able to obtain a copy of the entire show we put out. It included an interview with myself and one other band member, plus performances including 3 songs done acoustic.

    After we shot the show, we posted a clips on YouTube and on then on our official website and MySpace pages. Made for some great additional content. We still have at least one of those clips posted…

    Best of all, it was basically FREE. Our only expenses:
    – practice time
    – $6.29 in fuel (ok, it was somewhere close to that)
    – 1 blank DVD

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