Sunday, January 4, 2009

Digital EPs

I'm often wrong with my predictions and assertions, but I like to write them anyway. I've been buying/downloading albums on sale for about $2 at lately, and it has me thinking about the state of the "record" industry. I don't have facts or figures to back me up. I mean, I could do some quick research, but I'd rather just rant. In this world of iTunes (although DRM-free Amazon MP3 has an edge over sometimes-DRM free iTunes), who buys a 12+ song album anymore? There are classic albums, from the eras of the CD, the cassette, the eight-track, and the vinyl record. Those recordings from bygone eras, depending on quality, will have buyers in the digital realm, and some sales in physical copies. Some already-established bands and artists could still release LPs, but even those are hit-or-miss.

New pop music (pop-rock, pop-country, pop-R&B, of the American Idol variety) is single-driven, but the pop machine will probably continue to manufacture 12-song collections. Ultimately, those successful pop acts will release 'em by the single. Well, if my rant is correct, that will be the case. They'll release a single, shoot a video, and those caught up in the hype will consume. Same as it ever was.

So what's a musician who treats music like art (yet would like a significant amount of others to enjoy the output) to do? Our download society probably has less tolerance for the album (with few exceptions, mumbled above), whether mp3 or CD or vinyl. There's only so much you can do with a single, if the radio is becoming a less viable option and if you didn't win a reality TV show recently. There's the EP. In the pre-iTunes world, sure, a bunch of indie bands have been selling EPs more than LPs because of budget and cost or whatever.

EPs released digitally will be (or is currently) the way to go for music distribution. The digital EP is instant (buy for $2-$4 and download immediately), has room for some sort of art value, and is short enough to be given a chance - amongst everyone who wants to be heard. Unsigned, indie, and major acts alike will embrace the digital EP, and possibly the PDF liner note.

Right now, presumably, I think a lot of artists and bands have been producing Digital EPs as their periodic artistic musical statement. As a listener, I'd rather give three or four songs in less than 20 minutes a listen than endure a 70-minute pseudo-opus from a wannabe. As a producer in this day and age, I don't want to create an album to which I know virtual no one will listen. I've done that a couple of times. It's only fun when it's purely personal and artistic. When commerce gets in the way, well, you have to make a balance that works. (Owning a couple of publishing entities means that commerce gets in the way more than the artist in me would like.) I'm also wary of the single, especially for independent acts, since it only showcases one thing - hit or miss.

So that's the rant. I could've microblogged this thing in one sentence: The three, four song digital EP is the wave of the future/present in music.


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