SG EP’s and Making Digital Sales Work

SG EP’s and Making Digital Sales Work

This past weekend, DBM reviewed two new SG releases – Misty Freeman’s Turn The Page and Steve Ladd’s No Excuses, No Regrets. These two albums have several things in common. They both are being released by solo artists. They both received a 4/5-star rating. They also consist of only 6 songs, making them both qualify for EP (extended play) status.

What is an EP, exactly? Well, let’s dive into a little quick history first….

When 78 RPM vinyl records were first made available, they typically consisted of one song per side, making them essentially singles. As the format evolved, Columbia Records introduced the Long Play album, which allowed for multiple songs per side. RCA/Victor, in an effort to compete, introduced what they called the “extended play” 45 RPM, which was accomplished by modifying groove sizes and even recording sound in order to adapt to the constrictive format. This allowed up to 7.5 minutes of music per side, allowing anywhere from 2-3 songs per side (or 4-6 songs total). Of course, the LP won out in that particular format war, and the EP became somewhat of a novelty, either reserved for compilations or sometimes as a “teaser” for a full album to be released at a later date.

LP’s (or, as they would be eventually be simply known as, albums) typically would consist of an average of 10 songs per release. Because vinyl is a physical medium, and songs take up physical space on the disk, the standard was was to fill that space as much as possible. The medium could hold up to 20 minutes per side, or 4-6 songs per side (depending on the length of the song). Because no one wants to waste space, artists were pushed to get as much material on an album as possible, which results in what artists and listeners alike refer to as “fillers,” or songs that are recorded basically to fill the gaps in an album. These fillers were never a huge problem, because consumers usually only had the option to purchase an entire album to get the song they wanted (unless it was singled). What’s a few throw-away songs on an album if they’re going to buy it anyway?

Digital music sales (in particular, the ability to purchase individual songs regardless of single status) turned this entire model on its ear. Now, consumers could purchase 6-7 songs of a 10-song album, leaving the fillers alone. Instead of guaranteed sales of a mediocre song simply for being attached to an album with a much more popular song, these fillers are collecting digital dust, which not only hurts the artists, but the songwriters, as they won’t see royalty checks from album sales (although, hopefully, they still got the mechanicals fee). It’d make more sense from an artist/label perspective to simply not record the fillers.

Re-enter the EP format. Instead of releasing 6-7 really good songs and 3-4 “eh” songs, artists are instead just releasing the 6 best songs they can find, cutting out the fillers as much as possible. This makes sense from a financial standpoint for digital sales, as you’re not spending time and money on recording songs that otherwise wouldn’t be purchased. This was actually the logic behind my own EP a few years back.

RIAA certification may also be playing a role in this new EP trend. Since it takes a minimum of 10 song purchases to qualify as an album sale, it becomes more difficult to count album sales when consumers are only buying a few songs at a time. Whereas a consumer. The RIAA does NOT, however, require that 10 UNIQUE songs be purchased to qualify for an album sale; if 5 people buy two songs from one album, that qualifies as an album sold, even if the other 8 songs are never purchased. In order to qualify for a Gold record with the RIAA, you need to sell 500,000 copies of an album (or 5 million digital sales of songs from an album). EP’s, on the other hand, are defined as less than 30 minutes in length, and maxing out at 4-6 songs. In 1989, the RIAA lowered the threshold for Gold status for EP’s to 250,000 unites and 500,000 unites for Platinum status. Basic math shows that it’s easier for an EP to be certified Gold than it is for a full-length album.

Now this is all well and good for digital sales, and it’s great to see artists and labels making an attempt to adapt to the ever-changing music market, but what does that do for physical sales? Six songs on iTunes or Spotify are going to have a better chance of being played/sold, but when it comes to purchasing a CD, you run the risk of consumers feeling cheated. DBM even mentioned in both of his reviews that he wished both Misty’s and Steve’s CD’s were longer. Sure, it leaves the listener wanting more, but it also might leave consumers feeling like they got less for their money (especially if artists are selling the shorter CD’s for the same price as a traditional, full-length album).

This could potentially lead to a happy medium between the two formats, however. While the EP lends itself to digital sales, it might be beneficial for artists/labels to release a full-length “companion” or “special edition” CD for physical sales. Record 10-12 songs for a complete album, and release 6 of them digitally. Then, maybe a month or so later, release the physical copy with the extra songs (or “bonus tracks”). Die-hard fans will purchase (or at the very least, stream) the digital album until the physical release, which becomes added income (albeit somewhat small, if streaming outweighs sales) until the physical CD comes out with the bonus material.

In fact, Hollywood has already adapted a similar model. When films are finished playing in theaters, they are released for digital purchase/rental up to a month prior to being released on physical BluRay/DVD. The digital release is often the original theatrical release, while the physical release includes extended versions and bonus material as incentive to purchase it. In some instances, purchasing the digital copy early will also include a physical copy once it’s released (for example, when Batman v Superman was released for home video, I bought the digital copy upon its release, and was mailed a physical copy of the BluRay three weeks later as part of my purchase).

Granted, by RIAA standards, you’d be releasing TWO different products, so that would split your numbers, but if you’re making up the difference in income, why wouldn’t be worth it to try?

Kyle Boreing

Kyle has been writing for MusicScribe since 2008. He is a gospel music soloist, occasional quartet singer, and church music director who pays way too much attention to recordings. He is an alumni of Stamps-Baxter School of Music and has shared the stage with artists such as Mercy's Mark, the Dove Brothers Band, and The Oak Ridge Boys. Visit his website at www.kyleboreing.com, or follow him on Twitter @kyleboreing.

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2 Comments

  1. William R. Boen
    Reply May 18, 10:03 #1 William R. Boen

    I have been collecting music for years. any release that has less then 10 songs on it is a rip-off. The same goes for down loads. I have over 100,000 records and cd’s. I will not change formats again so if the music company’s quit selling cd’s they have lost my business.




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    • Kyle Boreing
      Reply May 18, 10:20 Kyle Boreing Author

      I don’t think SG will ever get rid of CD’s at this point, mainly due to the fact that product sales are still a huge part of the SG business model (which is another topic entirely). SG audiences (many of whom are notoriously opposed to change of any sort) want to take something home with them or listen to in the car on the way home. So long as that’s a demand, SG will offer physical media for sale.

      That being said, you obviously have a computer (or at least a mobile device) to view this site, so you’re not having to change formats so much as you can add digital albums as a format to your already-existing collection.




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