First, a bit of history. Get out your #2 pencils. This will count toward your final grade.
In 1965, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys heard an album that changed his musical outlook. That album was the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. Wilson couldn’t believe how every song on the album was perfect, and that all together they contributed to an overall perfect album. In other words, there was no filler. Back in 1965, this was indeed a novel concept. Wilson set out to outdo the Beatles in album perfection, and wound up recording his seminal work, Pet Sounds. Not to be outdone for long, the Beatles responded with their masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper.
Why is all this important? Because this period established the recording studio as more than just a delivery system for music. It became an artist’s toolbox. It also raised the ante for everything that followed. Future artists had no choice but show their best side to the public, and the studio was the key to that.
OK, end of history lesson. Put down your pencils.
How does this impact you as an artist all these years later? You now have instant access to the public, so anything you put out there better be ready for public consumption. The modern recording studio was once a delivery system, then it became an artist’s canvas, and now it is both of these and more – it is your gateway to an audience. So you have a choice to make.
EP or LP, That Is The Question
The phrase “time is money” is never more pertinent anywhere than in the recording studio. You may think using your time wisely involves recording the greatest number of songs in the least amount of time. In theory, yes. But remember your lesson. No one’s stopping you from recording an LP of just you, a guitar, and a mic. However, can that really compete with the best produced, most technically-honed records out there?
The good news is that EPs seem to be the thing these days. The reason for this is two-fold: 1) Most distribution packages offer a financially friendly EP option; 2) A strong, five-song EP offers a quick dose of the band for fans. You can choose your strongest five songs and produce a package with a punch.
So, an EP it is.
You don’t have just five songs, do you? And you don’t have the money to spend hundreds of hours in the studio perfecting tracks for a full length album. Not yet, anyway. Read on.
It’s an elegant one, as well as one that is being taken advantage of more and more these days. Pick your five strongest tunes. Record them. Make it a perfect EP. While you’re in the studio, you can lay down basic tracks for your other songs. Think of it as prep work in a professional kitchen. You don’t really think they chop all those onions the minute you order the soup, do you? Having your basics down for a few other songs makes it much easier to follow up your main release, with sporadic singles to keep your audience on their toes!
What are your goals as an artist. Are you going to be a one-off phenomenon? Or are you going to release something strong, and follow it up with something stronger, and create a lifetime’s worth of music that your fans can anticipate and keep coming back for. You can’t always trust that the muse is going to lead you to gold. Or vice-versa. What you can do is rely on simple economics. In the studio, you must use every moment you can in service to your art. Brian Wilson and the Beatles would do no less, and they’ve done alright for themselves.