If you are a music writer or a performer, chances are pretty high that you’re also a music lover. You will understand the thrill of finding out that your favourite band or artist is releasing a new album – a body of work encapsulating who they are in that particular moment in time, crystallising that period of their life – their tastes, their opinions – in both conscious and unconscious ways. Depending on your generation, you may have held a new record in your hands, a vinyl or a CD perhaps, complete with its front cover and liner notes, lyrics, pictures of the band.
It’s little surprise, then, that you dream of one day replicating your idols and releasing your own album. For me, the quintessential ‘album experience’ is probably something akin to Bon Iver’s debut, For Emma Forever Ago, and his foray into a cabin in the woods to record a body of work that revealed his own vulnerabilities with breathtaking simplicity. For you, it might be the promise of filling a studio with an array of talented musicians, or spending hours honing the perfect synth sound that will be a marker for your sound.
There are, however, several good reasons NOT to rush into recording a full-length album.
This comes from someone who self-recorded an album very early in their music career. While I learned a huge amount from the whole process – not only about the creative side, but also the business side (making a budget, negotiating with producers, etc) – and created something of which I’ll always be proud, in hindsight there are several factors that would change my approach, were I to start all over again.
Reason #1 – a better use of your financial resources
If you haven’t already, it’s worth reading the article on ‘self-recording VS going to a producer/studio’ – but even before you consider that debate there’s a bigger (and very obvious!) point to remember.
The fewer songs you record, the more financial investment you can focus into each song.
For example, if you have set aside a £2,000 budget to record your first record, you can either record a 4-song EP and spend £500 on each song, or you can spread that across a 10-song album (like we did!) and invest £200 into each song.
Hang on, you might say – what if I am self recording the album at home? I don’t have to pay for studio time, so what’s the problem?
The logic above still applies, for two reasons:
a) Firstly, your time is money. As an artist, you need to start thinking about the best ways to use your time – in the same way that you would if you were paying a studio engineer an expensive day-rate.
To put it another way, instead of spending 100 hours on our 10-song album, with 10 hours spent per song, we could have spent the same amount of time on a 4-song EP, with 25 hours spent per song. Much more focus placed into making those four songs really incredible!
b) Secondly, even if you’re self-recording at home, there are other things you could (and should) be spending money – e.g. session musicians, a proper mastering engineer, a skilled mixing producer to spend a bit of time enhancing each of your tracks.
Reason #2 – a few of your songs will get a lot more attention than the rest
It is extremely unlikely that you’re going to write a whole album of complete bangers. Especially at the beginning of your songwriting career, you’re probably not going to have a whole album’s worth of standout songs.
You need to be thinking about where your energies are focused. If you release a 4-song EP and spend the necessary time really promoting each of those songs, you’re really making the most out of that time.
If, however, you record a full-length album and release 2 or 3 singles (which will get the lion’s share of people’s attention!) the rest of your songs have taken your energy, time and money away from those 2-3 singles without giving you anything to show for it.
Reason #3 – shorter bodies of work give you more chances to explore your sound
The first two reasons above focus on how you use your time and resources. They can both be summarised as ‘less is more’.
However, there’s another reason why you should strongly consider releasing two or three shorter EPs at the start of your career rather than a full-length album.
You are still developing as an artist. You are still trying to find that killer ‘sound’, that distinctive element that stands you out from the crowd.
An EP is a good opportunity to explore in some depth (but not too much) one of the directions your music could take. There’s less pressure on you to stumble onto your killer sound because you can explore something different in your next EP.
This is harder with an album and all the extra time it takes you. The likelihood is that there’ll be a shorter gap between EPs than between albums. This gives you a chance to develop much more quickly and improve all the different elements that make up your original style.
There’s always the option of releasing a number of EPs in fairly quick succession and then drawing the best songs together in a coherent way into a fuller album – for example, I remember RHODES doing this really successfully.
Wait a minute, you might say – if all this is true, surely just releasing a lot of singles would be even better than working on EPs?
For me, a 4 or 5 track EP gives you the perfect balance between exploring your songs in some depth and putting a good amount of focus onto each of them. Only releasing standalone singles might stop you from exploring the same sound (across an EP) from several different perspectives (each different song).
In any case – there is no single correct way to do these things. The most important thing is that you don’t rush into the project without balancing the different factors – time, money, exploration and what you want to get out of it!
And if you DO consider everything and still want to head into a cabin in the woods for six months to record a full-length record, then it’s probably the right thing to do – and good luck to you!
What do you think about this article? Have you recorded an EP / album and want to share your experience? Leave a comment below!