A cappella recording has become a big business within a budding industry. Indeed, given the improvements in recording and distribution technology, and the increase in professional services available to groups interested in recording, it seems like groups at all levels, from small high schools to major universities to post-collegiate social groups to full-fledged pros are releasing new recordings each year.
In Recording Recommendations, we offer our two cents on best practices in recorded a cappella.
In this edition, our focus is on <b>whether to record an LP or an EP</b>.
The designations “LP” and “EP” are largely outdated, but have come back into vogue over the last decade. Originally coined to differentiate vinyl records. Singles feature one song (and often a bonus track or two); LP or Long Play was a full album. EPs filled the space between, with a generally agreed upon length of about twenty-five minutes (or roughly four songs).
In a cappella recording, groups in the last twenty years have focused on LPs, and with good reason. With studio time at a premium, groups often sought to get the most bang for their buck with a full-length album. Moreover, in an era when relatively few groups were marketing their music on a national platform, but rather selling regionally or just within their school communities, there was generally less emphasis on perfect recordings, more emphasis on giving everyone a solo and documenting all of the music a group learned in the past year.
Things have shifted, however. While the EP may not have become the standard, per se, it is no longer an abnormality in the contemporary a cappella recording scene. With more and more (not to mention better) a cappella-centric professional services available, groups are more often able to get tracks recorded, mixed and mastered on a per track or per small grouping of tracks basis, which makes producing EPs more affordable. Moreover there’s the broader consideration of consumer attention spans, which reaches well beyond a cappella. We Tweet and we text message. We watch five-minute-or-less YouTube clips over full-length films. Thus, it makes perfect sense that a four or five-song EP would provide the perfect balance between showing a range of what your group can do, while still getting the most out of your listeners’ relatively brief attention spans.
Short releases also allow a group to focus on quality over quantity—rather than meticulously spreading the placement of their strongest tracks across an album, and instead <i>only</i> putting out that best-arranged, most polished, best-sung material.
In addition to all of this, for the sheer number of tracks, an EP typically takes less time to assemble and release than an LP, thus a group that records EPs stands a stronger chance of turning around and releasing more recordings, or more effectively splitting its time to accomplish other goals within a short span of time.
The bulk of this column may read like an advertisement for groups should abandon LPs in favor of EPs, and I won’t deny that I <i>do</i> think that’s the best path for most groups, particularly at the scholastic level. All of that said, if your group does the ambition, depth of material, and vision to see through a full-length album, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Determining the length of a recording should be all about crystallizing your goals, making a plan, and seeing it through—and ideally playing to your group’s strengths along the way.