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For all its positive and negative connotations, the digital age of music is here to stay. But how is everyone … the industry, artists and punters coping with it? Are we feeling comfortable with it yet and are we any closer to working out how to make a buck out of it? Putting copyright, piracy and financial issues aside, do we even know what to call it? I’m talking about the actual product, the songs, the music.

‘Back in the day’, it was easy.  A single was a round piece of vinyl with the ‘hit’ on one side and another track on the B side. However, some mega-talented artist would then complicate things by gracing us with two hits at once and the disc could then be referred to as a double A. Occasionally the punters themselves dictated proceedings and found that they preferred the B side to the ‘hit’ and the B side by default, would become the A side.

Savvy record companies seeking to make more of a buck than they had been (and in those days, they did make a buck) then offered us the EP, aka the Extended Play, which usually consisted of 2 tracks per side of the 7″ piece of vinyl. Four tracks for not much more than the cost of a single was good value and it would normally come with cover art, as opposed to the way singles were generally presented; plain paper packaging with a hole in it to reveal a label with song details.

Of course there has always been the LP, the Long Player, a 12″ platter of vinyl more commonly called the album and featuring (usually) up to 5, 6 or 7 tracks per side. Applying the EP theory of business to the LP, labels also released double albums, two discs of vinyl, sometimes in elaborately adorned gate-fold sleeves. Occasionally we’d see triple albums, such a Mushroom Records’ first ever release, highlights of the 1973 Sunbury Pop Festival. And yes there were even releases of 4 or more albums packaged together.

I provide the aforementioned music history lesson in response to a situation I have been witnessing a lot of lately, i.e., artists presenting a release of 5 or 6 tracks as an album. In fact one artist in particular recently informed me that she was releasing 5 new songs as an EP. I noticed that soon after, she was describing the release on social media as an album. I checked in with her to confirm the status of the recording and she told me that, yes it was a 5 track EP but more and more she is finding that people do not know what an EP is. Calling it an album was something they could relate to and at least an indication that it consisted of multiple tracks. Which brings me to the conclusion that the terminology has not kept up with the technology. After all, who am I or anyone else to dictate how many tracks constitute an album or an EP. Isn’t an album just an extended play anyway? It’s more confusing than a Victorian trying order a pot of beer or a potato cake in Sydney or vice versa. What about a prog rock band that digitally releases just  a couple of tracks but the duration of each is half an hour or more? Is it an EP, an album or even double album? It’s neither, unless it’s released as a physical product first and we can measure how much vinyl or CD space it has taken up.

ARIA, Australia’s official chart body has a singles and album chart (among many others) but nothing for EPs. By and large it’s the record labels who decree  if a release will be deemed a single, EP or album. Such is the dilemma for the young independent artist who wants to release his or her music. WTF do you call it? A pot of tunes or a schooner of songs? Do we need to put an official figure on the number of songs which constitute an album or EP? Is it more about the duration of the recording? It would seem that the most sensible thing to do would be to create new terminology to describe modern day releases. Perhaps we could learn from the takeaway food fraternity … a large, medium or small? A standard or a whopper? A bunch or a big’n? There’s an endless supply of possibilities but maybe the traditional titles, EP and album should no longer be on the menu. What do you reckon?

By Greg Phillips

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