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Featured Column: EPs

In My Life

I am convinced that secret to success is reinvention. Just took at the entertainment business. Bob Dylan, the poet laureate of my generation. He was the guy who symbolized peace and equality. He was the guy who signified anti-establishment. Over the years, we witnessed his evolution going from folk guitars to electric guitars. He so offended his fans when he went electric that he got booed off the stage at a number of venues. Did Bob care? Hell no! He just kept on keepin’ on. The times they were a-changin’ for Bob.

Bob Dylan is on the cover of the recent February/March issue of the AARP magazine. Right after the article on “Control Your Pain – and Take Back Your Life” is the piece written about Dylan. He looks great, seems very relaxed and is touting his newest album in which he sings standard songs previously sung by Frank Sinatra. There are 10 songs in the new album encompassing tunes from the 1920’s to the 1960’s. Clearly, Bob has learned the fine art of reinvention.

Recording artists like Rod Stewart, who went from bar band rocker to spandex disco dancer to crooner, have learned that you can’t sit back and rest on your laurels. Watching the Oscar’s the other night also served to show that actors, who have experienced success in the past, also need to take on risky new roles just to survive.

The music industry is learning once again the art of reinvention, how to go with the flow, just to survive. Historically, when we thought the only way to buy music was vinyl, the industry came up with 8-Tracks, which gave way to cassettes, which gave way to CD’s which gave way to downloads and now we’re back to vinyl. This has been a 50 year journey for the public to buy music that started and may actually end with vinyl.

In the early days of buying music on vinyl, you had two choices. You could get the 45 which usually had two songs on it or get the LP which had anywhere from 10 – 14 songs on it. The 45 was easy to transport, produced a fairly good sound, but usually had one good song (A-Side) and one throwaway song on the flip side (B-Side). Some unscrupulous record companies would knowingly place a less than stellar song on the B-side of a hit record. The company and the writer of the B-side song got paid publishing royalties much the same as the performer and writer of the A-side hit every time the record was bought even though no one cared about the flip side offering.

The LP on the other hand, usually had 3- 4 good songs out of the 12 songs with the rest not worth the listen. The record itself was a bit more difficult to transport and there was no mechanized way to just play a few selected tunes without picking up the needle to efficiently line up the grooves.

This dilemma of the 45 vs. the LP was partially solved with the introduction of the EP, which stands for Extended Play. In the EP, the record company realized that they could sell the EP for a bit more money that the 45, while at the same time, give the record buyer a good idea of the songs contained on the upcoming or existing album and thus use the EP as a “teaser” to what’s next while at the same time earning some extra money for the artist and the company.

Parlophone records, the Beatles Company in the UK, took the EP production to an art form. EP’s like the ones pictured below fueled the Beatlemania craze by additionally selling the EP along with the 45’s and LP’s to their many fans around the world. So, it was not inconceivable that if you bought the 45, EP and LP, you had three exact versions of the same song.

Today, EP’s produced in the 60’s for the Beatles, Stones, etc., like the ones pictured above are getting high prices at record auctions.

One of my favorite EP’s is the Rolling Stones, “got LIVE if you want it.” It was the first EP released by Decca Records to showcase the band as a live act. An LP by the same name was released a year later. I have this EP in my collection and it stands out, even today as a prime example of an exciting performance which further intrigued the record buying public about the group and not only paved the way for a successful sale of the LP, but also helped gain momentum for ticket sales for the group as they toured the world.

Apparently, the music business is learning a lesson about EP’s since that media has been successfully resurrected with the ability to buy EP’s on vinyl, iTunes and Amazon. EP’s give the buyer a look into the band, almost like a “sneak preview” of what can be expected when the time is right to buy the entire album. Much like the Stones “LIVE” album which went on the market in 1965, here we are 50 years later witnessing the same marketing ploy used so many years ago. After all, if we don’t learn from history…………

From a retail cost perspective, the current approximate costs are:
Single $1.29
EP $3.99 – $7.99
Album $9.00 – $13.00

In 2014, EP sales for performers like Luke Bryan, Austin Mahone, and Sam Smith all had strong selling EP’s. What this indicates is that the music buying public will not be swayed into buying an album without some type of understanding about all the songs contained therein. Prior to the Beatles, most songs on an LP were comprised of a hit song or two and the rest was less than acceptable. The Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, CSNY, etc gave us albums that were well worth listening to. There were little, if any extraneous tunes on any of those albums. Part of the popularity attributed to iTunes was the ability to choose which songs from the album the consumer wanted to buy while at the same time eliminating the ones that were not acceptable.

The EP gives the record buying public an alternative to the single and the entire album. It benefits the public, the artist and the record company. Sounds like a win-win to me.

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