Extended play (EP) is the name typically given to vinyl records or CDs which contain more music than a single, but are too short to qualify as albums. Usually, an EP has around 10–35 minutes of music, a single has up to 10 minutes and an album has 35–80 minutes.
EPs were released in various sizes in different eras. In the 1950s and 1960s, EPs were typically 45 RPM recordings on 7" (18cm) discs, with two songs on each side.
However, some classical music albums released at the beginning of the LP era were also distributed as EP albums — notably the seven operas that Arturo Toscanini conducted on radio between 1944 and 1954. These operas, originally broadcast on NBC radio, were made available both in 45 RPM and 33 1/3 RPM. In the 1990s, they began appearing on compact disc.
During the 1950s, RCA Victor released several EP albums of Walt Disney films, containing both the story and songs. These usually featured the original casts of the films. Each album contained two records, plus a fully illustrated booklet containing the complete text of the recording, so that children could follow along. Some of the titles included Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and what was then a recent release, the 1954 version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The case of 20,000 Leagues was highly unusual in that, not only did it not use the film's cast but years later, a 12-inch 33⅓ RPM album of the film, with nearly the identical script and yet another totally different cast, was issued by Disneyland Records in conjunction with the 1963 re-release of the film.
In 1967, The Beatles released a double-EP containing songs from their TV film Magical Mystery Tour. Stevie Wonder included a bonus 4-song EP in his 1976 double LP Songs in the Key of Life. In the 1970s and 1980s there was less standardization and EPs were made on 7" (18cm), 10" or 12" (30cm) discs running either 33⅓ or 45 RPM. Some novelty EPs used odd shapes and colors and a few were picture discs.
Alice in Chains is the first band to ever have an EP reach #1 on Billboard album chart. The EP, Jar of Flies was released January 25, 1994. Linkin Park and Jay-Z's collaboration EP, Collision Course, was the next and latest to have reached the #1 spot after Alice in Chains.
The term EP is also sometimes applied to compact discs with short playing times. However, since a CD can carry any amount of material up to around 80 minutes, the distinction between a CD EP and a short CD LP is somewhat arbitrary and is based on artistic and marketing factors. The Mars Volta ran into problems with their five-track album Frances the Mute before its release; the final 32-minute track, "Cassandra Gemini", was divided into eight semi-arbitrary sections so the band would be paid an album's wages rather than an EP's. Autechre decided to name one of their releases EP7 even though it contained 11 tracks and was over an hour long. On the other hand, Weezer's The Green Album is not considered an EP even though it falls short of half an hour.
Some artists, especially in the days of vinyl, have released full-length albums that could fit the definition of a modern-day EP Conversely, there are EPs that are long enough to be albums. Marilyn Manson's Smells Like Children for example, which is 54 minutes long and Estradasphere's The Silent Elk of Yesterday clocks in at 74 minutes, as does Harbinger of Metal by Reverend Bizarre. This is particularly the case with the rare double EP, which contains two discs.
There are also some EPs which are even shorter than the standard single. It has become customary in recent years for new bands to release their first release nominally as an "EP" to give it grander connotations than a single. By giving the release a unique name (as opposed to it being named after the lead track on the CD) the band can garner more attention for the other tracks on the CD. Using the example of Arctic Monkeys, by calling their first release Five Minutes With Arctic Monkeys rather than Fake Tales of San Francisco (the first track on the CD) they also put the second track "From The Ritz to the Rubble" in the limelight. Thus, Five Minutes With Arctic Monkeys is more akin to a double-A side than a standard EP. Subsequently, similar releases by other new bands could be described as "triple-A sides" or even "quadruple-A sides".
A remix single is not considered an EP unless it also has a sufficient number of non-title tracks on it (an EP/single hybrid), usually half or more of the tracks on the release. The name "extended play" has become something of a misnomer, for though it originally was used for singles that were extended beyond the standard length, it is now more often synonymous with an album that is shorter than usual; indeed, EPs are sometimes referred to as "mini-albums" (see below). For this reason, among others, they are referred to as "EPs", the full name being used much more rarely.
The 7" EP in punk rock
The first recordings released by many punk rock bands were released in 7" EP format, mainly because the short song nature of the genre made it difficult to create sufficient material to fill an LP. Many such bands also were unsigned, or signed to a minor record label that did not have the funds to release a full length album, particularly by newly formed bands. As many record stores would not sell demo tapes, the 7" EP became a standard release for punk rock bands, who could sell them cheaply nationwide, and thus be heard beyond the areas where they performed. These records would vary in length, having anywhere from 2 to as many as 10 or more songs (4 being somewhat of a standard), and occasionally recorded at 33 rpm to lengthen running time (outside of punk rock many people refer to any 7-inch record as a "45", as it has been the standard speed for such records). Some of these recordings would qualify as singles, although this term was sometimes eschewed as being a mainstream design for determining commercial airplay, which did not apply to the vast majority of such bands. The term "single" also had a way of being somewhat dismissive of any tracks other than the primary one, relegating them to b-sides, when many bands, having a 7" record as their most significant release, would put all their best songs on the recording. Using the term EP in such cases would be considered technically incorrect, as they were not "extended", and the term "7 inch" became a standard. For bands that went on to achieve commercial success, it was often customary for the original EP tracks to be released later on full-length albums, or to be somehow re-issued in another format.
The split 7" EP has also been a widespread feature in the genre, in which two bands would release such a record together, each performing on one side. This was a way to cut costs, particularly for self-released EPs, and was often used as a way for a more established band to help promote a promising newer act. Alternately, two bands with friendly relations with each other would release split EPs together. In some countries, split EPs are also used by major record labels to promote two new albums by wholly different artists, usually in the form of radio promos.
In cases where a band has too much content to fit on a 7 inch platter, but not enough for an LP, 10" and 12" records were utilized, usually at the 45RPM speed more popular among dance music. Some more modern punk bands have also put out novelty 5" records, though due to a very short playing time and higher production cost than 7" discs, they are rare and usually utilized by bands with extremely fast songs.
- Concept EP
- Double EP
- Extra Long Play (VCR format)
- Gramophone record
- Long Play