If you’re new to collecting and listening to vinyl records, you may have heard the term EP tossed around, but what does EP stand for?

It’s an abbreviation for Extended Play, and this case, more minutes of music than a standard 45 r.p.m. single, yet not as many as a full album.

Spending a bit of time hanging out on any number of message boards, and social media sites will offer different definitions. We’ll try to be comprehensive here.

What Does EP Stand For vs LP Records?

A standard, single platter, “long play,” (or LP) vinyl release usually has less than 40 minutes of music spread over two sides. An EP has less music and less space for music if it’s in a smaller format.

For many people in the music industry, the extended play record eschews the larger 1.5-inch hole in the middle of a 7-inch single and utilizes the 9/32” spindle hole from a standard long-playing album. This was incredibly handy for people with portable phonographs, that would only accommodate a 7-inch disc.

Playing an EP can be tricky for new record collectors. If you don’t have a 45rpm adapter, you’ll risk your tonearm skating into treacherous territory. The adapter allows you to play 7-inch 45rpm records as smoothly as your 12-inch LPs.

Why Were EPs First Created?

One of the primary functions of the EP was to not only get new music out now, but to offer a less expensive way of getting a “hit” in listeners hands.

At the height of the punk rock era, some bands arguably had shorter music careers, and many only released EP’s. Indie record labels saw it as being more DIY, and more in keeping with the ethos of punk rock.

45 RPM RCA collection

Knowing what does an EP stand for requires knowing its history.

The EP was officially introduced by RCA in 1952, with Britain’s EMI records in April of 1954. Often, the EP was a short compilation, either featuring a few tracks from a new artist, hits from a new or upcoming album, and still other times, either multiple versions of a single; extended mixes, alternative mixes, or the “radio” version, which was often edited down in the better hope of airplay on the radio.

Many a rapper would release a single track, with three to five alternative mixes on their EP. Eminem’s Slim Shady EP was the disc that launched his career.

The 7 and 10-inch EP’s were usually only good for three or four songs. Later, the 12-inch EP would extend this to five or six tracks. Fewer songs on these 12-inch EP’s meant bigger grooves. If you can find these, or their close cousins, the 12-inch “maxi-single,” they always have more dynamics and can really be cranked up!

Another industry favorite was to release one or two versions of the track, and one or two b-side tracks. It was almost like getting two 45s in one!

Many associate EP’s, regardless of diameter as a 45 r.p.m. record, but many of them are pressed at 33r.p.m. All of these are some of the best sounding records you can find, if and when you can find them. Every vinyl lover should have at least a few. But why?

What EPs Meant to the Music Industry?

Some industry vets claim the EP was a cost-saver or even a loss leader. Back in an all-analog world, it was certainly easier to mix and master EPs and even cheaper to get them out the door. CD Baby calls the EP “the gumbo of recorded music,” suggesting this format to their users as an accessible way to reach a wide swathe of fans.

No doubt many DJ’s on the scene took advantage of well-cataloged cases and crates of records for easy access during intense sets. Think of this as the first portable way to categorize music. A skilled DJ knew the contents of their collection intimately and organized the records meticulously, so just the right track could be added to the mix with perfect timing.

A fully analog playlist could be edited as the evening went on. While some EPs came in basic white wrappers, as the format reached its heyday, the artwork often mirrored that of the album the tracks came from or at least were produced to the same level of creative craftsmanship.

Some even had unique artwork, posters, stickers, and other memorabilia to go with.

Can a Cassette Be an EP?

maxi cassette Depeche Mode Personal Jesus EP

As cassettes were taking some of the thunder out of the LP record, and CDs were just beginning to make inroads to how we played, stored, and transported music, the EP/maxi-single concept stayed strong as ever. Only the method of delivery changed.

Now cass-singles (usually about $2.98ea) had their own section of the record stores, soon to be released by CDs with only a few tracks.

One personal fave is Depeche Mode’s CD single with no less than 3 versions of “Dangerous,” and 5 versions of “Personal Jesus.” A quick perusal of Discogs reveals just how many variations on the theme there are for collectors.

What Does EP stand for in 2021?

Asking “what does an EP stand for” in 2021 requires we offer a new definition.

Even in our digital music world, the acronym once meant to describe the extended play record still stands, often with new music. Artists, with a large fan base, often release EPs in a digital format before the full-length album is available.

A quick perusal of Tidal, Spotify, Qobuz, or whatever streaming service you might use often has digital Eps instead of the physical media we grew up with – and some of those Eps and Maxi-Singles are now available online. But because this is the Pro-Ject site, we’re guessing your thinking vinyl.

Yes, you can still get in the game, but like all things vinyl, prices have gone up from about 10 years when no one knew what these gems were. Of course, you can still grab a copy of Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” for five bucks, but a sealed maxi-single of Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast” is gonna set you back 200 large – if you can find one.

And once you get a handful, Amazon has some great record cases to devote to your collection.

Lovely as it is to stream millions of tracks, and be able to create playlists at will, many of us still remember laboring over a mixtape and squeezing every last drop of music onto the side of a C60 or C90 cassette. There’s a lot of pride in showing up at a party with the said mixtape, or even better, a crate full of singles, ready to entertain the evening’s guests.

The continued ubiquity of new and used EPs means that it’s usually easy to find lots of great tracks at a low price and spinning them at a party for guests or enjoying an intimate night of listening.