The Art of the Split EP

by | Jan 1, 2011 | Music Promotion

Going Halfsies

Face it; recording your band’s four new songs is going to be expensive, even if Johnny-Down-the-Block cuts you a deal to track in his mom’s bathroom (drums sound great in there). After spending a few more bucks on cold pizza and warm beer, that shiny CD-R of the raddest tunes you and your boys (or girls) have ever written has left the band a couple hundred bucks lighter.

Now what?

Here are some options: 1) Upload the jams to Mybook or Facespace and relentlessly spam everyone, until you are junked or flat out ignored, even by your real “friends,” 2) Spend a little more loot and make press packages for the few labels that might listen, but who will probably toss it out faster than a Tron discus, or 3) Gather all the change from your paper route and sink it into pressing 1000 copies of a 4-song CD, charge $6 a disc and pray that you break even in under a decade.

There is another option however, one that is underused by the majority of the music making population, but is seeing a quiet renaissance during these economically strapped times. That is, the Split EP.

Split EPs are nothing new. Bands in the hardcore, punk, and metal scenes have utilized this technique for over 20 years, ever since someone had the bright idea to put one artist on Side A of a record, and another on Side B. Although vinyl has flirted with extinction (but is currently regrouping for a revolution) the tactic has flourished on CD. Independent labels trying to hype multiple artists, but lacking the budget to produce separate releases for each band, have adopted this approach with great success.

Presently, record labels are also teetering on the brink of annihilation, but that doesn’t mean that this road-tested format has to die with them. Independent musicians can use this buddy system to further their artistic endeavors.

Now, before you start Googling your favorite group, looking to start a partnership, there are a few things to think about.

First, who do you want to share your recording with? Sure, you can text message your buddy’s band to rock out in Johnny’s mom’s commode too, but look outside the county lines if you are interested in some real exposure. Find an ensemble from another part of the country, or at least out of state. That way, you’ll expand the distribution outside of your zip code, your songs will be heard by people in far-off lands and if you hit that area on tour, kids will already be singing along.

Second, who is gonna pay for this thing? Splitting the space on the disc means splitting the cost to put it out. If two bands both employ five members each, then it’s an easy 10% all the way around. If the group is a dynamic duo, expect to pay a little more per head than the 9-piece ska outfit you decided to pair up with. Because of the MP3 online assault, CD duplication is becoming cheaper and cheaper so if you desire a physical copy of the work, plastic is the most logical choice. Vinyl is still a viable option, which offers the A-side/B-side quality as well as the collectability of different colors, but is more expensive and less accessible for the general public.

Third, how many tracks are you going to put on there? While two songs may be perfect on the six minute space of a 7-inch, four or five tracks apiece insures that the audience gets the most bang for their buck. Tread lightly though, adding more cuts will have kids wondering why you didn’t take a few months to finish a proper full length.

As with all DIY articles, there is a list of cons for you semi-pros. Make sure the band you decide to work with is a working band. You don’t want to end up promoting your split release while the latter half sits on a cardboard box full of shrink-wrapped jewel cases playing Wii all day. Also, you want to maintain a positive rapport with your cohorts. Bedding the other singer’s sister will make them shelve the release altogether rather than promote people they now loathe.

When listening to the final products side by side, how do the different sonic qualities measure up? If one artist is louder, muddier, or wonkier than the other, the release will be uneven. Insuring that both recordings are mastered in a similar fashion (and ideally by the same engineer) is the key factor to the cohesiveness of a Split EP.

You don’t necessarily need to hook up with a band that plays the same style, although this can be beneficial in niche markets like the punk scene. You just need to put out the best product possible, highlighting each group’s positive attributes without overtly attempting to overshadow one another.

For the rest, as always, be creative.  It’s a collaborative effort so do yourselves a favor and collaborate. Doing so will produce the best results, and entice listeners to spin your CD, or record, from front to back, or side to side.