As a guy who grew up in the Hip-Hop era, and also as a person who loves all types of music, let me clarify. What was done in the 80s and 90s is not what I’m talking about here. I remember sitting in front of the radio on a Saturday night and recording the Mega Mix to a tape. Rakim would be mixed with Steady B and then the DJ would drop in some Mantronix and then Rodney O and Joe Cooley. That was the first time I heard of mixtapes and the name implied that the DJ was playing a mix of music intended to keep a party going. As I got older in the 90s a mixtape was taking all of my CDs and burning or copying my favorite songs to one disc.
Sometimes the CDs were borrowed, but for the most part somebody had bought the damn CD that I was copying so an artist or record label was getting paid. As the 2000s started a mixtape meant I was transferring songs from Napster, or some file sharing company. This is where the breakdown of the music industry started and mixtapes began to change into something completely different from what it was.
A mixtape was supposed to be a gateway drug to the purchase of music. Kind of like Pandora, Spotify, iHeart and the multitude of streaming services are supposed to be. The interesting thing is this is not the case for my music. What I mean by my music is Hip-Hop, but what I’m about to discuss extends to R&B as well.
Questions: When was the last time a country music star uploaded a mixtape? When was the last time a big rock or alternative music star released a mixtape? When was the last time a big R&B star released a mixtape? A rapper?
Those questions are rhetorical because if anyone is reading this you already know the answers. You can look at Black music (Hip-Hop and R&B) and every week there is a different mixtape being released by someone prominent. The reasons for this are simple. In today’s climate out of sight, is out of mind. If you aren’t producing music, no one remembers you. Giving away free music keeps the listeners involved in your brand and your sound.
You can’t. You know why? Because these artists actually spend time in the studio crafting and creating albums that have staying power and sit on the charts longer than the latest dance craze or video.
What is interesting here is that when bigger artists in R&B and Rap give away music, newer artists decide to do something similar. What they hope is that this will lead to performance engagements/shows and potentially to record deals and opportunities. Here is an interesting fact though. Name the artists who had a mixtape not named Drake or 50 cent who successfully parlayed that mixtape opportunity into a bigger business deal… There aren’t that many, but due to the success of a few artists, new artists have begun to deliver so much free content that Soundcloud, DatPiff and other filesharing services have built their entire brands around delivering free music to people. They are getting paid very well for these platforms.
Even More Questions: If I give you 100 dollars every week without really asking you for services or product, I’m just giving you 100 dollars each week, how likely is it that when I stop giving you that hundred that you will give me all of the money back that I gave you? How likely is it that you will do some work for me after I’ve given you money without you having to work? If I give you something and then the next time around I ask you to pay for it, but someone else is giving stuff away how likely are you to pay me?
That final question is the issue. With so much free music available in R&B and Rap the industry has choked itself to death. It’s not just these two genres; sales are down overall in music and this is due to streaming (which isn’t free when it’s through a platform like Spotify), but there is a very interesting trend that I see developing. There are artists who are producing albums that are well thought out and they are not releasing as much music. They are taking their time and building albums that exist for 1-3 years. They are licensing music to commercials, film and television. These albums are slow burns earning slow sales in their first year, catching fire in the second year and then tapering off in the third year. A perfect example of this is the group Alabama Shakes which formed in 2009 and released an album Boys & Girls in 2012 and in 2015 their album Sound & Color broke through and has become a staple on television and late night shows. I use this group as an example because there isn’t a mixtape. There was a lot of sharing of the group prior to their first release and this led to the record deal for the first album they recorded.
This is why mixtapes are the dumbest shit ever, and this is tied to this article and this article, and this article, and a bunch of articles I’ve written about browsing habits and giving away your power. If you are going to take the time to create content at the least you should control the content. While I am aware that placing your music on Soundcloud, DatPiff and the numerous outlets available, if you are not creating your own YouTube page, your own website and releasing your music to be purchased on the variety of platforms then you are shooting yourself in the foot. Consumers are never going to buy what they can get for free so if you know that most music is being streamed, then don’t just give it away, set it up so it can be streamed and you can potentially be paid. Why make stuff to give away that doesn’t empower you? This is not just for music but almost anything. You need to control your content.
Most important… CREATE CONTENT THAT MATTERS AND ISN’T JUST SOME THROW AWAY SHIT!
Why spend 5 weeks of your life copying or recording over someone else’s shit to release a throw away mixtape in hopes that it will get you discovered? Why not take that 5 weeks, and then spend another 5 weeks working on something of value? Then take the time to create:
A Tunecore account: Tunecore allows any music you post to Facebook and YouTube to be monetized when it’s played. More important for around 300.00 dollars you can release an album that will stay available for 1-5 years. (check my time on this, but you get the point). Tunecore allows you to place your music everywhere prominent except Pandora.
A YouTube station: An artist can register an account with Tunecore and the music that they create that is placed on YouTube can be monetized. This means the home of where a ton of music is discovered and played will at least earn you ad revenue through Google Adsense and streaming shares through YouTube Music Key.
Your own website: having your own website allows you to create your narrative and instead of posting stuff to Facebook and Twitter and Instagram where it’s gone in less than 5 hours, your content remains available and searchable. It’s indexed by the search engines and you can also put ads and affiliate banners on your site and earn money.
Basically mixtapes are stupid. I get it that you can attract listeners and that giving something away is a good drug dealer tactic, but a mixtape has to have some guidelines and rules. The music should be just as solid as any content you would sell. The marketing and promotion should be just as good as a “real” studio release. Which takes me back to what I just said… why do it if you can’t sell it? If people want to listen for free create something that can be released on all streaming services and release it through YouTube so you can at least earn something for it. Better yet, release it through your website so you can collect e-mails for when you prepare your “big” release. Stop just putting shit out, you’re killing yourself. Kind of like sharing and posting all of your great ideas on Facebook and social media sites, stop giving away all of this free content, it only hurts creators in the long run.