This is a follow up to my “Should I Drop A Mixtape” post. Here, I’ll explain the traditional and technical meanings of what a mixtape is, and the way the word is used today. I will also clarify with an example how established artists benefit from “giving away” music, as well as touch on aspiring artists selling their music.
Let me start by saying that there is no way to limit the meaning of the word mixtape to fit only the dictionary definition. The term mixtape has evolved over the years. “Mix tapes” date all the way back to the late 60’s when truck stops & flea markets would record a collection of popular songs onto an 8-track tape and sell them. This practice continued with the introduction & mainstream acceptance of the cassette tape in the 70’s (the cassette tape was originated in 1963, but it took several years to improve the sound quality of music recorded on this medium).
During the 1970’s hip-hop pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa, Grand Master Flash, Kool Herc and DJ Hollywood would sell copies of their club performances on cassette. During this era and into the 80’s, these same DJ’s & others would sell customized recordings to individuals at very high prices. In fact, during the 80’s amateurs & pro’s alike made mix tapes. A kid might put his favorite 10-15 songs on a tape and that would be his personal mix tape. At the same time DJ’s in every major city were selling mix tapes that included the latest hits, often blended together into one seamless track that included DJ techniques like cutting, scratching, beat juggling, back spinning, and of course mixing. During this period of time the term mix tape became one word in hip hop culture. Mixtapes were made and sold far and wide all over the country, and even shipped overseas as rap music began it’s global growth and started to strongly influence pop culture.
CD’s and their superior sound quality took over from cassettes, but the term mixtape stuck around despite the change of format. DJ’s still made their mixes, and kids still recorded (burned) their favorite songs to the new medium. At the same time that the cassette to CD transition was going on (1990’s) – the term mixtape began to be coined by aspiring rappers to define projects they used to promote themselves or an upcoming album release. Moving into the further digitization of music with mp3’s & iTunes, etc. the term mixtape became a word to generally describe full length albums released for free, sometimes all original music, other times consisting of freestyles and remixes of already popular tracks.
Flashing forward into 2014, the mixtape is alive and well. In today’s music world, the word mixtape still continues to mean free to the consumer. I very often talk to artists and managers and indie label CEO’s who ask me how to sell their mixtapes. My advice begins with the simplest solution for an independent artist or label:
“Stop calling your releases of all original music – mixtapes. A project ultimately designed to sell is either an EP, album or street album.”
I’ve laid out my opinion on who should actually drop mixtapes in another article titled “Should I Drop A Mixtape”. To somewhat expound on what I covered in the previous article, I’d like to point out the obvious to indie artists: There’s a lot of competition out there.
Music has become a single driven marketplace. Realize that the reason album sales today aren’t comparable to what they where 10 years ago is because you don’t have to buy the whole album to listen to your favorite song.
Today’s music fan listens to the songs he or she likes. Today’s music consumer can choose which songs they’d like to listen to instantly. Fans of particular songs will download the songs that catch their ear or their attention. Whereas a fan of a particular artist will listen to every song their favorite artist makes. If you are an artists, you should have recognized this by now and adjusted accordingly, but so many have not adapted.
In today’s music marketplace the mixtape is used most effectively by artists with a following and fanbase. To give an example, in late 2013 Young Jeezy dropped a mixtape – a free project of all original music. The free mixtape was also put on iTunes & Google Play and other digital marketplaces for paid download. This project had a single (R.I.P.) that sold over 500,000 singles. A gold single came from a “free” mixtape.
For artists who have a significant fan base, the exact same project that is on a free download site will garner sales to their hardcore fans, and also to those people who don’t download music for free. Yes, there are still plenty of people who pay for music. As a general rule in urban music, women are more likely to purchase music and less likely to go for the free download. Also, unfortunately, rap music is the genre most affected by free downloads.
However, don’t ever doubt the fact that music still sells. Music is clearly headed down a path of streaming over downloads, the future is plain to see. Subscription services will allow you to listen to unlimited music on your phone, computer, home or car stereo, etc. all for a monthly or yearly fee. It’s coming just like CD’s replaced cassettes & mp3’s are replacing CD’s. But today – in the present marketplace – downloads AND physical copies still sell. It is up to the artist to make great music and up to the team to market and promote the music in a way that causes the people to become interested and engaged. Make your music represent something of value and your fans will pay you for it with no problem.
I’ll go as far as to say that aspiring artists with smaller fan bases have an advantage over artists with bigger followings when it comes to the effect of bootlegging on music sales. Very often, if you’re a hard working & grinding street artist there will be fewer places for people to find free copies of your music. Also, as an aspiring artist, when you DO start getting bootlegged it’s an actual sign of your music catching on. Bootleggers don’t make copies of music unless it’s hot. Personally, if an artist I work with is just starting out – I keep their music in the hands of the biggest music bootleggers in every market we touch (but that’s a “guerrilla marketing” story).
I hope this helps to clarify any grey areas in my earlier article.
Tony Guidry is Senior Marketing Manager for A Scratchy Throat. A Scratchy Throat – the brainchild of music industry mainstay Wendy Day – provides professional social media marketing specifically designed for today’s aspiring artists. Tony is also owner of Authentic Artists Alliance and exclusive booking contact for Trouble (Duct Tape Ent/2 Tru Ent), O.Z. Mr. 28 Grams (Fratt Boi Muzic Group) and Racked Up Ready (Bow Ent). For digital marketing services or booking inquiries email: OGTonyG@gmail.com or Tony@aScratchyThroat.com