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Jungle AE, Chicago Recording Studio

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Difference Between Mixtape and Album

Make a mixtape? Make an album?

Make a mixtape?  Make an album?
Written by Alex ‘ Excel’ Cruz

Ever watched ESPN SportsCenter recap the Game 5 NBA Finals of San Antonio Spurs vs Miami Heat.?

In 5 minutes they quickly replay highlights with one of the analyst storytelling what happened.  It is a completely different experience from watching the full game.  With the recap you get the idea of what happened in the game and how good the Spurs really were, but you don’t get the full depth and enjoyment of the Spurs greatness.  This holds true with the difference between mixtape and album.

What is a mixtape?

Originally, it was used for DJs to break new rap songs or break in a new rapper into that specific DJ’s circle of Hip Hop / Rap.  Typically, the rapper would rap over an industry instrumental (an instrumental of a song that’s already been major label released) showcasing they can rap just as good, if not better than the original rapper on it.  DJs would either sell or hand out free mixtapes for promotional use for their own branding purposes.

What is it now?

A set of random songs made by a rapper with a well-known DJ screaming all over the project, and sometimes the cuts (dj transitions) are made by the same DJ.

What Hip Hop mixtapes should be.

Today’s mixtape should reflect and improve upon what their original purpose was, promotional use for a rapper’s branding purpose.   When fans listen to mixtapes, their perception is to be listening for rap skills and punchlines… Or quick highlights of what you as an artist can do.  Since this project is most likely going to be free, keep it simple and make sure it represents you completely, and its ok to use free instrumentals.  Don’t spend time on making super conceptual music, reserve the energy and creativity for that for your albums.

DJs are like the sports analyst here:

1) They cosign what’s good

2) They hype what’s good about you

3) They guide your highlight reel for the masses

DJs reinforce your brand.

The mixtape is meant to establish your brand as an artist so that fans know you before you put an album out, an album that these fans will be more willing to buy after knowing you.  If an artist can’t tell what you’re good at when it comes to rapping, what genre of rap you sound most like, what you represent as your brand from a mixtape; then you’re doing something wrong.  They need to clearly see it, the depth does not matter here.  So let’s move on to where the depth matters… Let’s move away from your ESPN highlight to the actual game, your album!

Your album should tell a story about yourself.  Your album should create long-term fans (or in the business world, “repeating customers”).  Your album is the final product and where you should make the money from, so you should invest more heavily into the album as opposed to the mixtape.  The album standard MUST have

1)     Professional quality beats (tracked out and no peaking audio wise)

2)     Professional grade quality recording, mixing and mastering

If you are not ready to invest into those 2 must have, reconsider making an album.  Your album should reveal the depth of your artistry and your song making ability.  Through the album, listeners should be able to tell other people why you’re so good at what you do and they should fall in love with your brand of music just like through only watching the full game of Game 5 of Spurs vs Heat, could you fall in love with Spurs’ brand of basketball.

Your album should be dynamic.  There should be highs and lows, different types of tracks and songs but still keeping the same sonic soundscape.  This is where you should be making timeless music!

So remember

  1. A mixtape is a quick over view while the album provides the depth.
  2. A mixtape is for promotional use and brand building while the album is a product to make a return on money
  3. A mixtape uses free instrumentals while an album uses professional quality instrumentals
  4. A mixtape is brand building while the album is the product of the brand

Now that you know, share your new knowledge on the difference between mixtape and album… this is how we will improve the craft of music all around us! Do music good!

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