3 Tips for Successful Mixtapes

Ron Mexico here again, and it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. As always, much thanks and praise to Heather McDonald, whose sound insight and kind nature make it a pleasure for me to guest blog here from time to time.

Now, we're going to discuss how you can use mixtapes to promote your music effectively. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, mixtapes in this sense are promotional compilations of music you have made -- not the playlist you put together for that cute guy or girl back in high school. (Though, those are pretty sweet too.) Once a tool for DJs to showcase their turntable skills, mixtapes gradually became a means of promotion for rappers. That's a long story for another day, but the medium became an industry standard after 50 Cent (you may have heard of him) rose to underground prominence through tireless production, promotion, and distribution.

By 50 Cent's day these weren't ever actually tapes, but again, another story for another day.

1
Choose Your Content Carefully

Curtis Jackson, Daytona 500 - Practice
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Successful mixtapes have a purpose. Either your tape is a reminder of your best work, or a preview of what's to come. Sometimes it's a bit of both. If you intend to release an album or big single down the road, a mixtape is a good way to wet your region's appetite for the new material. Releasing a mixtape full of content that your fans have already heard can backfire, as interest may wane. However, you don't want to give away your entire new album on a free mixtape. If signed, your label would crucify you. If signed to a gangster rap label, that could be a more literal punishment. Ultimately, you have to strike the right balance between old and new. Some artists tactfully use snippets and demo versions of new songs to avoid giving away too much of the merchandise.

I shouldn't avoid the elephant in the room when it comes to mixtapes. Instead of paying for or developing original production, it has become a popular trend to rap over other artists' instrumentals for promotional songs. I can't encourage you to rap over other musicians' content and release it, even for promotional use. While it doesn't happen often, you still run the risk of being on the wrong side of a copyright infringement suit. I wouldn't.

2
Set a Release Date... and Actually Release Your Mixtape

The biggest problem with the mixtape takeover, aside from that fact that everyone who has ever rhymed words has a tape out, is that people think the process is an easy way to become rich and famous like Vitamin Water 50. It's important to remember why he was able to parlay his mixtapes into a lucrative record deal in a great situation with Eminem's Shady Records imprint. 50's team treated the mixtapes like real product. They were released on a schedule and marketed heavily.

Your plan needs to be more than, "I've recorded these 17 tracks. Now I'm going to 'release' it by spamming Twitter and Facebook like there's no tomorrow." Treat your mixtape release like that of an album. That's not saying much to some rappers, so here's what I really mean. You need to set a release date that allows you enough time for months of promotion. If there's original music that can obtain radio play, you will want to look into a college radio campaign. Heather's usual release promo advice applies to your mixtape. Otherwise, you'll be in your mom's kitchen drinking straight from her orange juice container with an angry look on your face, wondering why everyone's hating so hard and no one's warming up next to your hot fire.

3
About That Promotion...

How effectively you promote your mixtape determines what you can get out of it. There's no way to get around pounding the pavement. You'll surely be giving your mixtape out at appearances, and on the subway, and in class, and at work, and you get the idea. But you want to get your database together for local and regional entities that can cover or play your music. Concentrate on local and college newspapers, blogs, and online video programs in your area. Sure, you'll want to get your mixtape to XXL and the big magazines, but you can't overlook the pubs in your backyard. In fact, I'll tell you from experience, if you do overlook your backyard, your mixtape's going in the trash at the big boys' offices. If you haven't done the due diligence of building your fan base from the ground up, you won't be worth their time.

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