If you’re listening to hip-hop today, you’ve probably been confused at least once about the term mixtape and album – and I completely understand why. One artist may release an album while another artist releases a mixtape and if you listen to them both, you’ll probably find it hard to tell the difference (from a music quality perspective).
The short version is: Mixtapes in today’s music industry are basically a compilation of songs, whereas an album is *typically* a higher quality, more structured story.
Hopefully the short version clears it up quickly for you, but if not, keep reading as I go into more detail as to what I define a mixtape and Album.
What is a Mixtape?
Back in the day (5-10 years ago), mixtapes were released as a way to showcase your skills and please the fans (in the digital age). Because these mixtapes were going to be released for free, they were usually made as inexpensive as possible.
With little to no money being invested in this project, rappers would typically hop on the instrumentals of other artists and just rap (Lil Wayne’s mixtapes are a great example). There were not many rappers concerned with creating a “hit” record on a mixtape – it was solely for the fans.
Today, mixtapes are a compilation of music with a similar feel. You’ll also hear that most mixtapes have original production, and some are even powerful enough to go tour with.
What is an Album?
For me, albums were always the ‘big project’. The release of an album opened up so many doors of opportunity. It allowed you to increase brand loyalty, strengthen your position in the industry, start touring, open up album specific merch, press, and more.
The downside, however, was that it was relatively expensive, time-consuming, and required more manpower to successfully create and release it. But all of that changed thanks to the internet.
Now, creating an album can be as easy as buying a stock image for the cover, grabbing beat leases from producers on sites like Beatstars, buying a home studio equipment, and getting to work. Yes, you still need some story and organization to the album, but a lot of the expenses associated with an album are greatly reduced or eliminated completely.
In today’s world, albums are basically a more organized, *higher quality*, for sale version of a mixtape.
Should I Create a Mixtape or Album?
If you’re debating between creating a mixtape and album, in most cases, I’d recommend creating a mixtape.
Why? Well, a mixtape can present a lot of the opportunities that an album can – for less money.
The main deciding factor for creating an Album in today’s hip-hop scene would be if you had a lot of fans ready to purchase your music. Then it may be worth it to look and see if the numbers work out in your favor and are profitable enough to make it worth it.
I believe that due to technology and the internet, the lines between a mixtape and an album are slowly being blurred. It’s getting harder and harder to easily identify a mixtape vs. an album.
My assumption is that as time progresses, more people will start labeling mixtapes as any project released for free and albums as any project released for sale – regardless of the investment or work put into it.