Smoke and Mirrors: Mixtapes And Music


The Saturation Of The Mixtape Game

The Free Mixtape/Street Album phenomena is killing the revenue flow in the Hip Hop game. Artists are not getting paid, producers are not getting paid, etc.. I say leave the MULTIPLE Mixtapes for the DJ’s and the rappers should go back to giving out singles and samplers and creating quality EP’s or Albums that they can market and sell.

Rappers have trained their audience to expect free music all of the time with the multiple releases of Free Street Albums.. CRAZY!

Stop painting rap fans with a broad brush. Not every rap fan wants free throw away music.
Rap fans are not demanding this free clutter music; it’s being shoved on them.

Many aspiring Rock & Roll, Pop, Country and R&B artists are building solid fan bases without giving away free albums. Rappers Take Note!

You can put out a free single or sampler and still spark a lot of interest in your brand. Who told you that you MUST put out a FREE Street Album/mixtape?

Your fans must either want to be you or believe you. You must know your target market and your music has to resonate with them.

As an Artist you must understand that your Fans don’t just buy your music; they buy your Lifestyle, your Brand and your Movement as well.

You don’t have to keep putting out multiple free street album/mixtapes of original music to attract fans. You can release other free content from your brand like music videos, freestyles, video diaries, audio from radio interviews, video from concert performances, etc.. Nowadays it’s no longer just about selling CD’s; It’s about selling or providing “Content” and conveying the mission of your Brand and your movement.

Try something different to build a fanbase. Look into the possibility of producing and starring in your own short films or long version music videos and add your music as the score. Think outside of your circumference.

Give away a single or a sampler to attract fans and then get them excited about buying a full length album or EP from you. Give them something to look forward to. When rappers constantly give away whole street albums of original music right out of the gate, it’s like a woman giving up everything on the first date. There is no momentum, no excitement and no build up to what comes next because she gave up everything on the first date. And it’s the same with artists.

Many upcoming rappers take the mystique & excitement out of their brand by giving away everything up front in the form of FREE Street Albums.

At least 70% of the independent rappers who put out multiple FREE Street Albums last year did not make a dime from their endeavors. FACT!

The crazy thing is that my next door neighbor’s 10 year old daughter made more money selling lemonade last summer than many unsigned rappers made all year from their music endeavors which included Free Mixtapes and Showcase performances.. The little girl gave out samples, she advertised, did a raffle and then she sold lots of lemonade drinks and ices. (Apply basic business principles to your music projects and watch your revenue grow by three fold)

The game plan for most unsigned rappers consists of giving away Free Street Album/Mixtapes and paying to be in showcases. And that’s it.

The average rapper spends $1500 to put out his Free Mixtape/Street Album..

Who’s getting paid off of your FREE MIXTAPE/STREET ALBUM? LET’S SEE (Count With Me): The Studio, the engineer, the graphic designer for the cover, the CD manufacturer, perhaps the DJ you paid to host it, and perhaps the producers of the original tracks, the mixtape marketing company, and Datpiff or any other mixtape website that posts your mixtape in order to draw traffic to their site with the expectation of selling ads based on that traffic, etc

I know an unsigned rapper who paid $2500 to a well known DJ to host the rapper’s FREE mixtape/street album. And the DJ didn’t even promote it. Next the rapper spent $1500 to get a collaboration on a song with a popular upcoming MC that went on the FREE mixtape/street album. Then the rapper paid the studio and engineer to record and mix the FREE mixtape/street album and he paid a graphic designer to design the cover. Then the rapper spent $500 duplicating the CD’s. And finally the rapper paid $1500 to a mixtape marketing company to promote the Free mixtape/street album. At the end of the day, this rapper spent close to $7000 on a Mixtape/Street album that he gave away for free. He got 12,500 downloads at the end of the day.. Was it worth it? I say NO! Most independent rappers are just following Lil Wayne and Drake and have no idea what they are doing.

Equally important, when you put a Free mixtape/street album on Datpiff or any other mixtpape site and generate thousands of downloads, do you know the demographics (Sex, Race or Age) of those downloading your mixtape? NO! Can you obtain the email addresses of those downloading your mixtape? NO! Do you know the location of those downloading your mixtape? NO! On these mixtape sites you don’t receive any real stats and thus you don’t know who your potential consumers are. And the crazy thing is that some rappers are even buying download stats on Datpiff now. The only thing that you are doing is making money for Datpiff. They use the traffic you draw to their site to sell advertisements. RAPPERS WAKE UP! For many rappers these Free Mixtape/street albums are just vanity projects and an expensive hobby. And many spend little money advertising the mixtape releases. Most rappers put out multiple free mixtape/street albums just to stroke their ego, but they have no understanding that in many cases they’re just throwing away money and cluttering up the already saturated Mixtape market.

And some rappers are even going as far as to buy Datpiff downloads and manufactured stats.

Fake Downloads On Datpiff + Fake Views On Youtube + Fake Followers On Twitter + Fake Fans On Facebook = FAKE MOVEMENT.

Just about every independent rapper has a FREE mixtape on Datpiff cluttering the market place. Try Something Different. Be Unique. Stand Out

It would make more sense to put the mixtape on your own website and draw traffic there. You can set it up so that people must enter a name and an email in order to download it. Also you can put a traffic tracker on your own website and gather analytic demographic data of the unique visitors who visit your site. Moreover, you can also sell advertisements, bonus singles, merchandise etc on your own site based on the traffic you draw there.

The bottom line is that many rappers are just following a trend. Instead of having a plan, most indie artists just make music and put it out like they’re throwing darts against the wall hoping to get lucky.

If Lil Wayne comes out tomorrow and states that the Mixtape game is dead and he will no longer deal with it, then watch how many rappers follow his lead.. SMH

ATTENTION INDEPENDENT ARTISTS: Are you receiving publishing Checks? Do you sell merchandise? Do you sell digital downloads? Are you getting paid from shows? Have you generated revenue by licensing your music? Have you obtained funds from Endorsements or Sponsorships? Do you get paid from doing features? Do you keep track of money you spend and money you take in regarding your music? Do you pay taxes based on income generated from your musical endeavors? How much did you earn last year from your music endeavors? How much do you expect to earn this year? How much did you invest in Promotion last year? How much do you plan to invest in promotion this year?

One hit single can generate millions for an artist via digital sales, publishing, paid shows, endorsements, ring tones, etc.

It is very important that every aspiring artist and producer know and learn the multiple revenue streams in the music business. Some of the Music Biz Revenue Streams include: CD Sales, Digital Download Sales, Merchandising Sales, Tour Income, Licensing Revenue, Publishing income, Ringtone Revenue, Endorsement Deals and Sponsorship Revenue.

The key is to ATTRACT the masses to your music. Convert folks into fans and capture them by being unconventional. As an artist you have to get out there and meet with the people, engage your supporters, hand out flyers, T-Shirts etc..

Don’t be a backwards hustler.. What dude you know in the streets who gives away all of his product and is able to grow in the streets?

Big corporations give away free SAMPLES to attract buyers, but they also invest in advertising and marketing to sell the products as well.

PepsiCo is boosting its overall marketing budget this year by as much as $600 million. SUCCESSFUL COMPANIES INVEST IN PROMOTION. FACT!!

If you believe that nobody buys music anymore, then you’ve already lost. You’re just basically stating that you’re music career is a hobby.

There’s a big difference between FREE music & GOOD music and some rappers confuse the two. Most Rap fans don’t want FREE music. They want GOOD music that appeals to their emotions. And they will pay for it if it’s marketed right.

Forget about putting out (3) three mediocre FREE mixtapes in a row and concentrate on creating (1) one CLASSIC ALBUM that you can market and sell.

The music business is NOT the LOTTERY. That “Dollar and a Dream” mentality will not cut it. Get a Budget! Get a Plan! And Get To Work! Do Remixes, Do Music Videos, Do Video Logs, Do Contests, Do Shows, Do interviews, Get your own Merchandise, Connect with DJ’s and your fans.

There are millions of aspiring artists and producers. So how do you expect to STAND OUT if you look, talk and sound just like everyone else.

The music game is all “Smoke and Mirrors.” Don’t get caught up in the illusion and Sleight of hand. Study and Learn the biz for yourself.


By Jesse Atkinson, CEO of Urban Threshold Inc and founder of the Underground Music Awards and The A&R Power Summit



jay says:

Great article, I’ve never been a fan of free. Mixtapes to me its an excuse. To excuse your failure. If ur music don’t do well

Sonny Rapper says:

This is right on target. I had these same ideas a couple years back just off what I know about marketing in general. I recently abandoned them thinking I had to do what the industry giants do, but i realize now that my original way of thinking was better. Big labels can afford to throw money at projects and not know the names and locations of fans who are actually buying and consuming the music – we independents cannot afford to do that. We must capture the fans’ information so that we can market to them again for free via email or social media. This big lables spend fortunes capturing the attention of the same fans they sold records too on the last album or from their other artists. We cannot do that, we need to be smarter and more strategic.

Trill Cosby says:

I disagree. First off you cannot stand out in an age full of piracy and expect people who may have heard of you to spend 10$ on your product. Many consumers bootleg their favorite artist why should they have to spend they’re money on ______ (insert unknown rapper here). Also a mixtape has changed dramatically in the last decade. It use to be a collection freestyles on other peoples beats. When applying that method it makes sense because it’s more a gift for the fans, and a way to compensate them with street material and stay relevant. Generally any album has more commercial appeal to it.

You also should look at a mixtape being a test run for the artist/label. For instance Meek Mill had Amen on DC2 and it made the album. They weren’t sure what songs would stick so they put it out to see what fans would gravitate toward. Once it was determined Amen was the one and Burn they shot videos and treated it like a singe. Nothing wrong with experimentation.

Kristi says:

Great article. Great Info.

I came here from Industry Ears. Good discovery.

Plus… this was a very good article about the music industry. What a waste of money and talent for nothing! 🙁

Gene Dexter says:

A properly made mixtape will always have a positive impact. Without it, Drake would never have received the attention or a Lil’ Weezie signing.

The mixtape is inextricably tied to hip hop culture. Kids who couldn’t afford entire albums looked to their DJs for the hottest and brand new material without having to save for 20 records. The best mixtapes were those that could be popped into a deck anywhere and create the party, creating a viral campaign no marketing department a label could compete with.

I do agree that many DIY artists aren’t placing resources into the right hands. Had that unsigned rapper take a further step with those initiatives by hiring a proper digital, street, marketing and PR team, his costs for featuring a “name” brand artist and DJ might have been money well spent.

Truth Tella says:

Excellent Article.. It’s the truth and the truth hurts. And Robin Jones you’re an idiot.

Robin D Jones says:

Poor article. Before the impact of the Internet on the music industry and before the downloadable mixtape phenomenon, how many really great hip hop artists out there were making good money out of their art? Many more than now? I don’t think so. You have a certain amount that blow up and make the big money, and then you had a bunch of others that were fucked over by record labels who devalued their art. I don’t think there’s a big difference these days over the amount of artists out there making money off their art, but they certainly have more control over it. But also, look at Danny Brown. How many free albums / mixtapes has he released and I’d say he’s doing pretty well at the moment.

Ari Lennox says:

I am honored to read this article. As a singer/songwriter I feel motivated to start focusing on 1 CLASSIC ALBUM rather than hoping around wasting money on free projects. This is my career, NOT a hobby (ugh so deep) But yes good music always prevails, people buy what they LOVE. I am sure of what needs to be done. Thanks Jesse!

Some of the comments totally miss the point — which actually proves the point of this excellent article.

I am lucky to have been on both sides of the yard, as an indie and journalist/reviewer/blogger. I know why a lot of indies fail. The reason is simple:

1) Lack of marketing awareness
2) Lack of self-education (branding and social media)
3) Lack of professionalism
4) No knowledge of their target market

And I could go on and on.

How can you expect audiences to pay for your music if all you do is give away your stuff and behave like an amateur?

Let’s stop this nonsense.

SiKNIN says:

You don’t have to be on a label. What he’s saying is releasing unlimited free music devalues the art. People don’t think they have to pay for it. Let the DJs take freestyles and drop em over industry beats, that’s a mix tape. Releasing a full on project every few months does nothing.
You’ve gotta have something to keep them interested. Lil Wayne can afford to release unlimited free music most artists cannot. And if you call this your career, you understand that sooner or later you’ve gotta make money from it.

Nicole says:

I also think this is a ‘seller’s’ viewpoint. If dats what an arist wanna do n put out mix-tapes..oh well.. As long as they keepin it real!! Once on a record label, they make barely anything n cant talk bout nothin real n gotta kiss ass n give up most of they earnings!! Real rappers stay street n talk real spit..every rapper shud stay independent, maybe it wud be less murders in da rap game after an arist gets a deal..erm..erm…or shud I say sacrifices!!! I do not buy no industry cds n h8 insustry rappers for what they do to they own people for fame!!!! Real niggaz finn stay underground pushin mix-tapes .period

Ducan Thomas says:

mixtapes ain’t killin nothing, it was the mixtape back in the late 70’s we made here in nyc that exposed many in the tristate area to what is known today as hiphop, this cat speaks from a sellers/marketeer, mindset….and that is what is killing commercial hiphop.

“Your fans must either want to be you or believe you. You must know your target market and your music has to resonate with them. As an Artist you must understand that your Fans don’t just buy your music; they buy your Lifestyle, your Brand and your Movement as well.”

spoken like a true 21 st century salesmen.
What a joke, and people wonder what’s wrong with black folk in america today, we try to emulate others who dumb us down and this is the type of statement we get from some1 who was weaned on that type of training.


And great information for those trying to find their way to their dreams (even though many simply have “hoop dreams” of being a rapper/entertainer/star)

Your words are the same for singers and authors…anyone on their indie “grind”. With the rise of social media has come the demise of true work ethic and strategy.

Social media is a blessing and a curse: Everyone who isn’t a star can become (a virtual) one and everyone who is a star can find some anonymity, or “normalcy” in their world .

Bungalo says:

well said

Ced says:

I think this is one of the best article of the year…So true…

Class says:

The title of this article takes away from the quality of the content. Hip Hop has is not solely Black music. To treat it as such places on the blame on Black culture.