A lot of aspiring artists today tend to get confused when it comes to the idea of releasing an album, EP or mixtape…especially when it comes to a mixtape. I mean, it just doesn’t mean the same thing it did 20 years ago and it especially doesn’t mean the same thing in hip-hop. Back in 19-…something, mixtapes were a collection of your favourite songs that you recorded onto a cassette tape (I should’ve said 30 years ago) and a lot of independent artists adopted this as a method of promotion.
The mixtapes popularity in hip-hop started when DJs would host compilations of various artists, either well known or on the rise, as a promotional tool for them and the acts they work with. These days, artists are producing mixtapes all on their own, without the DJ factor, to either make money or simply get their voices heard by the right people. And it has become a familiar rite of passage that all hip-hop artists pass through as they make progress in their careers. Here are 4 important things to remember so you know exactly how to make a rap mixtape the right way.
#1 – Make Sure You’re Ready…
There are two things that you need to be very familiar with before you even think about saying the words “I’m droppin’ a mixtape!” and that is You and Your Abilities. You’ve gotta know yourself as an artist inside and out, to the point where you know ho you’re going to sound before you even open your mouth. To start off, I’d suggest focusing on the main aspects of your act: your Voice and your Flow. Whenever you speak naturally you are also hearing your voice as the sound vibrates through your skull, which adds a lot more bass than what everybody else hears (science!).
That is why many are shocked the first time they hear themselves because it is distinctly different from what they’re used to. That’s why it’s important to do as much recording as you can prior to your mixtape project so that you know exactly what to expect when you get behind the mic. That’s the only way you’re going to get to know your flow too. Once you’re a pro at making sentences rhyme, you’re going to start experimenting with different rhythms and speeds and that’s when you’ll develop your own style in the way you write, the way you sound and the way you flow.
So make sure you get enough experience in by recording songs without any real intent. Maybe you’ll give it out to your friends and family? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you really think of them more as ‘lyrical exercises‘ and have some fun with it.
#2 – Best Laid Plans…
I once read this anonymous quote: “Don’t have a dream, have a plan” and that’s exactly what you need before you get started. First things first, you need to know just how much you have to spend on this project.
Let’s Talk Cash
There’s a lot that could be done for free if you’ve got the friends (or the skill) and a lot that could be done cheaply using services like Twine and Fiverr (more on those two in future posts). Knowing how much you’re going to spend will help you decide on how many tracks you’re aiming to create because there’s a lot to consider:
- Are you using your own studio or are you paying for studio time?
- Are you making your own beats or downloading/buying them online?
- Are you just hosting online or planning to get airplay on radio and TV?
- How are you planning to promote and does it involve paying for ad space?
- Are you creating your own artwork or hiring someone else?
Remember when we said you’ve got to know yourself as an artist? That’s because you’re trying to build a brand too and only once you know what you sound like can you start thinking about what you look like. Think about what colours represent your music, what images represent your words and have a central theme that all your artwork will be based around. That should include things like your mixtape cover photos (both front and back for the track-list) and wallpapers and banners that you can add to your Twitter and Facebook profiles as well as to your YouTube channel.
So how many tracks do you think you’d like to use? For the most ambitious artists out there, I’d suggest no less than 20 of your dopest tunes for your project. I know some you got into this thinking that one hit song was enough to get you to the top (and keep you there) but artists like that don’t last long and your chances of actually being the next Soulja boy is slim to none. You want substance for any wannabe fan to stick around. Don’t feel too pressured, though. You can still get away with 15 or even 12 tracks for a mass release, just make sure you follow it up soon.
#3 – Beat Selection
Now when it comes to choosing your beats, you need to ask yourself one question: Is this for promotion or profit? If this is your first time making a mixtape then I suggest you go strictly promotional because as long as you’re not making money, there are practically no rules.
You wanna use a beat that has a Destiny’s Child sample? Then do it! You wanna use a beat that Kanye West used? Go ahead! Many artists today still use beats that were made famous by somebody else just to showcase their stuff. If you spend a bit of time strolling through Soundcloud or Youtube, you’ll come across many producers giving away a selection of their beats for free (including HowToMakeHip-Hop.com). These are often purely promotional and will only be a mp3 file that includes a vocal tag that promotes the producer as well.
If you’re droppin’ a few pennies on some beats then you’ll not only get that removed but you’ll probably get the WAV file, the track stems and the license for you gain exclusive rights. This will open up the doors for you to make music videos, get airplay on radio and sell it online and get streams on Spotify (pretty sweet right?). Keep in mind that in the end, you will probably need to share the credit and the profit too.
If you’ve got the skills and the software (and the time) then I highly recommend you produce and compose your own beats. You’ll not only save a lot but you’ll keep all the credit and the profit too. It’s one of the perks of owning the copyright in both the music and the lyrics. Feel free to check out our post on How To Make Your Own Rap Beats to help get you started.
#4 – Distribution & Promotion
Once we get to the end of the production line, it’s important to know what’s going to happen to all the music that you make. Paid promotions through Facebook and Twitter are by far the easiest ways to go but there’s no reason you can’t let good old word of mouth do most of the heavy lifting for you. Social media has revolutionised the world of online marketing, so make sure that you’re active on one if not all of the major ones. Soundcloud remains the go-to platform for any young artist to share their music, keep track of all their statistics and keep up with like-minded individuals. Have you taken the necessary steps to make sure that your music can make money? Then get your songs on iTunes or even Audiomack or get your Spielberg on and add an awesome music video for Youtube. Don’t Underestimate the basic online tools at your disposal. For more of a competitive edge, head on over to Wealthy Affiliate and learn how to turn your passion into a great online business.
As long as you’re able to think ahead and plan properly you’ll be on your way to your first mixtape in no time. Hopefully, these tips will aid you on your journey making hip-hop. While you’re here, feel free to check out some of our other posts and feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.
Ryan C. Voller, Recording Artist – Producer – Author for HowToMakeHip-Hop.com
- How To Make Your Own Beat Studio
- How To Make Your Own Beat Studio Part 2
- Loops and Sample Packs: What They Are and How to Use Them