How To Make A Mixtape, The Ultimate Guide Part 1

How To Make A Mixtape, The Ultimate Guide Part 1Here at Independent Music Advice, we like to listen to what you as the reader wants. We’ve had many people arriving at our site looking for advice on making mixtapes, but not really finding what they were looking for. Having a quick google search myself, I found there are no real resources showing musicians what to think about when making mixtapes. So we decided to write one!

Over the next three posts we will be looking at some of the most searched for mixtape questions we’ve had! If there’s anything else you want to add or ask, please do so in the comments section.

Once you’ve read this, one please also check out:

for more mixtape tips and advice.

What Is A Mixtape

While mixtapes were originally tapes which compiled people’s favourite songs together, the modern meaning is quite different. Mixtapes are now widely used as a tool for promoting a musician prior to a album or single release. They can also be used to raise awareness of a musician, keeping them in the public eye. While mixtapes are mostly popular in the hip hop and grime music scenes, many other music genres make demos that can typically be described as mixtapes.

To make it clear:

  • A mixtape does not have to be in tape format. It is most popularly presented in CD or digital download format.
  • While they can be, mixtapes don’t have to be ‘mixed’. Many are in fact a group of songs put together with a small gap in-between like a regular album.
  • While you can use original production for your mixtapes, many people choose to use established instrumentals and save the original material for their album and single releases.
  • Mixtapes are generally at least least six tracks long, but some can fill up a whole 80 minute CD.
  • Although often sold, mixtapes are generally used as promotional products. They’re used to raise awareness of a given musician, sometimes before an album launch.
  • Mixtapes aren’t expected to be at the same quality level as albums, so musicians often use them to get material to the public without worrying about using expensive studios and top quality packaging.

Why Make A Mixtape?

Get your music on itunesThere are many reasons people would choose to make a mixtape instead of a single or album, but here are the main ones:

    • Collecting Beats Tend To Be Easier.As many people vocal other people’s instrumentals for their mixtapes, finding backing tracks that are suitable to use can be a lot easier. You don’t have to deal with lazy producers that take ages to get anything to you, you can simply find a instrumental you like online and instantly download it. As many musicians listen to other music in their chosen genre, it can be easy to draw up a list of backing tracks you want to use due to the fact you’ve heard and enjoyed them already. This can cut a lot of time of the planning process.
    • People Who Haven’t Heard You Before Are More Likely To Listen.One of the main selling points for making a mixtape is that people will be more likely to give your music a chance. It can take people a few times listening to a new song before it actually registers with them, especially if it’s a musician that’s new to them. If however you’re a musician and you’re vocals are over one of their favourite songs, you’re more or less guaranteed to have their attention immediately! This is not to say they’ll end up liking your vocal (You will of course need to make your version enjoyable), but you should get more people giving you that initial chance.
    • Subject Matters Are Easier.Some people choose to base their version of a song on the original, keeping the same theme and same vocal styles (E.G. The voice or flow of the original vocalist, similar catchy bits, same subject matter as the original etc). This saves time on constantly thinking up new concept ideas, and allows you to save your original ideas for your singles or album.
  • Mixtapes Are Cheaper To Produce.As mixtapes aren’t expected to be of the same quality as albums, you don’t have to put the same amount of time into it as you would producing an album. And if you’ve ever read more then one post at Independent Music Advice, you’ll know that time is money. Many people don’t use adilibs when making their mixtape, this saves on studio time and therefore money. Many musicians also don’t use top end recording studios when making mixtapes, allowing cheaper studio costs but still a good level of production.Another way some musicians save money when putting out mixtapes is the packaging. Some choose to go for slim line CD cases rather then the more expensive jewel CD cases used for albums. This means the CD is still protected against damage, but for a fraction of the cost.One thing I’ll say about making mixtapes on the cheap however is this: Don’t sacrifice the quality so much that your music becomes un-listen-able. Although you should make small cut backs so your album looks and sounds better then your mixtape (This’ll make people want your album even if they already have lots of your mixtape songs), you need to remember the mixtape is what pre sells the album so needs to sound good in its own right. If you make a poor mixtape, chances are people won’t buy your album.

How To Make Money From Mixtapes

How do you make money from mixtapes? Well, you make money from mixtapes in the same way you’d make money from a single or album; By selling them. You can get your mixtape in shops worldwide, from the smaller underground record shops, to the major high street music outlets. You should also get your mixtapes on popular websites such as iTunes and Napster. The best way of doing this is via a distribution website called Songcast (This website is free to sign up to so I suggest you sign up and have a look around). Some people also choose to sell their mixtapes in person on busy high streets, setting up base near popular shops within their music genre.

It’s also a good idea to sell your mixtapes at any live shows you do, especially if you’re the headline act. If this is the case, people will be attending the show to see you, and many will want to take home a souvenir of the occasion. And what better to give (Sell) them then your mixtape?

Depending on the content of your mixtape (And if you use other people’s instrumentals or not) you may be also able to claim royalties from your mixtape plays. If one of the songs from your mixtape gets played on legal radio for example, if the production and vocals are original you can claim royalties for it. If the production is not original and you haven’t got the owner’s permission to use the instrumental however, you won’t be able to claim money from royalties (And they may even be able to approach you and ask you for money).

Parts two and three of the ultimate mixtape guide are now out, so check them out via the below links for some more great mixtape tips!

That’s it for part one, in part two (Of three) we’ll be asking if you can use other people’s beats on your mixtape, we’ll be looking at where you can get beats for your mixtapes from, and finally looking at ways to make your mixtape stand out from the crowd.

Make sure you sign up to email updates at the top of this page to be sent parts two and three directly to your email inbox. Alternatively, sign up to the RSS feed below to be notified whenever we have a new post. As always, I’m looking forward to reading your comments.

P.S. Want to learn how to take your music career to the next level using music marketing? Then click here!

Comments

  1. Josh Gordon says:

    Dear independent music advice,

    I am helping a friend of mine who is VERY talented lyrically make a mixtape. He has his own recording studio in house and has lots of songs ready to go. I have a couple questions regarding the creation of this mixtape.

    1: Is using beats from other rappers from youtube legal if you are not selling your mixtape?
    2: How can we get original beats?
    3: If no songs have been posted online yet, what is the appropriate timeline to release a couple songs and then a 8-10 song mixtape?

    Your advice will be much appreciated!

    Thanks
    Hopeful Manager

  2. adminima says:

    Hi Josh. In response to your questions:

    1. This is not technically allowed without the prior permission from the owner of the instrumental, but done by a lot of people anyway. If you’re not selling your mixtape, a lot of the time the original owners won’t mind (If they even know it exists). Having said that, you may get some people chasing it up and demanding you take their song off your mixtape. If they request this, it’s advisable to do this and not press up / give out any more copies with their beats on it. Not doing this could result in legal action.
    It’s also possible that they may ask for financial compensation, but this is extremely unlikely. At the end of the day, it’s up to you if you want to ‘risk’ it.

    2. A good way to get original beats is to either scour for producers on forums (Good up and coming producers often give beats to vocalists for free to help get their name out there), make your own beats using simple but powerful beat maker software, or buy the beats from already established producers.

    3.It really depends on what you want to achieve. I’d say for you to maybe send a song a week or every two weeks, all the while directing people back to your website and your mailing list. If you can get them excited about the mixtape and on the mailing list, once it’s released you can message everyone and let them know it’s available. The gap in between will allow people to talk and spread the word if you’ve made a good impression, and leave them anticipating the next song.
    The important thing is to get contact details with them, as you don’t want liking your music and then forgetting about it once it’s released.

    I hope this helps, good luck with the mixtape release! :)

  3. I am a internet dj. I am trying to find ways to get myself out there as a dj. Unlike the radio djs at peak times we don’t have the listener base as they do. But my question is how do I contact the astist that I want to use on my mixtape? Meaning is there a professional way to approach this?? TY in advance for your help.

  4. adminima says:

    Hi DJ Gator. The easiest way to contact artists is to approach them online. Most musicians have some sort of online presence these days, whether it’s a Facebook page, a twitter page, or a MySpace / Reverb Nation type page. This is the easiest way to contact them. Make sure you approach them professionally, so use clear wording, no spelling mistakes and include enough information. Always be sure to briefly introduce yourself (Include anything noteworthy things you have achieved here), let them know why you’re contacting them, and how THEY can benefit from what you’re offering. If they won’t benefit from them getting on your mixtape (Or at least they can’t instantly see how they’d benefit) you won’t get many people on your mixtape. If you can convince them that getting on your mixtape will benefit them however, you’ll get a lot more serious people to work with. I hope this helps.

  5. James Nyagaya says:

    Hello. I think I have what I takes to produce a relativly good mixtape/song. Im just a bit unsure how to go about it. Like I can write my own lyrics just what to do from there really. any tips on what to do?

  6. Hi James. First off, you need to find beats to put your vocals on. Once you have written you vocals, you need to go to the studio and record them. Do a few songs, then put them together on a CD. Press it up professionally and release your mixtape. That’s the short version of it. :)

  7. I’ve heard my song on the radio and found out that my original composition is on someone’s mixtape? Should I be compensated for this? I know that he is selling copies of his mixtape. How can I go about getting information and how should I move forward? Thanks

  8. Hi Joe. It’s probably best to contact the maker of the mixtape and tell them you want a cut of the profits. Depending on what the mixtape maker says, you can decide how to act next.

    Does the mixtape track listing mention your name for the relevant track? If so, you may want to remember that this is still promotion for you. It may lead to people looking further into you, and maybe buying your music if they like it. They bought this mixtape after all, so if you appeared well on this CD, why wouldn’t they go on to buy into you?

  9. yasmin says:

    Hey there
    So I am an aspiring rapper from London I have downloaded beats that I like from the internet most of them well know such as ‘Runaway Love’- MJB and Ludacris. I would like to ask is it neccessary to get a MACBOOK. If I do get one can I just record myself through the microphone on that instead of buying a microphone? Also how do i find a studio and is it that important?
    Thanks, sorry for the typos :S

  10. Hi Yasmin, you don’t need to get a Macbook. There are microphones on a lot of modern computers, or you can simply buy one and attach it. Having said that, I don’t thing you should record your mixtape on one of these mikes. It will come out a poor quality, and give people a bad impression of you.

    It’ll be fine for practicing and seeing how things will sound, but invest in some studio time to record your final mixtape. You can get studio time from around £20 per hour for a good one, and if you’re a fast recorder you can record a few tracks in that time.

  11. Hi,
    I’m starting my music career as a producer. I had a question about mixtapes. Could I make a mixtape from the tracks which are recorded by other singers and produced by me?as a mixtape produced by me…because I saw a mixtape from DJ Khaled in which he was only the producer

  12. Hi Shevin, yes that’s possible about putting other people’s vocals on your beats. Make sure you let people know it’s promotional though, unless they’re vocals done just for your mixtape.

  13. alex tilford says:

    I am an artist and I got the lyrics but I want to know how to make beats and r there places were u can go in and produce ur music and make ur beats

  14. Hi Alex. I’ve done an article about producing music, you might want to check that out.

  15. R FLOW PRODUCTIONS says:

    Hello IMA , I am doing a mixtape for a few talented artist, i wanted to know how can i LEGALLY SELL Digital DownLoad mixtapes and also Physical CDs….EVEN IF USING A FEW COPYRIGHTED INDUSTRY BEATS, lets say a mixtape containing 10 songs, 6-7 of them are USED COPYRIGHTED INDUSTRY BEATS being played on the radio Air Waves , while the last 4-3 are original PRODUCTIONS, how would i go about getting permission to do such a thing where my ARTIST MAKE x amount %, the owners of the COPYRIGHTED INDUSTRY BEATS make x amount %, and I Myself make x amount %.

  16. H RFP. If you wanted that to happen you’d have to contact the owners of the beats directly. You could approach them with a percentage of each sale / play they’d make, and you’d have to keep track of it and pay everyone at an agreed interval.

  17. Maczuks says:

    Hi.
    So it’s not a problem to take some artist beats to create your own mixtape? If it is, what Can happen to the person who took those beats?

  18. Maczuks, it is a widely done thing, but of course there is always a risk when using other people’s material without permission. A lot of beat makers don’t generally mind as it’s still giving them promotion, but some may not be happy. It’s really down to you if you want to risk this or not.

    Usually a unhappy producer would ask you to take their beat off your mixtape, but some may ask you to give them a fee or a % of profits you make. This is rare, but it can happen.

  19. MCM says:

    Hi,

    I am thinking of making a mixtape and have it released for free to get people to know me. Is that considered a good investement?

  20. A better idea would be to release a free version, then have more track on a paid version. Giving out too much free music isn’t a good thing, as I explain here.

  21. cool zeke says:

    hi im starting a mixtape soon and i I would like to know how can i put that together even if i dont have any equipment.

  22. Zeke, if you haven’t got equipment, you’ll need to find someone or somewhere that has. This may require you to pay for it. Good luck.

  23. Dreamz says:

    Holla!

    I am an rnb arstist, compiling a mixtape before my album hits the stores. . . . .I got about 8 beats that are not mine, and about 8 that are originally mine on the tape.

    Can i sell the mixtape? What are the risks, as i’m planning to sell this with an entourage at the malls and all (public places)

    And can i take my original production to legal radio, and still advertise my mixtape on radio?
    Like telling the listeners where to buy it and all?

    Cause It’s just that i don’t spend a whole lot of money on this, and not get any of it back. . . .Something’s got to give @ the of the day.

    Thanks
    Dreamz

  24. Dreamz, see my reply to Maczuks in the above comments. Pretty much applies to your situation too. Thanks for the comment.

    P.S. In future it may be best to separate original tracks from ones where you use other people’s beats. Would make situations like this a lot easier.

  25. Greetings!
    I’m a Gospel artist and I was approached by a DJ that said that he already put my holy hip-hop song from my already released CD on his mixtape and is now selling. I was not approached beforehand to ask permission and he is not talking about giving me a cut of the profit. Is this right or should I ask for a cut? Thank you for your help in advance!

  26. Hi. That’s really up to you. You have to ask yourself, is he making much money from the CD anyway? Is his CD giving you much promotion / helping you get in front of new people who may go on to buy your CD?

    Most likely, he won’t cut you in on the profits if it’s a underground CD. If you don’t want it on there, your best bet would be to ask him to take it off his mixtape.

  27. Ams says:

    Thx for this info, really good stuff!! The main Q I have is: I write lyric! So is it legal for me to write my own lyrics to hip hop instrumental and still call it a mixtape?!

  28. Hi Ams. That is generally how mixtapes are made, using your own lyrics.

  29. I have written several tracks catering toward the r&b scene. I was wondering what I should do next , I wanna make a mixtape/demo. I wanted to know a ball park estimate on how much that might be and how can I expose my music once its created and get it played on the radio, advertisement and everything. I want a recording company where i can create my own original beats.

  30. Hi Terrance. The info you need is too long for this comment, but if you look around this site and Music Industry How To you will find a lot of answers in regard to advertising. The mixtape cost will also vary greatly, depending on studio costs per hour, how much time you need, how you package the product and more. Have a look around at some recording companies / CD producers / graphic designers etc, and get some quotes.

    It sounds like you’re very ambitious, good luck with it all! :)

  31. sgray says:

    I have heard a lot of mixtapes that have beats of songs from famous artist, I thought it was illegal to sell a beat that you didn’t legally own? Is it?

  32. If you don’t own the rights to a song then yes, you aren’t really supposed to be selling it. That said, it is common practice in the mixtape scene. And unless the person who made the mixtape is making a lot of money for it, usually producers let it be as it brings them exposure. Some may request that you take their beat off your mixtape, and if this happens it is recommend that you do it for legal reasons.

  33. Amtrax says:

    Questions:

    What software is out there to help mix/record a mixtape?

  34. Hi Amtrax. There are a few you can use, but Cuebase is one of them. On there you can make your own beats and vocals, or record vocals over already made beats.

  35. Dorphise says:

    Hey. My name is Dorphise I’m a aspiring songwriter currently working with a singer writing her music.I was wondering once she gets her music played on the radio.How do I collect royalties for that also.How to get my name out there as a songwriter.

  36. Hi Dorphise. Your best bet is to network with DJs on internet radio, local radio and pirate radio. Build up relationships with them and get them to play your music. That’s the short of it. And make good music. :)

    Other then that there are a lot of marketing guides on this site, so have a look around. Do gigs, online and offline promotion.

  37. Dorphise says:

    My artist has ask me to manage her and I have no experience in it.How can I find info in creating a fan base,managing her singing career.Also which company is best to register with bmi and ASCAP

  38. Dorphise, as a manager your first job is to organize your musician. You’ll want to make sure you have a plan of action for you both, and you should be aiming to get them more shows and help them get material out there (Singles). Don’t worry about outside companies for now, just focus on building up a fan base and getting money making opportunities. Good luck.

  39. Sebastian Lara says:

    So is it legal to use a beat from a song on Illmatic (Nas’s album) like lets say the song N.Y State of mind? Would it be illegal or would i get in trouble for using a beat like that? And to make a mixtape what should you use to make your music exactly?

  40. Read the above comments for the answers on all of those Sebastian :)

  41. Sebastian Lara says:

    Is there any way to get cubase for free? And thanks for replying :)

  42. Sebastian Lara says:

    And if you dont have a good mic for making music is there any that you reccommend that are not too expensive and have a decent quality?

  43. No way to get Cuebase for free, sorry Sebastian.
    I can’t recommend any specific microphones, but have a look around on Amazon and read the reviews. You should be able to get a idea of what mike you need from there.
    I wouldn’t go too cheap though, as if you make a poor quality product, no one will want to listen to your mixtape.

  44. Sebastian Lara says:

    Ok thanks :)
    I decided which mic im going to get, it has pretty good quality and good reviews. One more question since im going to be using peoples beats like MF Doom,KRS One,Mos Def Should I give credit to the producer or the artist himself or both? Haha because i dont want to get into trouble like Mac Miller, Lord Finesse was trying to sue him for $10 million because of a beat he took and didnt give credit.

  45. Yep, it’s probably a good idea to give credit to any producers ;)

  46. Nysteryman2013 says:

    Hey.. I have a question, I wanted to use my own original lyrics as a rap artist on a mix tape with mostly my own original tracks and maybe 1 popular track already used in industry. But mainly my own.. what is the best way to protect my lyrics and music as a whole and cheapest way. I didnt want to individually copyright each track etc.. i was wondering if it was possible for me to have multiple bodies of work copy written under one title registered to save money and distribute it safely and protected and make money for myself??

  47. Hi mate. I talk about how to copyright music here: http://www.musicindustryhowto.com/how-to-copyright-music-music-copyright-laws-in-action/. That shows you your options, but it’s up to you what you decide to go with.

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