by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
free, marketing, mixtapes, music

Success Of Mixtapes Finally Making Major Labels Realize That 'Free' Can Be Useful Marketing

from the not-so-awful dept

We were amazed a few years ago when the RIAA, with the help of law enforcement, started going after DJs who made mixtapes, even though those same mixtapes were considered a huge part of the promotional infrastructure of certain parts of the music world (mainly hip hop, but certainly elsewhere as well). Of course, after shutting down and arresting a bunch of mixtape DJs, a bunch of artists just started making and releasing their own damn mixtapes, and doing so for free online. And even though we still see some stories of the RIAA going after "officially released" mixtapes, it seems that even the labels are starting to recognize that free mixtapes help promote artists and aren't worth freaking out about:
"The game favors people that can produce quality music and then turn right around and produce more quality music-which is not a given," Atlantic Records VP of A&R Zvi Edelman says. His signee, Wiz Khalifa, leveraged free, original mixtapes like 2010's "Kush & OJ" and 2011's "Cabin Fever" into the building of a dedicated fan base that helped, along with an intensive touring strategy, make his Atlantic/Rostrum Records debut, "Rolling Papers," one of the few hip-hop debuts to sell more than 500,000 copies (it's now at 570,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan) in 2011.

A batch of newcomers -- such as J. Cole, Big Sean, Dom Kennedy, Mac Miller and Smoke DZA -- has adapted to the consumer demand for free, original rap music. The philosophy is often described this way: As a reward for artists remaining loyal to them (by giving away original music), fans return the favor by buying concert tickets, merchandise and "real" albums from record labels. The result is a give-and-take relationship that keeps rappers in control of their brand and marketing, and iTunes playlists full of free albums disguised as "mixtapes." The payoff is an active fan base, which labels and management hope stimulates retail purchases.
This might be about as close as you can come to big record labels officially admitting that free music actually has value that is monetized elsewhere. But, still, apparently, we need special new laws to shut down the very same marketing that they now want to use to build a stronger fan base.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    anonymous, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 5:18am

    let's face it. the labels are simply as thick as shit. if you dont do what they want, in the way they want, you're a 'pirate, you're destroying the industry, destroying jobs and ruining the economy'. what a complete crock of crap!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 5:22am


    You forgot supporting suicide bombing pedophiles

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    The eejit (profile), Sep 29th, 2011 @ 5:22am


    I think of it this way:

    "If the record labels were any more full of shit, they'd be winning the Economic Darwin Awards."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Lord Binky, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 5:47am

    Now Now.....

    Let's give them a break, they did not say that just because it is useful and they may be doing it themselves, that it isn't wrong....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Howard the Duck, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 6:00am

    Hell hath frozen over

    This is only an anomaly. Don't get your hopes up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    abc gum, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 6:45am

    Re: Re:

    and popcorn farmers

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 7:11am

    Mix tapes (multiple artist compilations of new artists) have been part of the record label's marketing for year. Why is this suddenly news?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    PaulT (profile), Sep 29th, 2011 @ 7:17am

    Re: Hell hath frozen over

    Meh, pretty much par for the course in some ways. They wail and moan and fight anything new, then realise there's profit to be had by changing. It's just taking a stupid amount of time to do so this time around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Jeremy7600 (profile), Sep 29th, 2011 @ 7:35am

    Mixtapes and cds have been a part of the electronica scene for years. I buy mixtapes from a store, which exposes me to a dj who I never knew about, so I go see him/her at a club, they buy more records cause they always want to keep the dancefloor filled. But these records aren't on major labels (90% of them are on independants) so maybe they never caught wind of it. Or just ignored it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Boost, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 10:25am


    Yeah, as a way to make money off music that left the mainstream decades ago. This is different because it's new artists that don't already have a fan base.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 10:41am

    rostrum isn't exactly a bug label.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2011 @ 11:48am

    Re: Re:

    Somewhere around here, I have a mixtape that has 311, blink182, and a few others on it, long before anyone knew their names. it wasn't a recycle mix tape of 30 year old music, it was a way for these bands to get exposure and wider distribution.

    Stiff Records (Moto: If it Ain't Stuff, it Ain't Worth a Fuck) did the same thing in the punk heyday, widely distributing compilations from their lesser known (or often unknown) bands as a way to get them exposure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    dontlikeitthendontlisten, Sep 30th, 2011 @ 2:35pm

    stop whining start doing

    if you don't like the big mean labels, then don't listen to the music which is produced using their financial investment.
    if i don't like how someone runs their business, i can always start my own. that would be more productive than trying to convince someone i don't like to give me their product the way i want them to

    you are all a bunch of whiny immature and impotent babies. go find something PRODUCTIVE to do on your own

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    @johnsin (profile), Sep 30th, 2011 @ 2:59pm

    They were told this 10 years ago..

    A little bit of a back story.. My name is John, and I was hired by BMG Entertainment back in 2000 as manager of New Technology. I was 24 years old at the time and probably the youngest label exec around who was driving BMG's digital music distribution strategy. None the less. I can tell you from all the meetings I had, and the consulting I did that the labels have known this for years. I use to debate the fact that "What one person considers piracy another considers promotion". I knew this because I had done my own mixtapes from 1994-1998 as a drum n bass dj.

    Please understand. The majors had all the chances in the world to sort it out, but they couldn't. I had met with streaming locker music services as far back as 2001! Everyone was doing what Apple was doing before Apple did it. But the labels wouldn't grant licenses. Even if they met our strict DRM, Codec, and Security mandates. Why can I say this, because I was responsible for conducting the due-diligence for the digital catalog licenses. I would approve a service but corporate wouldn't grant the license because all the labels were positioning themselves against the other majors.

    Apple was the only one who could come in and give them what they wanted. A guaranteed adaption of the service. The labels knew that Apple had one thing.. the strength of millions of Apple Fanboys who were just waiting to buy whatever Steve Jobs told them to buy. So even though countless other services were ready to launch with better services then iTunes.. They were disregarded by the labels..

    Do you want to see proof. At BMG, I managed the development and launch of the first B2B streaming music video platform in 2001. Go look it up on Google.. the press releases were all there. We were ready to launch with 2000+ music videos, streamed, and protected by network based backend DRM (Geographical Rights Management by the way of Akamai's edge server network.. which Akamai and I thought up while in meetings together. Until then they had never used a edge server router ID as a means to check rights to stream content to a geographical area.


    I had a front seat to Napster fiasco on the label side. I literally came to work one day and found out that I was now suing my own parent company Bertelsmann. We then pushed to convert Napster into a label before Andreas Schmidt got ahold of it and fucked the whole thing up by wasting millions on something that never saw the light of day. My Streaming Video platform only costed us about 400k to develop. Guess what, I actually launched it for beta. Napster died in BeEcommerce groups hands. Remember the famous.. .nap file idea.. I mean you had the wrong people making decisions that they had no clue about.. while the smart people who they specifically hired like myself to tell them what to do.. were ignored.. and then later cast out and blamed. When really.. the blame lays on the execs who couldn't let the good old days go, and made careers out of stifling innovation as if their entire industry was depending on them to do it.

    I also chaired SDMI meetings with Carrey Sherman. People don't realize that the majors never changed.. they just went out and co-opted all the indie labels.. Taking chunks in turn for distribution deals. If anyone wants the story about what really happened during 2000-2002.. Contact me.. its been 10 years.. the world should know, and I am ready to tell. I would like to write a book on it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Gav, Oct 1st, 2011 @ 12:25am

    If what you say is right then what we are all really waiting for is the older, big boys to pop their clogs.
    Once they let go of their stranglehold on the industry then we can start moving into the 21st century.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    PaulT (profile), Oct 1st, 2011 @ 4:24am

    Re: stop whining start doing


    Once again, I did stop lustening. Then I was accused of being a pirate when I explained why and all the "losses" that occurred were assumed to be due to piracy, not because I didn't want their crap.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    PaulT (profile), Oct 1st, 2011 @ 4:28am

    Re: They were told this 10 years ago..

    Thanks for your thoughts. Sadly, this just confirms everything most people with any clue knew at about that time. I fear little has changed within those labels, which is why they will continue to fail, unless sheer momentum keeps them going until people who understand the market take charge...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    ULOV, Feb 2nd, 2012 @ 4:07am

    Re: Why mix tapes are news now

    From what I'm gathering the reason that it's making a big deal now is the way hip hop people are using it. Some rapper chooses a instrumental track already made famous out publicly and uses it to promote his own talents. The problem with that is that the producer normally licenses his music for royalties and to make money. In street terms... "that's the way the music producer eats" Now if there were a group of people that made that song, i.e. guitarist, keyboardist, drummer... then whoever creates these mix tapes essentially is taking a profit from the creators. Now I agree with this because I produce music but only to a certain extent. See the mix tape (when it comes to hip hop) is solely meant to promote the "rapper/dj" skill set NOT the beat or music behind it. The music track is there strictly to get the listener to "feel" the rappers lyrics quicker because in most cases that instrumental music track is familiar or even better a hit on the radio already behind Kanye West, Jay-Z or a NAS lyric. As a music producer myself I have to say that as long as the artist/dj pays homage to the original creators somewhere on their product, whether in a lyric, or on the back cover then there is nothing wrong with it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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