Difference Between Mixtape and Album Projects

While both are products of recorded music released for promotional purposes there is a difference between mixtape and album projects which we are going to look at in detail.

In today’s digital landscape companies such as Apple music, Spotify and Tidal provide music streaming services to match their consumers insatiable appetite for new music. For the most part this entails artists releasing albums to the platform and not mixtapes due to the mixtapes not being official releases associated to a record label.

This for most people is a clear indicator of the subtle yet apparent difference between mixtape and album projects. For example, consumers will be free to stream Lil Wayne’s Carter series albums on certain streaming services while Da Drought mixtapes maybe unavailable.

What’s even more interesting is that today artists in the hip hop community are continuing to name projects with original music “mixtapes” which would be deemed as albums a few years ago, which further adds to the confusion around this topic.


Here is the difference between an Album & Mixtape


What is an album?

lil wayne carter 3 album

Typically, an album is created due to contractual agreements in which an artist promises to deliver new music to a record label which will then be marketed, distributed and sold to the masses.

The album is perceived as an all-round experience with everything being intertwined together from the song structure and style, album cover, music production, selected guest features to the tour. Albums is how an artist shows growth, experimentation, storytelling abilities and musical influences which are all important elements in hip hop culture.

To sum it up,

  • Albums contain original music and normally have 7-10 songs.
  • They are commercial products available in digital formats, CD or Vinyl.
  • Samples must be cleared if an artist chooses to use existing music in their work.
  • Artists have the opportunity to sell merchandise connected to the album.

Album sales are recorded and given an industry standard rating such as certified Gold or Platinum. Streams also count as sales and first week numbers are also recorded.

The artist will also follow certain protocols and procedures when gearing up to release an album which tends to be recording, turning album in to the label, marketing the album and release date, selling the album & going on national or international tours to support the album.

Record labels have an invested interest in albums as multiple factors go into ensuring the project succeeds which is not the case when it comes to mixtapes.


What is a mixtape?

lil wayne da drought 3 mixtape

A mixtape is a compilation of pre-existing music recorded over by an artist for 2 separate reasons

Established Artists – For the established artists mixtapes are created to generate buzz around their upcoming album, introduce new artists on their record label & provide fans with music unofficially without any legal obligations to a label.

Upcoming Artists – For artists wanting to gain exposure in the music industry mixtapes are created in order to build an underground fan base, display lyrical ability & most importantly introduce themselves to the masses. For example, think of J Cole’s first mixtape the warm up released back in 2007, this allowed J Cole the freedom as an artist to showcase his skills, build a fan base & get more awareness which would eventually result into him signing a deal with Jay-Z.

Regardless as to whether a mixtape is created by J Cole or your next-door neighbour trying to make it in the music industry these typically tend to be free.

Sites such as datpiff, livemixtapes, YouTube and SoundCloud allow for quick uploads direct to the consumer to listen to the music at their disposal

To sum it up,

  • Mixtapes are usually free
  • Do not feature a lead single
  • Are a compilation of pre-existing music recorded over by another artist
  • Used to generate buzz & build fan base
  • Usually no legal obligations connected to a record label
  • Songs on a mixtape do not need to complement each other sequence wise
  • Allows an artist 100% creative control


The grey area of the mixtape

Mixtapes with Original Music

Now that you know the difference between mixtape and album projects it should be worth noting there are grey areas surrounding this discussion.

In Hip hop today multiple artists are labelling new original music mixtapes and by our definition these would be considered albums, which raises the question can original music be mixtapes?

While it may be hard to pin point exactly why certain artists choose to do so we are going to take an educated guess and say this pattern continues to happen because the mixtape means artistic freedom, and that allows artists to not feel pressure from critics which is something that is inevitable while recording an album.

Artists titling new music mixtapes allows them to carry on the mixtape tradition which is to have fun, showcase lyrical ability without the added pressures that comes from albums such as deadlines, self-doubt, critics and ultimately the selling of records to meet agreements.   


Final Words

The mixtape has deep roots in hip hop culture and has evolved over time. What initially started as blend & cut mixes by the DJ introducing artists trying to break the industry evolved into mini artist albums thanks to 50 Cent.

From the label perspective its business, from a fan perspective it’s just music on different platforms and from the artist perspective making the conscious choice to deliver the best possible work regardless as to whether it’s a mixtape or album will be a priority.

We hope this article has allowed you to understand the difference between mixtape and album projects. Albums & mixtapes serve different purposes and as long as music is being consumed the 2 will co-exist!




Are mixtapes free?

Mixtapes are typically free as they cannot be sold for a fee due to the nature of the recording. Mixtapes include artists recording music over official pre-existing music which therefore cannot be sold. So, mixtapes are free and can be found online at datpiff, livemixtapes, YouTube and SoundCloud

What is the purpose of a mixtape?

The mixtape serves multiple purposes such as showcasing lyrical ability, building buzz and fan base, allow 100% creative freedom, introduce new artists on label & get signed to a major label.


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