This festive season it’s likely that either you or someone you know gave or received a mixtape as a present. It’s one of the most personal things you can give, and more often than not a great deal of thought has been put into what may appear to be a very simple gift. But mixtapes are not only for hard-up souls to pass on to friends, lovers and family – they are also an effective marketing tool for bands, and have been for a long time for hip-hop artists the world over.
So if you’re a musician and don’t have a deal, putting together a mixtape could be one of the better decisions you make this year. Hell, it could make the difference between another 12 months playing in your bedroom and actually developing your own following.
Music producer Joshua F Williams of Dubai’s Creative Kingdom studios has a long history with mixtapes. ‘I used to make most of my living recording mixtapes for rappers in LA a few years back,’ he tells me. ‘They were very easy to do and didn’t take a lot of time. The best thing about a mixtape was that as soon as they were recorded, they were released. You didn’t have to wait for the big marketing campaign and that made mixtapes more relevant to what was happening across the world.’
So what’s it all about? Firstly, the professional mixtape isn’t just a collection of all your favourite songs. It’s all about you, your music and making yourself known, not about making a lo-fi album. ‘They’re used as an advertisement rather than as the product,’ Joshua explains. ‘The message the artist wants to get across is usually more important than having a hit song. They tend to be a better representation of who the artist is rather than what the label thinks the artist should be, and often have more collaborations than albums do.’
Abu Dhabi-raised rapper Kaz Money, who has had some recent success in Europe and the US, sees the mixtape as an integral part of hip hop. ‘It’s an artist’s proving ground and is one of the last pure, uncut, unedited, raw forms of the game,’ he says, adding that as well as being a great promotional tool, it’s also a great way for musicians to express themselves without having to worry about being radio-friendly.
Better still, it doesn’t take a big studio effort to make a mixtape. With little more than a laptop, editing software like Garage Band, some CDs and a burner you can transfer your music in its rawest form onto CDs and hand your mix out to friends, the audience at your open-mic gig – or anyone, really. As a lo-fi, low-budget way to get your music out there – not to mention getting that first step on the ladder by provoking some attention – the mixtape can’t be beaten.
Zahra showcases the latest local musical talent on Open Mic every Saturday from 8pm-10pm on Dubai Eye 103.8