So, you're thinking about making a mixtape. You just heard a beat from a well known producer that you really like, and want to vocal your own version of that song. But is this allowed? And is there anything you need to do before you're allowed to use this beat? This is what we look at today.
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A Quick Overview
The reason this is a complex subject for some, is there are no clear answers anywhere. While in the music industry you're not technically supposed to use other people's music on your own project without a license, in the hip hop and rap genre, this is common practice. Furthermore, a lot of hip hop producers encourage it.
I'll look into both arguments for and against using other producers beats on your mixtape, so you can make your own informed decision on whether or not this is right for you.
Quick Note: This Is Not Legal Advice
Please note, that while in this article I look at pros and cons of using other people's beats on your mixtape without their permission, in no way is it legal advice for what is and isn't allowed. I'll show you what the norms are in the rap genre when it comes to mixtapes, but at the end of the day it's down to you what you decide to do. I or this website will take no responsibility for your decisions.
With that out the way, let's get on with it. 🙂
Pros For Using Other People's Rap Beats On Your Mixtape
In all honesty, using other people's beats is common practice in the rap genre. While something being common practice isn't always an excuse for doing something which is considered wrong by some (the rest of the music industry), in this case things are a bit different. You see, while in most genres people usually have to get permission to use backing tracks or buy them, most rap producers won't mind you using one of their beats on your mixtape. As long as:
- You credit them.
- Their main project with the beat is already out there (e.g in the charts, circulating heavily on the streets and was put out by them).
- You aren't profiting from your mixtape.
This third point is borderline. In reality, if points one and two are met, some producers won't mind if you're selling your mix CD or not. Many producers know that mixtapes are a way of lesser know acts to get their name out there without investing too much time into collecting original productions. In fact, they too may have got their name known by putting out mixtapes.
Furthermore, it's seen as a sign of a hot beat if it's used for multiple people's mixtapes.
That said, while the majority of hip hop producers see it like this, there will always be some who don't. I'll look at some of the things producers may do if they hear their work on your mixtape and don't want it there in the next part.
Overall, if you're not selling your mixtape (or if you are but it's clear you're not making much money from it), most of the time you won't get people approaching you about you using their beats. That said, if you want to ensure this isn't a issue, there's always the option or contacting each producer for permission before you use their work. This can be difficult though, and you'll probably have to go through the producer's record label if they're on one. Some deal with smaller musicians, others won't. But if you go down this route, almost always you'll have to pay for use of this beat.
Ok, so what are some reasons for not using the beats of others for your next project? I look at those below.
Potential Reasons You Shouldn't Fill Your Mixtape With Beats You Don't Own
It wouldn't be fair of me to give you one side of the story without the other. While it's common practice for rappers to use any released beat for their mixtapes, there are times where a producer wouldn't be happy about their beat being used without their permission, and will try and do something about it. This is rare, but it does happen.
This is more likely to happen if you use a non hip hop instrumental. This is because many hip hop producers see this as more common practice, and are more likely to be ok with it.
But, it can still be an issue, even in the rap genre.
It's more likely to be a issue if you're using the beats of a ‘mid level' hip hop producer. Those producers who are just starting out are usually happy their beat is enjoyed and getting out there, so they often won't do anything about it. Big producers usually know that approaching you won't slow down their beat getting spread elsewhere, and they won't be able to make money from it either (unless you're making big money from your mixtape, in which case they might approach you for a cut). Mid level producers however can be that bit more tricky.
While still unlikely to approach you, it's a bit more worth their time for some of them to either get you to stop using their beat, or try and get a percentage of your mixtape sales. Unlikely, but it can and does happen.
So what can a producer do if they don't like you using their beat? Well, the first thing they should do is order a cease and desist letter or email. This is basically them contacting you saying they expect you to take their beat off your mixtape as it is their property. It'll also say if you don't they'll move forward with legal action.
This is the first step they'd take if they've done their research and want to reach a close as soon as possible. If you get a letter like this, it's advisable to take their material off your mixtape.
The problem with this if you have a physical mixtape is you will have wasted money on pressing up a load of CDs that you can no longer use. If you have a digital mixtape however, this isn't as much of an issue. Simply take it off your website and anywhere else you have control of it. And be sure to reply to the letter or email letting them know that it will be done and again when it is done.
I know other people who have had producers ask for a cut of the mixtape where their beats were used without permission. In this case, your bet bet again is to take their material off your mixtape and let them know this is done. This will avoid the potential headache it could bring.
I know many rappers who use other people's beats on their mixtapes, and most have never faced anything like the above. That said, I also know a few who have experienced these issues. So it does happen.
So Should You Use Other People's Beats On Your Mixtape?
Well, essentially that's down to you. I've given you the facts above, but I can't tell you whether or not you should use existing beats out there.
While most rappers do use other producer's beats, it's down to you whether or not you wish to risk this yourself.
What do you think, should other people's beats be used for mixtapes? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.