Today we’re going to look at how to make a mixtape.
Just to be clear, I’m talking about mixtapes that rappers or other musicians make to showcase their talent, not the type of mixtapes non musicians make for their high school crush! 🙂
Regardless or what genre of music you make, a mixtape can be a great promotional tool. If you’re not quite ready to make your album but want to give fans something longer then a EP, this could be the answer.
To break it down, I’m going to show you how to make a successful mixtape in 5 steps. These steps don’t include how to market your mixtape (Which is very important if you want to get your mixtape noticed), so if you want to learn about how to market it check the other guides on this website.
But anyway, let’s get into the ins and out of putting a mixtape together. Please share this guide if you find it useful.
1. Decide Your Style Of Mixtape
Before you even think about getting any beats or recording your first track in the studio, you need to look at what kind of mixtape you’re going to make. It’s important you plan this out in the beginning so you know what you’re working towards for the rest of the project.
Usually hip hop mixtapes aren’t quick to make, so the last thing you’ll want is to finish up half of it then find out you’re not heading in a direction you’re happy with. Similarly, you wouldn’t want to keep working on your mixtape a lot longer then you should be simply because you haven’t set a final goal and don’t know when to stop.
With those things in mind, here are some things you need to work out before anything else:
Are You Going To Use Original Beats Or Already Popular Instrumentals?
This is one of the main things you need to figure out; will you use beats that are new and never heard before? Or will you got for a more traditional mixtape and do your vocals over already popular instrumentals? This is completely down to you.
How Many Tracks Will Your Hip Hop Mixtape Have?
While traditional rap mixtapes have a full 60-80 minutes worth of tracks (Roughly the length of a CD or tape), this is fast changing. It’s now a lot more acceptable to have shorter mixtapes with better quality tracks, and this is the path I would also personally recommend for reasons I’ve mentioned. Not only will it allow you to get your mixtape made a lot quicker, but it’ll also allow you to test the process and see if you’re making music people want to hear. From there, you can adapt as necessary.
Are You Going To Have Any Features On Your Mixtape Or Just You?
If you’re a solo singer or rapper, are you going to have other people featuring on your mixtape? Or is it going to be just you? You should decide this now, as if you want other people to get involved too, you’re going to need to start thinking of who and getting in contact with them. If you’re going to get a dj to host it, you’ll also want to start thinking about this now too.
2. Get Beats For Your Mixtape
One of the things I get asked a lot is how to get beats for a mixtape. This stage of things is very important, as the beats you choose can make or break your mixtape.
By now you should have decided if you’re going to use original and unique beats, or if you’re going to use already popular beats. Whatever you’ve chosen, the next step is to get hold of these backing tracks. If you’re not sure how to get them, you should check out this guide on ways to get beats for your mixtape (Or any other project at that).
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to get all your beats at once. You can collect your first few, move on to the next stage, and continue to look out for beats throughout the lyric writing stage. Of course, when you’ve got as many beats as you planned in the planning stage, stop looking and focus fully on future steps.
3. Write Your Lyrics
Once you’ve started collecting the instrumentals you’re going to use, next you need to start writing the lyrics. This is where you get your chance to shine and show people what you can really do.
If you’ve chosen to vocal already known beats, you’ve got two choices when it comes to doing your vocals. Either:
- Do vocals similar to the original singer or rapper but with your own lyrics (So maybe just use their flow so it sounds familiar to the listener), or
- Make the song your own. So other then the backing track, you use your own lyrics / flow / vocal style.
Which one you go with will depend completely on what you want to achieve with the mixtape, so go with what you feel is best. Bare in mind though that you don’t have to choose just one way of doing things and stick to it on all tracks; you can always switch it up from track to track. So you could use a similar style to the original on one track, and then go completely unique on the next.
If you’ve decided to go with original beats, you can simply write to them however you want. Bare in mind though that a lot of songs on mixtapes don’t have choruses, so while you should do some with, do some without to switch things up a bit. This is optional, but it will allow people to focus purely on your lyrics and show them that your writing style is up to scratch.
If you need help with how to structure a song, you can check out my guide to songwriting.
So those are the first three steps you need to carry out when making a mixtape; just two more parts to go! After you’ve got all your beats and written all your lyrics, next comes the fun part like getting your mixtape on iTunes using Songcast (free to sign up to). Read on for the next few important steps on how to make a rap mixtape:
4. Go To The Studio And Record Your Songs
The next step is to go to a recording studio and lay down your vocals, all the top rappers do this. If you’ve already used a recording studio before, this isn’t anything different then normal. You simply go to the studio, record your vocals, pay for the service and that’s it.
If you haven’t used a recording studio before however, you’ll need to find a suitable one and get in contact with them. Let them know you want to record some songs, and that you’ll need them to order the tracks together once all the songs are finished. This should be fine with any decent studio.
Be sure to only book for an hour or two the first time so you can get a feel for how things are run and the quality of the studio. If after this you decide to record your mixtape there, book more sessions and finish recording your mixtape over time.
Tip: In the same way you don’t have to wait till you collect all your beats before you start on writing vocals for some songs, you don’t need to write lyrics for all your songs before you start going to the studio. So let’s say you have 8 beats collected and have written lyrics for four of them. If you feel you’re ready, you can take those 4 songs to the studio and lay the vocals over them.
Once you have finished recording all your songs, the next step is to structure your mixtape in the order you want it. You can either have them ‘mixed’ together, or you can have a space between each track like an album.
5. Press Up Your Mixtape
If you’ve completed the above four steps, you’ll come out of the studio with a finished ‘master copy’ of your mixtape. Be sure to go home and listen to it throughout to make sure everything is correct. If it’s not, go back to the studio and let them know what you want changed. If it is, then you’re ready for the final stage.
This stage is somewhat ‘optional’ if you’re planning on making your mixtape a online only release (I’ll show you how to sell your mixtape online in a minute), but most people want to give selling a physical CD a go. If you do, what you’ll need to do now is get it pressed up.
You can do this by finding a pressing plant in your country and getting them to press up a certain number of units. If you’re doing under 1000, it’s called CD Duplication. If you’re going over 1000, it’s usually CD Replication.
So how many units should you press up? Well if it’s your first release I say go with 100 copies. Yes, one hundred. I know you probably feel you can sell more, and maybe you can. But if you haven’t already got a proven buying fan base behind you, then it’s best to test their willingness to spend first.
There’s nothing worse then pressing up 1000 units only to have 973 copies get stuck under your bed or in the garage. You don’t want to waste your money, so trust me when I say start with 100. If you sell all of those copies easily and there’s still a big demand for your CD, then press up more then next time around.
I think it’s worth a go, but regardless of whether or not you’re pressing up a physical copy, you definitely need to get your mixtape for sale online. Distribution companies like Songcast (Free to create an account) will get your music on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon MP3 and more, so they’re worth checking out. You should also get your music for sale on your own website.
How To Make A Mixtape Conclusion
So there you have it, the steps needed to make a mixtape. I hope you’ve found this article useful and it’ll be a good guide when you’re putting your mixtape together.