Is This The Real Reason Artists Release "Mixtapes" Instead Of Albums?

4 January 2018, 17:21

Drake, Charli XCX, Wiz Khalifa
Drake, Charli XCX, Wiz Khalifa. Picture: Getty, Atlantic, Getty
Woodrow Whyte

By Woodrow Whyte

Are record labels renaming full-length records as 'mixtapes' to cut the fees of producers?

Ever wondered why artists release 'mixtapes' instead of albums? It's been a growing trend among established artists in recent years, helping artists release more music to hungry fans outside the constrains that come with contractually-obliged album releases.

But it turns out it might not be in the best interests of everyone making the music. According to one major producer, Eric "E. Dan" Dan—one of three producers who make up Pittsburgh-based music production and engineering squad ID Labs—record labels will often declare full-length releases as a 'mixtapes' or 'compilations' to avoid fully compensating the producers who worked on the project.

He made the accusation about Atlantic Records, who have released mixtapes for Wiz Khalifa and Charli XCX in recent times (although no specific allegations have been made about Charli's mixtapes).

via GIPHY

E Dan. made the claims in an interview with Beat Star in relation to his work on Wiz Khalifa's Khalifa project, released as a "compilation album" in 2016, which was reportedly made up of material that didn't make the cut for Khalifa's prior albums, according to DJ Booth.

"The Khalifa album, I don't know what they called it, a 'street album'? They came up with some really clever name that essentially meant, 'Everyone involved, you're going to get paid half what you normally do.' I've seen it happen often over the last few years. Anything to save a buck for these labels."

Despite being a 'compilation', the project still had major backing from Atlantic including a lead single "Bake Sale" (written with Travis Scott) which reached No.56 on the Billboard chart.

While Atlantic is getting a lot of flack for this, this is likely to be an industry wide problem. It's also not an easy problem to assess. Knowing who gets paid how much for what by who is usually top secret. It's also not uncommon for producers and songwriters to accept a lower (or no) fee for greater royalties and vice-versa (especially in the case of up-and-coming producers who want to work with popular recording artists).

'Mixtapes' like Drake's More Life and Charli XCX's recent (and brilliant) Pop 2 are veering further away from the traditional idea of what a mixtape is (instrumentals or half-finished songs, for example). Instead they are often significant bodies of work in their own right, which is great for fans as they're getting lots of high-quality new music for free. But news that this comes with the practice of ever reducing rates for the people making the music by retitling it as a 'mixtape' doesn't exactly sound great.

Following the heat from the story, E. Dan wrote a response letter to DJ Booth clarifying his comments and acknowledged his "choice to take less" while working on Khalifa. "I was happy to get paid what I did for the project," he wrote. "While not ideal, half of my usual rate for working on a Wiz Khalifa album is still a much better rate than I would get from a developing or indie artist's album. I knew what I was getting into before it was put together and was literally given the choice to take less because that’s what the budget allowed or I could personally shut the project down if I was unhappy about the compensation because frankly, this was an album of mostly B-sides that no one was sure they wanted to release anyway."