The music-journalist stratosphere is full of clouds storming about Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III, not only for its (in some opinions) highly progressive hip-hop, but for the promotional campaign Lil Wayne engaged in, releasing hundreds of songs on underground mixtapes in the downtime between his official releases on the Cash Money/Universal label.
Blooddrive Vol. 2: The Wreckage Between | Released by Brzowski | on Milled Pavement Records | at the White Heart, in Portland | September 10 | at Geno’s, in Portland | September 11 | at SPACE, in Portland | September 22
Because if you give music away, dontcha know, you won’t be able to sell it.
Except “underground” doesn’t necessarily mean free, and any good addictive influence knows you have to give some away if you want the customer to get hooked in the first place. Then they’ll pay through the nose.
The mixtapes are promotional items in themselves, and market research as well. First, they send the message that the mixtape creator is so prolific that he or she can drop the crumbs off the table onto the floor for the masses to sweep up. Second, there’s no way to lose. If the song stinks, hey, it was just a mixtape. If the song’s great, well, maybe it should get recorded with better production values for the album proper.
Mixtapes are all over the place on the local scene, too — though it’s harder to discern them from more-proper releases because locals lack the promotional mojo to make a big deal out of the latter. Neither do they reap all of the other benefits label-based artists can through deals like Cash Money’s with m-Wise, where you can subscribe for $9.99 to receive a certain amount of “content” downloaded to your phone. That’s a lot of music that needs to be created by Cash Money artists like Lil Wayne — ringtones and videos, not to mention text messages and contest opportunities — and in a hurry.
Mixtape one-offs are great for the recurring revenue model, where the pump constantly needs priming.
Why does this phenomenon only really occur in hip-hop? Well, with ubiquitous recording equipment and digital instruments built into software, often songs are created without the producer and MC ever even seeing one another face to face. But the same could be said of indie rock albums where one guy plays most of the instruments and adds in numerous guest spots. Is the disc Adam Kurtz put out last week, where he was his own lead guitarist, “the Captain,” not a mixtape?
Also a mixtape is Brzowski’s Blooddrive Vol. 2: The Wreckage Between, released earlier this summer and full of all kinds of ear candy. How do I know it’s a mixtape? Well, it sounds like one, with 23 tracks and 73 minutes of experimentation and song pieces, and lots of guest takes. But also there’s this from the album’s back cover: “This is not my new album. It is a collection of new, old, rare, collaborative, and aborted music, spanning 2004-2008.” It's like a b-sides album in a time when there are no b-sides.