Mixtapeology: Part 1…Branding

(note: if you make mixtapes for fun or for the hell of it please stop reading here. This information is for the purpose of obtaining goals beyond just having fun. This is information that is intended to help you add to the bricks that make up your mixtape foundation which will propel you to bigger and better things.)

Per Wikipedia: A brand is a collection of experiences and associations connected with a service, a person or any other entity.

So how do you brand your mixtapes? First you need to understand the components of your brand. The visual, the audio and the experience.

The visual is of course your art work.

Who remembers the lesson on the dead zone between slick and authentic? Well its’ that space between a mixtape cover that looks really slick(obviously), innovative, really well done (think any cover by any of the top designers today when they are allowed to do their thing) and a cover that is authentic in presentation (think of a cover like Neil Armstrong who uses old pics from when he was a kid or maybe a pic of two topless chics baggin’ up crack). You want to be at either end of the spectrum visually. Where you don’t want to be is stuck in the middle of both. Not slick enough and not authentic enough. That makes you invisible and forgettable and when it comes to your brand you need both.

Now say you’re starting a new mixtape series. That first cover you present sets the tone for all the other mixtapes in the series that follow. You want to use the same base “theme” of that first cover. That’s how the consumer identifies your brand within that series. It could be same font, same pics, same color scheme but it needs to have a constant and of course be within the slick or authentic framework. You could have Miami Kaos draw you 3 new MCs with every new cover with different backgrounds and titles, while they may look very nice overall you did nothing for your brand. Do you see Coca-Cola changing their staple graphics in every new ad campaign? No. The logo is the same, the message is the same and the overall “theme” is the same…just presented in different settings/situations i.e. mixtapes.

I see too many DJs going to the “it” designer of the time and having them replicate something they did for another DJ. That people is the path to the dead zone. You don’t need drastic off the wall shit either. Subtle changes can make all the difference and you must let the designer do what they do, stop hand cuffing the creativity. Formulate your plan, the direction and let the designer make it come to life.

So you have your visuals straight, cover work is proper. You’re able to stand out, your visual is memorable, you’re on your way but what about the audio…the mix (term used lightly) itself? Follow me.

The audio is the actual quality of the sound on the mixtape, the drops/sweepers and the frequency.

You can scream all day that “hood cats” don’t give a fuck about sound quality. Well you’re fooling yourself. This isn’t 1992 and we aren’t fucking with cassettes anymore. Cats in 2009 are used to crisp, clear audio and if your audio sounds like you recorded it hanging out a car window driving down the highway you just fucked up your brand. Customer says: “yea, he’s got some new shit but his mixtapes always sound like dying squirrels”. You think that doesn’t happen? You want that fan, that customer to pop in that mixtape and be like, “damn, that sounds good”.

Let’s get to the drops. Sweepers, drops, tags…whatever. You do need them. It could be your own voice, it could be that radio dude saying some shit, it could be a clip from a movie but it needs to be just as memorable as the cover work. Once you find what works you then need to work on your timing/frequency of use. I mean you talk to any DJ clue fan from the 90s and Clue’s drops ride with the music so well when you hear that same track off the mixtape you hear that drop even tho it’s not there…that’s branding. I gotta stress timing and frequency tho. Too much and you lose, their gonna take that mixtape out for something else that doesn’t annoy the hell out of them. Too few drops and your still invisible. The best way to “learn” how to use drops the right way is to listen to others who already do it properly. The other component in regards to the audio is the music itself, the mix if you will. This used to be the most important thing and in a perfect world it would still be but you need to be a realist these days. The mix is the foundation and will build you that fan base. The rest is to get the people to actually listen and buy your mixtape but that mix is what keeps them buying.

Let’s recap. You got the visual working for you. Your sound quality is proper, you’ve branded the audio and the mix is boom bangin’n What’s left? The experience.

The brand experience is all of the above combined into one. The act of viewing that cover online or in the store, reading the track list, listening to the mix, being excited about it, hearing those well timed drops while looking at the slick and/or authentic cover and becoming a fan of your mixtapes. Tie all that into when and what happens to that person while they’re listening to that mixtape and you have your complete brand experience.

You know your brand is solidified when a person can:

A. Identify your mixtapes immediately on a shelf by the cover.
2. Identify your mixtapes simply by hearing while its playing in a car at a stop light.
Z. Identify your mixtapes by someone simply saying your name where they recall a specific mixtape and/or song off that mixtape.