Mixtape vs. Album – What’s the Difference?

“Mixtape” and “album” are two terms that people often misuse and get confused with. They have been regularly used in the music industry for years for different cases. A mixtape is a compilation of songs, while an album is a higher-quality structured collection of songs.

The terms’ meanings slightly changed and shifted throughout the years, and their differences have been smoothed out. But, still, some differences remain, and they signal different projects.

To better understand how people talk about mixtapes and albums, let’s dig deeper into their stories and meanings.

What is a mixtape?

A mixtape is a collection of original or-and unoriginal songs, often without structure or a theme. Mixtapes are often free or cheap and are mostly used by hip-hop artists to rap on. They were also used as underground albums of artists to show skills, create a fan base, and-or please the fans.

Mixtapes appeared for the first time in the U.S. during the 60s. The first mixtapes were a compilation of hit songs from the year, the month, or a particular time. They were sold at gas stations as well as on the black market. Quickly, mixtapes became one of the most popular gifts for celebrations.

As the name suggests, the first mixtapes were in the tape format, which means audio cassette format. Later, the format shifted to CDs, but the name remained the same as ‘Mixtape’. Today, as the CD era is over, mixtapes are mainly in MP3 or online streaming formats.

Mixtapes usually have only one track consisting of many songs on it – there are no transitions or stops between the pieces. 

First, mixtapes were created as a support to promote commercial songs, but later they were started being used by artists to show their skills, create a fan base and express themselves without commercial limits and concerns. 

They are mainly used by hip-hop artists as they can reflect their creative expression more freely in mixtapes. It can be said that mixtapes became a kind of demo album for some artists. Hip-hop artists use the mixtape format to share their original songs as well as use songs from different artists to rap on or remix as they like.

For example, the video is a mixtape of Lil Wayne’s most popular songs, he is one of the most well-known artists for his mixtapes.

Mixtapes were also often used by listeners in the 70s, 80s, and 90s to create a playlist of their favorite songs to listen to in the house, car, at parties, or anywhere. It was highly common to create a mixtape of your or someone else’s favorite songs and gift it to them.

In short, a mixtape is a compilation of original and-or unoriginal songs without a specific structure or theme for different kinds of use.

What is an album?

An album is a professionally produced music recording on a CD, vinyl, or a digital format. Albums usually tell a story with songs with a specific theme and structure. They are often original songs and are polished works produced with record labels to monetize directly from the songs.

Probably everyone is familiar with albums as they are the most common format artists release their works. Albums are collections of works created by a composer or a collection of composers. 

Albums must have at least two tracks in them to be considered as albums. Artists can put as many pieces as they want into the albums, but on average, an album has 7 to 15 songs. There are around 2 seconds of stops between each track.

There are two types of common albums; studio albums and live albums. Studio albums are original songs produced and recorded in studios with different techniques. On the other hand, live albums are usually the live performance recordings of songs recorded in studio albums.

From the ’50s to ’80s, albums traditionally came in vinyl recording format. Later, CDs came into play in the 80s, and the first album on a CD was released in 1982, which was Billy Joel’s “52nd Street”. After the 2010s, the CD format started to disappear as digital formats and online streaming services got more popular.

Albums usually have a structure and great attention to detail. They mainly feature all songs in the same or similar genres without too much deviation. There can be different songs with different emotions, but all the songs come together in the common ground of structure, and-or theme, and-or genre, and-or story.

In the process of album creation, many people join hands in work including musicians, record labels, arrangers, producers, sound engineers, managers, etc.

So, albums are more professional, serious, and polished original songs that are put together with a structure, theme, or a story, to monetize the music. Albums are the most important medium in which artists share their works.

Differences Between Mixtapes And Albums

  • An album is a format of structured songs telling a story, while mixtapes are compilations of random songs.
  • An album has original tracks of an artist or a group of artists, while a mixtape can have unoriginal songs or covers or instrumentals of a song.
  • An album is a serious and polished work made with great attention to detail, while mixtapes are spontaneous, fun, and random.
  • An album is made with the goal of releasing singles for the radio and different platforms for monetizing the music, while mixtapes do not have singles or songs for commercial platforms.
  • An album is the most professional and important medium for releasing music, while mixtapes are often considered a build-up for an album.
  • Albums traditionally need to be released with record labels, except indie albums, while mixtapes are free.
  • Albums are relatively higher prices, while mixtapes are free or almost free.

Conclusion

In short, mixtapes are usually a compilation of works for creating a fan base, getting attention, and building up for an upcoming album. Or they are compilations created by music enthusiasts gathering songs of different artists together under a common ground like the best songs of a certain year or favorite songs of someone.

Mixtapes are fun and less serious compared to albums. They can be more random and lower in quality with less attention to detail. 

Albums, on the other hand, are the most important medium through which artists share their music. They have a structure, a theme, great attention to detail, and high-quality production. They are directly created to monetize the works of an artist and are created with a big collaboration of record labels and many other professionals. 

Berk Öztuna is a handpan player, percussionist, and guitarist. He has been playing multiple instruments over the last 10 years. He started his music career as a guitarist, playing with several bands before putting his main focus into playing the handpan.

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