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I haven’t gone to a brick/mortar store to purchase a CD in at least three years. I don’t listen to FM radio as much, and I probably couldn’t tell you which artists are releasing CDs soon. (Do CDs even still come out on Tuesdays?) Part of my lack of “mainstream” awareness has to do with the fact that I’m busy and listen to a lot of news and culture programming (BBC, NPR, etc.), but I honestly still listen to a lot of music—just not where you would traditionally get it. The main source: The Mixtape.
Yes, I admit that I’m a mixtape junkie. I think it has something to do with the notion of getting new material directly from the artist…no programming directors or focus groups involved in picking “lead singles”…no videos and usually no mainstream buzz. Just give me the music and let ME decide what I like. It’s a novel idea, right? (insert sarcasm) Riiiight.
To be fair, this isn’t your father’s mixtape game these days. Or your grandfather’s, depending on how far you want to go back. With the improvements in music technology you don’t need an elaborate setup to create music; and with the use of the Internet, you don’t need a huge effort to distribute it. Just a few clicks and the product goes from artist to fan. Thanks Al Gore, for inventing the Internet! (Say what? That didn’t happen? Oh, ok. Well…thanks to whoever invented it. #shrug)
Now, many major labels frown on the concept of the mixtape, with understandable reason: they see it potentially as unauthorized material from their artists and money lost. However, if not for mixtapes some of the biggest stars of today wouldn’t have been discovered in the first place. Many independent artists also use a successful mixtape to promote themselves and/or get signed to a major label. Beyond that, mixtapes have also alleviated the (sometimes huge) expense of developing an artist from these major labels and placed the burden on the artists themselves.
All in all, I’m not sure if I would still be excited about the health of the music industry were it not for the vast number of both well-known and new artists who continue to produce mixtapes. They’re critical to the survival of the music industry, and they’re critical to music fans like me who still love to be inspired by obscure creative genius. Long live the mixtape.