Mixtape vs. Album: What’s The Difference?

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Quick summary

Today, the word mixtape typically refers to a compilation of songs created by an artist, usually a hip-hop artist. Usually, mixtapes are produced casually and are given away for free or at low cost in order to gain exposure or for marketing purposes. An album is typically produced in a professional studio with the intent of making money from sales and releasing singles on the radio. 

If you’ve been a music fan any time between now and the 1970s, you have probably heard of the terms mixtape and album and have likely listened to quite a few of each. Are those two things the same, or do they march to the beat of different drum machines?

In this article, we’ll drop the beat and break down the differences between an album and a mixtape while providing some examples of mixtapes and albums released by prominent artists. 

What’s the difference between a mixtape and an album? 

An album is usually professionally produced in a recording studio and typically consists of a collection of about 9 to 12 songs. Since the first album was produced in the late 1800s, albums have been released as records (most recently as vinyl records), eight-track tapes, cassette tapes, CDs, and digital files.

An album is typically produced with the aim of making money by selling albums and having individual tracks played on the radio, streaming services, and the like. 

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In the context of this comparison, a mixtape is a casual assortment of songs put together by a listener or artist. Usually, the term mixtape specifically refers to compilation of songs in which a hip-hop artist raps over beats made by themselves or another artist. 

Modern mixtapes can exist in any form of media, such as a CD or a digital playlist. However, the term mixtape originally referred to a collection of unrelated songs on a single cassette tape. These mixtapes could be created by professional DJs or by music fans who made an early version of a playlist created by recording songs from different albums onto a single tape. 

A mixtape is usually given away for free or sold cheaply with the intent of gaining exposure for a new artist or to market an upcoming album of an established artist. 

That being said, the line between an album and a mixtape can be blurry. Today, both exist in digital formats, and both words are used for marketing purposes. Often, a streaming service will rely on the artist themselves to determine if something is supposed to be an album or a mixtape. 

All of an artist’s albums and/or mixtapes is called a discography.

Listed below are some prominent examples of mixtapes, alongside albums made by the same artists:

  • 50 Cent: mixtape: Guess Who’s Back?; album: Get Rich or Die Tryin’
  • Chance the Rapper: mixtape: Acid Rap; album: The Big Day
  • Lil Wayne: mixtape: Da Drought 3; album: Tha Carter III
  • Drake: mixtape: If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late; album: Views

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