How a New Orleans hip hop crew reinvented mixtape culture.
It’s been said that the history of hip hop is told by the tape. It was cassettes, not records, that moved rap from a localized movement to music’s mainstream: traveling from parties, to trunks, to radio stations; crossing borders and sonic barriers as they exchanged hands.
As cassette culture’s transitioned into MP3 listening, it’s easy to wax nostalgic about the mixtape. (And the Internet does.) But it’s not all in our past. We spend a lot of time thinking about what’s next for content. And recently, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the mixtape as a template for what’s possible in digital publishing. Here’s why.
The mixtape took hip hop from a niche scene to a national sound because, unlike vinyl, it was portable and cheap. You didn’t need a pressing plant to make one. You didn’t need a system of distributors. You could throw it in your pocket, and bring it from NYC to the suburbs.
Mixtapes were different from the technologies that replaced them for another reason, too. They were complete, immersive experiences; as much about listening, as looking. There was the content, and there was the text, and there was the art. And because there was all that, you heard them in a different way.
It’s emotionally durable.
The mixtape was a dominant form because it was more than an artifact. It was a social activity. It was linked to a show, a time, a place, a city block. The labels were handwritten or photocopied. You got it from the artist. And you got it from a person. You became attached – in a way that you won’t ever be with an MP3.
The mixtape killed music, and then it was killed. But, in fact, from a design perspective: it’s pretty in tune with how we listen, circa 2013. If we adapt these principles to 2.0 digital distribution, can we build a better Internet object for artists? What’s the mixtape of now?
You could ask Jet Life, the New Orleans hip hop crew who’ve managed to build a massive following based on mixtape releases. A crazy prolific schedule of music drops has made them one of the Internet’s biggest collectives. But it’s more than that, too. The stuff that makes them popular falls outside of digital mixtape publishing: video, photography, conversations with fans. We wanted to work with them to create an Internet object that could contain all that.
In August, we collaborated with Jet Life to release the mixtape 2.0 via BitTorrent. The Jet Life BitTorrent Bundle contained tour art, twelve tracks, a documentary film, merchandise discounts, and a chance to hang out with Jet Life. Like an old school mixtape, it was small (one download), multimedia (all kinds of content), and emotionally durable (direct from the artist). Unlike an old-school mixtape, it’s built to get stronger over time. Because the Bundle included an email gate, each time content was shared the crew added a reach-able fan to its subscriber base.
What does mixtape 2.0 culture look like? Here’s a first look.
It goes everywhere fans go.
The Jet Life BitTorrent Bundle became a social object:
4MM downloads, or 4 times as many downloads as distribution on traditional digital mixtape sites
21K social media shares for the Bundle mixtape link
Which generated more, and more addressable, fans:
41K Jet Life email leads were generated
5K double opt-in email subscribers were added to the crew’s list
Which substantially increased pre-tour ticket and merch sales:
Jet Life saw a 500% increase in growth across their apparel website, as a result of links packaged inside the mixtape.
And the crew experienced a 30% increase in advance tour tickets sold, as a result of the mixtape release
The mixtape is dead. Long live the mixtape. Jet Life took an established hip hop format, and, via BitTorrent, tweaked it for the 21st century: making it work, and work harder, for their music release. BitTorrent Bundle is now open to publishers everywhere. What will you make?
About BitTorrent Bundle
BitTorrent Bundle is an Alpha project, made with and for the web’s creative community. Our mission is to help artists connect directly with fans, inside the content they share.
Each BitTorrent Bundle, like the one created in partnership with Jet Life, allows artists to distribute content to 170 million BitTorrent users. And each Bundle comes with a key. Fans can unlock artist content with an email address, or a donation. The idea is to make each song a storefront; and each file more valuable, each time it’s shared. Got ideas for the next BitTorrent Bundle? You can sign up here.