Music producers are saying labels call projects ‘mixtapes’ to not pay them

The definition of an ‘album’ is increasingly nebulous in the streaming age – and beatmakers claim that’s a deliberate attempt to underpay them

When almost all new music goes up on Spotify for free the minute it’s released, it’s never clear what you should actually call a full-length project. Is there really any difference between a mixtape, an album, or (as Drake might put it) a ‘playlist’ when they’re all made up of professionally-produced, mixed, and mastered music, and specially-commissioned artwork?

Over the past few days, many music producers have been making clear what those distinctions might actually mean in practise – that a mixtape is a deliberate attempt to underpay them for their work.

E. Dan, a producer who has worked with Wiz Khalifa, recently told BeatStars that he was not fairly compensated for his six production credits on the rapper’s 2016 release Khalifa, which was credited as a compilation album by his label, Atlantic. “They came up with some really clever name that essentially meant, ‘Everyone involved, you’re going to get paid half what you normally do,’’ he said. “I’ve seen it happen often over the last few years.”

After E. Dan’s comments were reported by DJ Booth, many other producers came forward on social media with their own stories, claiming that a lot of labels – not just Atlantic – use the tactic. DJ Burn One, who worked on A$AP Rocky’s breakthrough Live. Love. A$AP mixtape, wrote on Twitter: “RCA got us producers like this on the first rocky album too - ughh I mean mixtape. that’s why it’s not on streaming sites. we gotta eat shit while they tour off our records.” (sic)

Marvel Alexander, who worked on A$AP Ferg’s monster hit “Shabba” in 2013, claims that he and co-producer Snugworth only received a $500 advance for the instrumental by RCA Records, according to The FADER. The beat was sent to the label under the impression that it would be used on a mixtape as the label “didn’t have” a budget for producers. However, it eventually appeared on Trap Lord, Ferg’s debut album.

“If you gonna call out Atlantic then you might as well call out all the labels because they all doing the same thing,” said Sonny Digital. “You can’t just single out one party when all other parties doing the same.”

With Spotify reportedly set to go public shortly (and major labels set to benefit hugely from it), it’s likely that even more artists will publicly voice frustration over their chronic underpayment. Just this week, the tech company was sued for £1.6 billion over unpaid royalties.

Listen to A$AP Rocky’s DJ Burn One-produced “Roll One Up” below.