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An Evolving Mix 

Cleveland's own Live Mixtapes is on the forefront as distinction between mixtapes and albums disappear in digital world

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"I believe in putting out mixtapes, but I don't believe in putting out TOO many of them," he adds. "At the end of the day you have to make some money with it. You can't always give it away for free."

Give It Away Give It Away Give It Away Now

Moving online has taken this once underground culture and made it even more accessible, providing easy entrée into the mainstream.

LMT, as they like to abbreviate themselves, is poised to take advantage, but the mixtape's increasing importance and success has put them in a precarious position. While they don't take money for any of their placements on the site, they do sell ads from the traffic they generate. That's why LiveMixTape's PR/Artist Development person, Alpesh Shah (aka DJ Pesh), invokes MegaUpload's Kim Dotcom and DJ Drama when discussing their relatively low profile.

"We're walking a fine line and we don't want to jeopardize our business," the first-generation Indian-American DJ explains. "Let's be honest – they look at us as the enemy. We're the bad guy. The labels hate us but then they love us when they're signing an artist. They hate us, but then they love us when we put out their free project. It's really a great relationship. I tell label execs all the time, we're the minors and they're the major leagues."

The site's the brainchild of Dan Ivans, Jr. a computer wiz who got his start running internet hosting networks while still a teen. Dan and his brother Thomas, the company's Vice President, are graduates of Chardon High School. When Dan moved to San Francisco, he sought to stay in touch with the work of former classmate/buddy DJ Joey Fingaz. Snail mail wasn't cutting it, so he built a software back-end for him to upload the mixtapes and eliminate the wait. That was in 2006.

Then in 2010, LiveMixTapes went from streaming to allowing downloads. Things have grown dramatically from there. To deal with the accelerating demands on his time, Dan brought his friends into the business early last year. He hired Fingaz, Pesh, and the Kickdrums' Matt Penttila (aka Tilla), who had all known each other from the DJ scene around Cleveland since the millennium. They were brought in to handle various aspects of the business, from promotion to dealing with artists and labels, to premiering new channels dedicated to club music (clubtapes.com) and merchandising (the still to come, livemerch.com).

Over the last couple years they've hosted releases by some of hip-hop's biggest breaking acts from 2 Chainz to Waka Flocka Flame. Pesh is quick to deflect their success, explaining that they're just a platform. "We'll bring it more visibility, and we'll get the credit, but those are the guys working," he says.

While that's true, LiveMixTapes has burnished their reputation and separated themselves from their competitors because it's curated. Nobody gets onto the site without the blessing of the staff. A limited number of DJs have upload privileges, making gatekeepers of those closest to the action.

"That's what a DJ's job is – to know what's hot in the street, and be the first one that builds those relationships," Pesh says.

Their exclusivity has given them tastemaker status. Get your mixtape on LMT and not only will you have access to a dedicated audience but to labels looking to cash in on the latest sensation. Read advice online for submitting your mixtape and you'll see comments like "if you can get your tape on LiveMixTapes there's a good chance you'll get signed." It's not hyperbole. That's how the business has gone.

Mind on My Money

Mixtapes have always been a bellwether of hip-hop's changing fashions. Now thanks to the internet, that's multiplied. The success of mixtape producers like DJ Drama and Lex Luger has bred copycats by the thousands, accelerating the stylistic churn and the competition to stay fresh. While it's obviously produced some amazing sensations, it's an open question whether they'll sustain it as well as Fiddy or Ross.

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