Drake. Wiz Khalifa. J. Cole. These are just a few of the major hip hop names that built their audience and struck their first break through mixtapes.
Sites like Datpiff and LiveMixtapes moved the mixtape genre online in the early 2000s. And the biggest streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and SoundCloud still attract those that want access to every and any genre of label-produced tracks, including polished mixtapes.
But back in 2013, a developer with a love for music and a mobile-first mentality came out with a platform that was unique because of its specific niche — an app to stream free mixtapes from emerging hip hop artists.
Spinrilla describes itself as “the 800-lb gorilla of free hip-hop mixtapes.” Its creator, Jeffrey Dylan Copeland, founded the company after leaving Georgia State University.
The platform is now available on both mobile and desktop and offers listeners the ability to stream or download from a library of over a million songs from 75,000+ mixtapes — new artists are added each day. It’s a top 10 music app in the app store and has 20 million users on the platform.
Their strength lies in their laser focus, says KP Reddy, a strategic adviser of the company. There’s a lot of competition in both the streaming platform and the mixtape spheres.
“It’s just very focused. If you use Soundcloud you might be on there for podcasts or other types of music. If you’re going to Spotify you’re looking for mainstream music, you don’t go to Spotify looking for emerging artists,” says Reddy. “I think for us it’s really been a focus on supporting independent artists in hip hop. That narrow focus has created a good listener base for us.”
Artists have to apply to see their music featured on Spinrilla, and Reddy says that’s where Spinrilla’s current team of five spends a good amount of their time.
“What I found super interesting was [at a music discovery event] there was Pandora, Spotify, and Soundcloud. And when someone in the audience asked the question: ‘how do I get on your platform,’ they all said to go to an agent that already has a relationship with us. To me, that’s analogous with like, go hire a travel agent to get my tickets on Delta.com,” says Reddy.
“So when you ask how to get your music onto us, submit your stuff online. Give us a call. We’ll work with you, we’ll walk you through out process. That’s our job, is to get you on-boarded. We think if we can do things to bring the listener closer to the artist, that’s what we need technology for.”
Once they apply, artists are researched and vetted to ensure their music is original and a good fit for the platform’s audience. That vetting process is critical, because a mixtape can easily wade into copyright infringement territory. Spinrilla is already dealing with a high-profile lawsuit from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), who filed a suit against the company earlier this year on behalf of record labels like UMG, Sony Music, Warner Bros. and more.
The suit hasn’t yet been resolved, but Reddy says these types of challenges arise due to the complexity of the industry.
“I think the music industry is just really hard to navigate. It’s so complicated, so convoluted,” says Reddy. “So I think you can have all the best intentions and do all the right things, but the complexity of it always is a challenge. You will unintentionally do something that you wouldn’t even notice, because there’s so many landmines in the industry.”
Spinrilla is free for both listeners (who can stream up to a certain number of songs before moving to a premium version) and artists, which is key to attracting the demographic of emerging musicians — no licensing fees.
“Part of our focus is on artist engagement,” says Reddy. “Think of us as a platform for the minor leagues, before you can get picked up by a Spotify, to build a brand, build a following on our platform, to make it to the Big Leagues.”
Their revenue model is ad-based; they’ve never raised outside money and are a profitable company. They’re growing their team, focusing on development first, and have seen most of their growth through word-of-mouth.
“It’s all been groundswell,” says Reddy. “But we have plans. I think we’re going to continue to stay focused on the artist, and how we can make the artists on the platform successful, by giving them the tools and outreach to be successful.”
He also says they might at some point consider other genres, but right now, the lean team is busy enough with hip hop.
“We get calls from all over the place — like, you should do EDM, we’re in Sweden; well we’re like, we have so much work to do here. We get asks from New York and L.A. When we we run out of hip hop in Atlanta, we’ll start looking everywhere else. But right now, we’re good.”