As a long time music aficionado and professional audio Mastering Engineer, high-quality audio and good music have been my passion since I was 12 years old when my father gave me a Lafayette receiver to be married later with a Technics turntable and a Sony open reel deck. I remember very clearly the speakers: Criterion. These were also made by Lafayette Radio and in those years Lafayette was a well-respected brand among audio and DIY hobbyists.

When you love recording as much as I do, you also have the desire inside yourself to share the music you like with the rest of the world. It’s just part of the hobby, I think. Anyway, back in the days, the only way you could do this was by sharing tapes by mail with a rest of like-minded tape heads like you. I remember while being a member of the Nakamichi club,, we created the now famous Marathon Tapes series where every member sends a tape with a preferred tune for me to mastering and do CD copies to be distributed later among the participants as a compilation of all our selections. We did this 2 years in a row. The funny thing is that years later I found someone trying to sell the CD’s on eBay for $100.00 !!! Nakamichi fanatics from Russia, Australia, South Africa, England, USA and Puerto Rico made this happen and we enjoyed it a lot.

Time Changes

With the arrival and full development of the digital era and downloads, this is now easier than ever. Yes, I know that many believe this has also killed the music, but hey; either you adapt yourself or you die! For the unknown little artist this a one in a lifetime opportunity because this venue serves as the perfect way to let the rest of the world know your productions, group, and recordings. On the other hand, for the big fish and powerful music labels, this may be seen as a “legal piracy” act. I say “legal” because as far as I know the use of Soundcloud, Mixcloud, House of Mixes, Spotify, Tidal, Deezer et,al are permitted by law and many labels take advantage of their services indeed!

All these music streamers restrict its users from downloading audio content from its website for licensing reasons. For example, Mixcloud is compared to its competitor Spotify and it’s very similar to the Spotify model where downloading is illegal and only offers to stream as an alternative. According to the Mixcloud’s main website, the platform is licensed only to provide its audio content through streaming, such that royalties are attributed to their respective artists. Mixcloud also requires its users to attribute their audio uploads with correct artist and song metadata in order to preserve intellectual property rights. At least that’s what they say, but…yeah right! Taking into consideration that there’re millions of persons using these streamers, I’m sure that many downloads happen daily. How are we going to be so sure that everybody is playing legal? Are the artists been paid properly? I don’t know how it works, but all I can say is that due to royalty issues hundreds of tracks are been pulled out from these sites daily! That’s why a playlist you made today, has 4 or 5 “non-playable” tracks the next. Go figure.


Mixcloud, for example, allows all users to browse and stream audio content uploaded on its site. Registered users can upload content such as radio shows, DJ mixes, and podcasts, as well as promote and distribute their content through Mixcloud’s own social networking widget. They allow uploads of unrestricted size. Registered members may join a group with other users who share a common interest, which will periodically update the members when new content related to the group becomes available. Since the audio format used is the truncated MP3’s, the purists are not so fond of these services, except for Tidal and his Hi-Fi lossless data. Now with their “Masters” series, they are even using MQA codec and allegedly it enhances the listener’s experience with a sound quality “similar to the masters”.  Well, that’s what they say. I use Spotify Premium with its full 320 kbs MP3, Apple Music and Tidal Premium with its “Master” thing and let me tell you that the quality is really good. Some purists claim that it surpasses their CD’s quality. I’m not so sure about that, but at the end, it all depends on the recording quality and the original form of the track in question. For a person listening music through “el cheapo” headphones, using an iPhone makes no sense to pay the extra amount for Tidal, but, for those like me who listen to music on a Hi-End, high definition system, the difference is there. Not as abysmal as many claims it to be, but it’s certainly there!
The way I have compared both is like this: I open Spotify and Tidal streamers at once. Choose the same track, artist, song. Playback and forth and listen carefully. On good recordings, the sound is almost the same with minor differences on the soundstage and mids’ focus. The better the quality of the source, the most difficult it is to detect the difference and many people don’t even care about it! I care and pay for it, but…it could be better.
Now, on Mixcloud and other similar streamers, the sound quality is even less as MP3 192 kbs is the allowed “bandwidth”. Don’t let this figure discourage you! Again, if the recording was good, with the good sounding material, you’ll be surprised as I was, how good it sounds! I mean, it’s not for a critical listening but for a party and office background music while you do your thing it is perfectly OK.

How they do it?

There’re a lot of people around the globe who share DJ mixes at Mixcloud, which suddenly has emerged as the favorite platform for this kind of exercise, even over Soundcloud (which has experienced serious financial difficulties lately) and House of Mixes. Mixcloud tends to be more refined, aiming at people with more esoteric taste, while House of Mixes is mostly for urban, hip-hop, dance, rap, etc. I upload my mixes on both. Curiously, the same mix has more listening on House of Mixes than on Mixcloud. The funny thing is that I just have a few followers on House of Mixes, and every time I get more “plays” there than on the other site! This issue has been discussed on several occasions by different users, but the answers I have read from MC are vague and unclear.  Go figure.

Most of them download files from the net, combines it with some CD’s and do their playlist. Others, like me, use vinyl, tape and Hi-Rez digital files as our main music source. First, I need to define the kind of music I’m going to select. I’m mostly into Soul, Jazz and Nu Jazz. I do the research using my vast music encyclopedia collection or the internet, choose the tracks and record those on one of my many analog tape recorders. I mainly use my Crown CX-822 or my recently acquired Otari MTR 12. I also use cassettes and record on my Nakamichi CR 7 or ZX 7. Once the tape is ready, I proceed to upload the material using a Focusrite A/D converter to my DAW, where I use a Sequoia Professional Mastering platform. Once there, I edit, arrange, mix and leveled the tracks. I try to make the cross-fades as smooth as I can and the rest is history. I either use a 60 minutes tape or 90. It’s better to keep it short as most people get tired of listening after a mere 45 minutes or so. That’s how I do it and I should be one of the very, very few who still records on Analog tape. We only use “Recording the Masters” analog tape. SM-468, SM-911 or LPR-90.

Of course, not everybody does it this way as it is more difficult and more expensive. The tape is not cheap, you know. I’ve been fortunate enough as to be sponsored by RTM, but still. Others simply download files, use any of those DJ’s Pioneer arrays (which are not cheap, by the way) add some CD’s to the story and make a file on their computers using Sonar, Sonic Foundry, Platinum Notes, etc. They upload the material and that’s it. Some do research and others simply “copy” the artists from fellow members, download and do their playlist. Nobody that I know has a collection of 100,000+ CD’s…you know. Again, it’s considered illegal to download any track from the streamers, ok?
The general ambient among the members is of camaraderie and sharing. Some has created venues for others to expose a different kind of music styles, like Weird Jazz Collective, Valternativa Radio, and Soul Cool Records, among others. Then you have the cyber radio stations, which are now en vogue, who uses Mixcloud to expose their radio programs as well. My show is at Frission Radio every other Saturday at noon. Once it’s aired, they upload the show on Mixcloud for others to enjoy. Every year a cyber committee choose “the best this” and “the best that” and the winners are recognized. I could care less about awards because music is the essence of all this, but, there’re others who believe they own the music they upload and gets finicky and selfish with intellectual material which is not clearly theirs. Ego shit happens everywhere and for some guys, it is more about getting “followers” and “likes” than the real purpose of all this: sharing music.

How it works?

You already have the material and has uploaded it on Mixcloud. Now you need “followers”, otherwise, your precious work would pass by unheard. Unfortunately, this is the most difficult part as it could take you years for developing a group of followers to support your mixes. I have seen folks there with over 100,000 followers and others over the 60,000…of course; they have been there since Mixcloud started, and everybody knows that there are other ways to get it (we recently read articles on the newspapers talking about how the “influencers” promote and sell followers’ list, etc). 100,000 may sound like a lot but with all honesty, if we take into consideration the millions of people in this world who are streaming music, that sum becomes minimal.  The trick is that the most followers you have, the most listening your mixes would get and it would assure you an automatic privileged place on the “charts”! Yeah! It works like the “Top 40’s” but in this case, the top 100 of each week are selected. How? Well, honestly speaking I don’t know how the parameters are because I had one mix once occupying the # 17 position on Nu- Jazz, while there were many others with less listening and re-postings than mine on an upper position! I send an email to the Mixcloud lords and their answer was so comical that even today I’m still laughing out loud about it! I mean, it looks like a childish shit, but it gives you some kind of boost to continue doing it better! Ha! Anyway, once you have a lot of followers, no matter what you upload, you can be sure it would have a lot of likes and listens.
Curiously, about 10% of the number of followers you have seems like the only steady audience who listen to your mixes most of the time! I mean, don’t  expect that the guys with 100,000 followers are always heard by the same amount. No way José. It doesn’t work like that. Perhaps 25,000+…2 or 3 years later. Ha! It is, what it is, but it is fun! On the other hand, I have seen people with 25,000 followers who have uploaded just one mix! How they do it? I don’t simply know… So, because of the “followers” thing, many other better and elaborated mixes pass inadvertently, while those with a bigger public gets the attention…and not always with the best material.
If you still want more exposition, then you have to pay! Again, Mixcloud seems like more expensive than the others. I tried it once at House of Mixes for $20.00 and for 2 weeks my playlist was featured on their main Soul page. Surely enough I got over 100 listens in no time. On MC is about $50.00 or something like that. Does it worth it? Well, it works, but it’s just a whim to get more audience because it does not translate into any compensation, besides personal pleasure, for you. It’s up to you to decide.

The Sound

Generally speaking, most of the mixes sound very good indeed. If we take into consideration that we are dealing with limited 192 kbs MP3’s, truncated sources using also MP3’s and the eternal over-compression tendency, these cats are doing miracles! Unfortunately, many have been putting too much attention to volume and compression squashing the bits to the maximum, with distorted results. Plenty of good music are sacrificed every day by this practice in the music business and it seems to me that here at MC and HOM is the same. You can raise the volume of the material without compression but you need to know how to and employ the proper tools. Not everybody is a Mastering Engineer, you know.
Many uses Vinyl as a source but don’t have the means to restore the records,so you hear a lot of clicks and pops instead of the music itself. A typical tendency I have observed in these kind of sites is that many exponents try to impress others with obscure and unknown selections. This is not bad by any means, but sometimes they simply over-do it. They mainly choose tracks that were practically unheard of when the record came out, unknown artists that didn’t even have a “one hit wonder” and other similar material. I like to do that as well, but some folks just don’t get it and keep doing the same over and over again until their audience gets bored. Unless your audience target are collectors and connoisseurs, you have to be careful with the material selection and keep a balance to avoid converting your mixes in a museum…or a cemetery vault!

What’s next?

Cybermedia is here to stay. We’ll continue to see more quality and faster streaming speed in the near future. The producers, labels, and artists must start to find ways to get benefits out of all this because very soon would be the only way to distribute music. Hypocrisy is always present and some of those same labels who use to hate the digital revolution in the past are now firmly advocates of the streaming realm.
The real purpose of Mixcloud and likes are to share music and to connect like-minded people from all around the world. Unfortunately, as in every place where too much talent is crowded in “one place”, ego wars and people looking for fame is very present. Some guys go to the extreme as to believe they own the copyright material they play and becomes selfish with their mixes. The funny thing is that 99% of the time this is all a work of love and usually for FREE. I know, though, some who has a lot of audiences and becomes sponsored by companies related to the media, and that’s ok, but I’m sure that as soon as this practice grows the streamers would be asking for their share as well. Money and politics have always been the main discordance factors in play.
So, next time you sit on your computer search for some of these sites. You’ll discover new music and artists you never knew they exist. You can do your own playlist to take it with you “on the go” using your phone and play your mixes at a party or even at your favorite bar. Some purist may object the quality, but hey, from time to time you just need to forget about Hi-End audio and enjoy the music!
Carlitos Guzmán
Images: the Mushroom Jazz image is from Mark Farina Mushroom Jazz series
Mixcloud and Recording the Masters logos are copyright material.