Spotify is a great way for most musicians to make money. By most musicians, I mean a superstar economy of 1% who account for 77% of all artist revenue from streaming. And by “money” I mean the $0.007 per stream that most artists receive.
Step in Vulfpeck, the half-Jewish German-American rhythm section, who decided to play the system by recording a totally silent album and persuading their one thousand strong fans to put the album on repeat whilst they slept. Through the streams the band would then be able to work out where most of their fans were playing their album and then plan the tour around that. This tour would be funded by all the streams so every show would be totally free.
The idea almost seems like something KLF (the notorious band who burnt a million pounds) would have thought of if they were around in the internet age. When they’re not cruising at 0 decibels, the band’s music sounds like the best parts of the early 2000s yacht rock revival with my personal favourite of the non-silent songs being “Outro”.
When I emailed Spotify about the project they responded with "it's a clever stunt but we prefer Vulfpeck's earlier albums. Sleepify seems derivative of John Cage's work", which is the best backhanded compliment any band could expect. The band has taken this all tongue in cheek and have tweeted regularly about how important the tracklisting of the silent album is to them and if people could stop torrenting it.
I talked to the band’s frontman Jack Stratton about the success of the stunt and how easy it is to record a silent album.
Noisey: So what’s the idea behind Sleepify?
Jack: The video clip breaks it down, but basically we are funding our upcoming tour with this album. The album is silent and you should listen to it while you sleep. Actually, a fan played it over the speakers at a house show whilst another band performed.
Your doing all this to tour for free, why?
We are basing the routing of the tour on where people listen the most. So that’s the deal with the fans. A rough calculation shows that a fan would generate more than a $20 ticket after a week of playing the album whilst they sleep. We’ve only played twice and never toured. We just wanted to make it as easy as possible for our fans to see us. It’s a demand funded tour, rather than lets head out on the road and lose a lot of money. When I hear their horror stories from other bands I think you started a tour with no fans, it’s like you ran into the ocean and you complain about getting wet.
Haha, so true! You’ve got a map with all the positions of the fans, how does it work?
My friend Rob Stenson did the map. YouTube him, he’s great at banjo. We tried to figure out a way to get realtime data of where it was being streamed, but Spotify doesn’t offer that. Why would they. Stenson ended up mapping where people are clicking through the link on the website to stream it .
Which location has the most Vulfpeck fans so far?
Ann Arbor, I have no idea why.
How successful has it been so far?
Our fans are enjoying it. I’m hoping Sleepify will chart on Spotify. It’s also generated enough PR to kill a horse. The album has made five grand based on our popular tracks play count. We'll know for sure in two months when they report sales. Spotify's payment is pretty transparent when you read their artist services website. It says they give 70 percent of their revenue to the artist like iTunes and split it up based on percentage of plays. Our next plan is to have everyone in the world not use spotify for a month and I will stream our single once.
How do you think Spotify feels about all this?
Once I read their quote I was surprised, I never thought they’d be aware. That was definitely a turning point. Also I don’t know if this is true, but a friend texted me that Sean Parker was Sleepifying. I doubt that’s though.
Is this all a big statement about only being able to make money from Spotify?
I think about Spotify a lot and I've flip flopped which side I take. It's opt-in, and by now musicians know that it's around half a cent per play of their album. Theo Katzman, our drummer and guitarist, has threatened to take a string off his guitar for every music business article he reads, so that affected my attitude quite a bit.
How hard was it recording a silent album?
Very easy. I used Audacity, it’s free. All the tracks are a slightly different length though. We also had different names for each track like “Z”, “Zz” and “Zzz”.
For those who prefer their albums musical what album of yours would you recommend?
Our catalog is only 70 minutes. I’d recommend it all.
What do you think the future of music brings?
I believe Humans are smarter than the internet. If we work together we can beat this thing.