Innovations: Vulfpeck should pull 'Sleepify' from Spotify before causing irreversible damage to hard-working bands
Funk band Vulfpeck is making headlines with its campaign to fund an upcoming tour by gaming the Spotify system. The L.A.-based outfit’s plan is to get fans and supporters to stream an album of pure silence dubbed Sleepify on repeat while they slumber, thus generating easy revenue for the band.
Although this sounds like a groundbreaking way for artists to obtain more royalties, the reality is that this selfish scheme financially hurts and undermines the talents other independent artists attempting to compete on the same level with legitimate music. Vulfpeck should remove the sonically worthless album if they want to salvage any remnant of their pride.
Vulfpeck’s Jack Stratton facetiously describes the record as “the most silent album ever recorded,” containing ten, 31 to 32-second long tracks of nothing but dead air. Why so short? In order for an artist to get paid for a Spotify stream, the listener must play a song for at least 30 seconds, so the album’s brevity is engineered to take full advantage of the mandatory minimum. Stratton estimates that “if you were to listen to Sleepify all night on repeat, you’d generate $4.00,” with Spotify paying “half a cent” for each song played.
It’s highly unfortunate that while other artists struggle to make wages distributing real music, this money-mining dick-move has paid off. In a March 19 interview with NPR, Stratton revealed that the band had received around $5,000 for “about a million plays of nothing” about a week into the campaign. Notably, the band didn’t report any increase in plays of Vulfpeck’s other three albums, which feature actual music.
This is self-serving bullshit. As Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post points out, pay-outs are at least partially based on an artist’s “market share” – the percentage of Spotify streams an artist or band has in relation to others – meaning “Vulfpeck will get a larger share of the pie at the expense of other artists.”
What’s worse, Spotify doesn’t have to care because they are still making money from ads playing during the streams. In fact, their nonchalant attitude could indicate support by omission for these sickening tactics. Talking to NPR, Spotify spokesman Graham James merely declared the act a “clever stunt,” attempting to make light of the situation with the comment that the album “seems derivative of John Cage’s work,” which features another intentionally silent composition, “4 33.”
So really, Spotify should be held just as accountable as Vulfpeck for this gross devaluation of other artists’ streams. The company should impose regulations for this sort of “hack,” but they won’t, because every stream, silent or not, equals increased revenue from advertisers. That said, it seems unlikely that advertisers will still want to invest as much when their commercials are falling upon unconscious ears. Yet, the real worry is that more artists will take advantage of this oversight, gearing more streams toward false listens and in effect diminishing every other independent band’s already scant slice of the proverbial pie.
Sleepify‘s continued existence represents a shameful act on the part of Vulfpeck – why not go about it the honest way like every other group and start a Kickstarter campaign that offers rewards like signed and limited merch to fund your tour? It’s also another fumble in the regrettable legacy of Spotify’s questionable pay-out rates. This isn’t reform, this is robbery, and either Spotify or Vulfpeck should remove the album before it triggers a damaging slippery slope.