Common wisdom states that there’s no money to be made through streaming music services. Artists are paid a fraction of a penny every time one of their songs is played — even if they’re among the most popular artists on Spotify, that’s still not a whole hell of a lot of revenue. So one band decided to cheat the system by creating a silent album and encouraging people to stream it while they sleep. That way they could make money, people could feel good about supporting a band without having to actually listen to their music, and true fans could enjoy a free concert when the band visited whichever locations streamed this silent album most.
The band is Vulfpeck, and it explained the reasoning behind its album, “Sleepify,” in a promotional video that somehow manages to make a silent album seem reasonable. The plan to fund a tour with the proceeds from what amounts to a joke is infinitely more interesting than yet another Kickstarter project, and it doesn’t require anything besides a few clicks from Spotify users ready to drift off into sleep to the sweet, sweet sound of silent moneymaking.
The most surprising thing about all of this is that the plan actually worked. The “album” has been streamed often enough to generate around $20,000 in revenue, and the band behind it has created a mapping tool that will allow them to figure out where they should tour later this year. For a small band whose entire discography spans just 71 minutes, the tongue-in-cheek gambit has paid off better than the albums they used actual instruments to create. For maybe the first time in the battle between artists and Spotify, an artist found victory.
That is, until Spotify asked the band to remove the album from its service for violating its terms and conditions. Now the band is left wondering if Spotify will pay for the “listens” its silent album accrued. It also just uploaded a three-track album consisting of a statement from the band’s drummer and more silence. Staying quiet helped the band make some money; maybe speaking out will allow it to do the same thing, now that its ploy has been found and plucked from Spotify’s service.
This saga demonstrates both Spotify’s benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, it’s troubling that Spotify has the ability to remove any album — even if it’s just silence — simply because it doesn’t like how much money an artist is making. On the other hand, it’s not like Vulfpeck could have released their “album” through traditional means. It would have had to convince a label that a silent album was worth releasing, consumers that it’s worth buying for the novelty factor alone, and itself that there’s musical integrity in selling dead air. “Sleepify” only worked because a label didn’t have to pay for its release, and fans didn’t have to pay to “listen.”
In this way, “Sleepify,” and the band’s subsequent statement about its removal, make the case for Spotify’s service even as they serve as a criticism of the way the company calculates artist payouts. There are no perfect solutions to the fight over artist royalty payments, and this silent attempt to game the system speaks volumes about that fact.
[Illustration by Brad Jonas]