Outsmarting Spotify with complete silence

April 29, 2021

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In March 2014, an American band named Vulfpeck released the album Sleepify. With the money raised by this album they did a Sleepify tour across America with shows that people could attend free of charge. Nothing too special so far, what’s the catch? Well, Sleepify lived up to its name: there isn’t a single sound on the entire album.

Golden silence

Sleepify consists of 10 songs each lasting just over 30 seconds, all of them completely silent. At the release, Vulfpeck asked its fans to play the album on repeat while they were sleeping, thereby generating royalties gained from Spotify due to the many listeners. However, after about a month the album was pulled by Spotify, who claimed that the album violated the service’s content policies. The trick had already worked though: Vulfpeck had earned about $20,000, enough to fund their tour. The album even received praise from the critics: Tim Jonze of The Guardian reviewed Sleepify, stating that the “opening track ‘Z’ certainly sets the tone, a subtle, intriguing work that teases the listener as to what may come next. It’s followed by ‘Zz’ and ‘Zzz’ which continue along similar lyrical themes while staying true to Sleepify‘s overriding minimalist aesthetic. By the midpoint, you realise Vulfpeck are aiming to pull off the same trick as the Ramones: they may only have one song, but it’s an effective one.”

The 30-second rule

Jokes aside, Sleepify served as a protest against the Spotify royalty model. Spotify counts someone that listens to a song for over 30 seconds as one stream. In 2014, it paid rightholders about $0.008 per stream, less than a cent. Jack Stratton, founder of Vulfpeck, claimed this business model pushes the music industry into only producing short, commercialized songs. As an alternative, he proposed a royalty model based on minutes listened to an artist instead. 

A similar concept emerged in June 2015 via a website known as Eternify, by the band Ohm & Sport, which allowed users to play the first 30 seconds of any Spotify song on a loop, thus accumulating royalty payments for the artist. These initiatives, basically serving as a giant middle finger to Spotify’s business model, have not yielded the desired results: Spotify still practices the 30-second rule. In recent years, their royalty number has even decreased to about $0.004 cent per stream. Some artists refuse to have their work on Spotify as a protest, only collaborating with music services such as TIDAL, which currently pays $0.0125 per stream. However, most artists have succumbed, realising that the market share of Spotify is too large to miss out on. 

Different kinds of silence

Another remarkable feat is the fact that 4:33, the famous completely silent work of John Cage, can still be found on Spotify. The intention of John Cage’s silence is different from Vulfpeck’s: he wanted to show that absolute silence can’t exist without its complement, sound. But should this context matter? Is Spotify right for banning Sleepify but keeping 4:33? An interesting question that should be discussed in the coming years. In the meanwhile, 4 EP’s and 6 albums later, Vulfpeck have grown to become a much loved funk-soul-indie-pop-and-so-much-more band, all on the basis of complete silence.

If you’re interested: here’s a link of their awesome concert at Madison Square Garden.

Dit artikel is geschreven door Sjors Keet

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