Inside Vulfpeck’s Brilliant Spotify Stunt

If you happen to notice your Spotify activity window flooded with plays of Vulfpeck’s latest album “Sleepify,” it is not because of how good the songs are -- as a matter of fact, the 10-song set is absolutely silent. The Ann Arbor, Michigan-based funk troupe is using Spotify’s royalty-payment system to fund (and even plot the course of) its upcoming Sleepify Tour.

As band leader Jack Stratton explains in the promo video announcing the crowd-sourced scheme, Vulfpeck plans to go on a tour where every show will be free to the public. To achieve that goal, they are asking fans to stream the silent “Sleepify” album on repeat while they sleep in order to multiply the less-than-a-cent average royalty rate Spotify pays per song play exponentially. Understanding that a song needs to be listened to for at least 30 seconds to register as a play, the tracks on “Sleepify” -- cleverly titled “Z” through “Zzzzzzzzzz” -- are all 31 or 32 seconds long.

“This is a clever stunt, but we prefer Vulpeck’s earlier albums,” said Spotify spokesman Graham James. “'Sleepify' seems derivative of John Cage’s work.”

Cage was famous for his use of silence, including the now iconic composition from 1952, called "4’33”", which lasted four minutes, 33 seconds, and musicians were instructed not to play their instruments.

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For old-school rockers, Vulpeck’s cheeky move may be reminiscent of Sonic Youth. The band included a 63-second track on the its 1995 record “The Whitey Album” that also was completely silent. When the album went on sale within iTunes, Apple temporarily restricted sales of the track, which was priced at 99 cents. Sonic Youth’s lead singer, Lee Ranaldo, said the track, called “Silence,” was an homage to Cage’s work, only sped up.

Should Vulfpeck’s brilliant stunt materialize into a completely free tour for fans, it could change the way independent artists regard streaming services and fan engagement. Just stream your favorite band’s music (or non-music) while you sleep and they could come to your city for absolutely free. This just might be the easiest way to support artists ever.