A Spotify logo is seen as founder and CEO Daniel Ek addresses a press conference in New York, December 11, 2013. The music streaming service, Spotify, unveiled a new ad-based service for mobile and tablet users that will allow access to Spotify’s song catalog for free.
Much fuss has been made over the impact of online streaming on artists’ lifestyles, particularly with respect to Spotify, the streaming giant that offers free music to millions, but only pays artists the royalty equivalent of peanuts. In seeking a Spotify loophole, last year a funk band from Michigan called Vulfpeck set out on a creative mission to get around this issue with the album Sleepify, a 5-minute long silent album, complete with 10 tracks, 30 seconds a-piece. The loophole worked for a little while, netting the band around $20,000 before Spotify pulled the plug.
The Vulfpeck album coincided with an ambitious call to action, with the band asking its fans to play the silent album on repeat, while they slept, so as to trickle royalties from Spotify down to the band in record numbers – in other words, the ultimate Spotify loophole. At the time, Vulfpeck assured its fans that the album Sleepify would be a resounding success, with replays of the Vulfpeck album Sleepify paying off in the form of an admission-free tour.
The result of the Vulfpeck album was a successful 2-month run before Spotify finally cracked down, earning each song anywhere between $0.0037 to $0.007 per stream in Spotify royalties. At that rate, take a 5-minute album, play it for 8 hours each night, by “X” amount of fans, for 2 months straight and it leads to a payoff of about $20,000. The reasons for Spotify’s eventual take-down of the album Sleepify were not explicitly given, but despite this, they did not back out on the royalty check. Perhaps fearing a PR mess, they simply figured, “a deal’s a deal.” Billboard did report, however, that band member Jack Stratton was surprised by the timing of the takedown, noting “that they waited instead of doing it immediately.” He went on to say that, “it maybe would have reflected better on them if they did it right away instead of getting all this press first.”
A year later, some retrospective analysis of the widely reported stunt is due. The irony is: hypothetically, had the same call to action been applied to an album of substantial (actual) musical content, then the stunt almost certainly would have been heralded as a gloriously successful marketing campaign. What bothered Spotify, in that case, must have been the silence more than anything-in effect, a giant middle finger to their entire business model, and perhaps an ethical conundrum for the millions of hardworking bands who never see $20,000 in Spotify royalties in any capacity. As Time Magazine reported, Spotify spokesperson Graham James also claimed that “the stunt seemed derivative of a John Cage work” (referencing the composer who made waves with his infamously silent “4’33″”). While John Cage probably would have argued that art was the driving factor in his work, at least Vulfpeck admitted their motive was to be deliberately sly. Their slyness paid off, it seemed, with Vulfpeck making good on their word and commencing an admission-free “Sleepify” tour in September of 2014, specifically to the cities that did the most streaming over the 2-month period.