silence is golden

Musicians might have figured out an ingeniously simple way to game Spotify

March 20, 2014
Obsession
The Cloud
March 20, 2014

Spotify, the Swedish streaming service that looks primed for an IPO, has divided the music industry for years.

Vociferous detractors like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke (who had an imaginative description for the service last year) and David Byrne of Talking Heads fame have criticized the penny-pinching royalties it pays; supporters like Billy Bragg and the Eurythmics Dave Stewart (who said musicians should “worship” Spotify)  say resistance is futile.  The six million consumers who pay $10 a month for the premium version of the service are obviously fans.

Regardless, this week Vulfpeck, a funk band based in Michigan, thinks it has cleverly figured out a way to make Spotify pay the bills: by recording an album of  complete silence and getting people to stream it while they sleep.

In this YouTube post Vulfpeck’s frontman Jack Stratton claims that for each Spotify user that streams “Sleepify”—which is comprised of ten tracks of complete silence—on repeat throughout the night, the band will make $4. If enough people do it, that could help it fund a free tour, which Stratton claims will visit the cities that stream the album the most.

So has Vulfpeck unearthed a new threat to the Spotify business model? Probably not.  A spokesman for Spotify describes it as a “clever stunt” and confirms the company’s “artist services team” has already been in touch with the band. He said there are no plans to crack down on silent music.

Last year, Spotify paid out $500 million in royalties (70% percent of its gross revenues) and detailed typical monthly payments to artists in the following chart.

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 12.40.32 PM

So, even in the unlikely event that Sleepify were to become a global hit, it wouldn’t break the bank. Whether other artists jump on the silence bandwagon remains to be seen.

Of course, Vulfpeck are not the first to record silent music. Composer John Cage is known for his use of silence, while Sonic Youth’s 63 second noiseless composition “Silence” was actually suspended from sale on iTunes for a while.  

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