Meet Vulfpeck. They’re a funk band. They’re based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And they just released a new album called Sleepify.
A representative of the streaming music Spotify has already weighed in on the album. This is a somewhat unusual event.
“Sleepify,” the unidentified spokesperson told Digday, “seems derivative of John Cage’s work.”
Indeed, Sleepify is a somewhat unusual album.
You see—like American avant garde composer John Cage’s landmark work 4'33''—the album only consists of silence. It’s 10 impeccable tracks, all impeccably silent. And while Cage’s piece constituted a winking commentary on the beauty of everyday, ambient sound, Vulfpeck’s opus is a little more pecuniary.
But first, a primer. Every time you listen to a band’s music on a streaming music like Spotify or Rdio, that band gets a tiny, tiny amount of money. These amounts are meager: From 2011 to 2012, people listened to indie cellist Zoe Keating’s music nearly 80,000 times, and she made a whopping $281.87 for all that time. Late last year, new data clarified that Spotify pays artists between a sixth and an eighth of a cent per song stream.
Spotify pays this meager money out indiscriminately (at least on the ground of quality). Enter Sleepify.
“When you listen to a Vulfpeck song on Spotify, Spotify pays us a half a cent,” a representative of Vulfpeck says in a promotional video. “So if you were to listen to Sleepify all night on repeat, you’d generate 4 dollars.”
This is how the band plans to fund their tour. Listen to Sleepify on repeat while you do anything else—it won’t disturb you!—and you will generate money for their tour. Be sure to listen to it in the right order, though. Otherwise, says the band, you’ll tarnish the album’s gestalt:
please don't "shuffle" sleepify. i know this might come of snobbish, but we spent a lot of time on track order.— Vulfpeck (@vulfpeck) March 12, 2014
Sleepify isn’t just a stunt, though. It came about because Vulfpeck hoped to tour, but they only wanted to play free shows. Sleepify, which requests payment in a currency neither more nor less valuable than your attention, funds concerts (and further touring) without charging for tickets. And the band will decide where to tour based on where Spotify users stream Sleepify the most.
Jack Stratton, identified as the leader of Vulfpeck, tells NPR that Sleepify has already been played a million times—and netted some $5,000.
Spotify hasn’t just called the album derivative of Cage—l’horreur!—but ruled it a “a clever stunt.” Which, of course they have. Sleepify messes with the implicit economics of Spotify, the exchange of money for music (in the case of paying users) or attention for money (in the case of free, advertising-supported users). We often talk of an “attention economy,” and, indeed, some behemoths that we call “tech companies” in fact make most of their money trading their users’ attention for advertising dollars.
Sleepify—in a playful, upbeat way that I’ve seen few others attempt—calls the attention corporation’s bluff. Oh yes, we’ll siphon a few cents from your advertising hoard, it says (silently). And we’re *totally* giving you our complete and undivided attention.
And if that Spotify spokesperson was all too happy to drop the d-word with regard to Vulfpeck and Cage, they probably didn’t realize how right they were. For it was Cage who said of radio—which, like Spotify, paid out its artists for songs streamed:
What does it mean to be suitable for radio? When silence is suitable for radio, does it lose its essence only when it is given a name? And what happens to it if a crazy announcer decides to broadcast it?
Now we can ask: When silence is suitable for Spotify, when silence is Sleepified, does it lose its essence only when it is given a name? I bet that Cage, America’s great trickster-composer, would adore the slyness of Sleepify. I do, at least.
And here’s something else cool about Vulfpeck: Their non-silent music is pretty great, too.