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You remember Vulfpeck, right? That'd be the Los Angeles funk band made internet-famous for releasing a record on Spotify consisting entirely of silence, accompanied by the instruction that it was to be listened to while sleeping: put the thing on repeat and head to bed. This wasn't some conceptual statement about really anything so much as it was an effort at raising money for a tour. "We are basing the routing of the tour on where people listen the most," Jack Stratton, Vulfpeck's frontman, told Noisey back in March. "So that’s the deal with the fans. A rough calculation shows that a fan would generate more than a $20 ticket after a week of playing the album whilst they sleep."
The Sleepify album was pulled after seven weeks, with a Spotify rep telling the band that the service had begun to recieve copycat silent submissions, according to a later interview with Stratton. In those seven weeks, however, the record made about $20,000 in royalties. At the time it seemed possible that Spotify would withold the money, with a company spokesperson calling the record "a clever stunt," but the check has arrived, according to Billboard. For 5.5 million plays, Vulpeck received $19,655.55 based on per-play rates of around $0.0030 each. Stratton assured Billboard that the band will keep up its tour promise, with dates planned in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Ann Arbor.
Finally, the point—is there a point? There's something implied for sure in the ability of a band to make a wad of very real money from silence and a viral concept, while some very large percentage of bands, underground or even not so much, releasing very good actual albeit non-viral music don't really see much of anything. (For reference, imagine a band pressing 2,000 vinyl records of 15 tracks and selling all of them, which is pretty good. Imagine the average number of listens per track on each record is, say, 30. Under the Spotify model, that's a bit over $2,000, vs. about $30,000 for actual records after subtracting manufacturing costs.)
Again, we're forced back to the conclusion that music should either be more expensive or it shouldn't cost anything at all. What we have now, the middleground, is just kind of absurd. In a manifesto of sorts a couple of years ago, Lower Dens' Jana Hunter, who is firmly in the "more expensive" camp, put the "Vulfpeck Problem" rather succinctly (more or less predicting Sleepify): " ... this kind of market makes for musicians who are writing with the burden of having to get your attention, instead of writing whatever they’d write if they were just following artistic impulses." And if an artist is primarily tasked with getting attention, the actual artistic product might as well just be silence.