Silent Spotify Album’ Creator Talks Strategy Behind Unique Plan

Forget Exile On Main Street or Zen Arcade — the most brilliant album available on Spotify may be Vulfpeck’s new Sleepify, 10 tracks containing 30 seconds of silence apiece. The laid-back Los Angeles funk-rock band has asked fans to repeat-stream the album all night in an attempt to pile up enough fractions of pennies to plan a free fall tour. “We believe it’s the most silent album ever recorded,” 26-year-old drummer and keyboardist Jack Stratton explains in an awesomely deadpan video. As of Thursday, each of the tracks, titled “Z,” “Zz,” “Zzz” etc., had generated roughly 120,000 streams. Yes! Rolling Stone spoke to Stratton about the backstory of the new “album” and why it’s more than a gimmick.

This interview came up at the last minute and I haven’t had time to listen to the whole album yet — just about two-thirds of it. Sorry!
That was definitely five cents — that’s cool.

How did you come up with Sleepify?
The original seed of the idea was a [longtime record executive and producer] Ron Fair interview on Pensado’s Place, a web show with mix engineer Dave Pensado. Fair produced “Lady Marmalade” and said it was only available on the [Moulin Rouge] soundtrack in stores. So people had to buy this $18 soundtrack to get this hit single. He goes [scratchy music-business guy voice], “That was a big win.” I was like, “Wow, he’s definitely working with the format in place. . . . What does that look like now?” And we started thinking about that.

Can you elaborate? How does the old one-hit-on-an-expensive-CD paradigm lead to this Spotify experiment?
With the technology available, that dictates the packaging of the music — whether it’s a three-minute 7-inch [album] or a 40-minute 12-inch or an eight-minute 12-inch single or a 70-minute CD. And now it’s Spotify. This is just taking it to the max of short song length and extremely high volumes of play.

You estimated Vulfpeck makes roughly half a cent from every Spotify stream. How did you come up with that figure?
I did a simple calculation, before I did the video, [after] logging into our Spotify thing. And it came out to .0056 [cents]. That was our in-house calculation. Spotify has reported up to .008. I think it’s been going up. At this volume of streams, those fractions make a difference.

How did you come up with the idea to link Sleepify with your upcoming tour?
We knew we wanted to tour, because every day we get a request on our Facebook or Twitter to come to some town. And we had even been talking about a concept where people say, “We’re going to come to these cities, and if people buy enough tickets, we’ll show up.” So then simultaneously I was thinking, “What is a Spotify-exclusive album? What does that look like?” So those two ideas converged. I posted [the plan] on Facebook and sent it to the [band’s] e-mail list and it just spread naturally from there. We were kind of operating on the 1,000-fan hypothesis; that this could definitely work if thousands of our fans do this and have Spotify.

Did you actually go into the studio to make ‘Sleepify’ and record a bunch of music, like with the amps turned off?
No. Yeah, I was thinking of doing some sketches about some recording process. Maybe I still will.

How much money have you made so far?
It’s roughly 100,000-per-track listens, so 1 million total. Which is a big number! . . . All these services pay about two months after the sale. So we’ll know then. Based on the rough calculation, over 1 million streams, if it was a half a cent, that would be five grand.

Is that enough to do the free tour?
I really need to get more data on what it costs to tour. I talked to a booking agent about when you could afford a bus, and he said, ‘You start thinking about that when you get $10,000 guarantees.’ I was like, ‘Ah, OK, never mind.’ We’ll probably have to do the van thing.