By: Carmel O'Farrell (@carmelocorn)
If you haven't yet heard of Vulfpeck, maybe you're not paying attention.
To put it mildly, the band is buzz-worthy. Precisely, I think, because their causal renegade careless cool is offered like a code to crack. Who are these guys and how do they get away with all this crazy stuff? Upon closer look, perhaps they really aren't as complex as the a glance at the surface indicates. In fact, outward simplicity is at the core of their appeal.
The four piece funk outfit originally formed in 2011 when attending the University of Michigan. Since then, they've created their own unique algorithm for success. While the traditional music industry is struggling to find new sources of revenue in a world of streaming, Vulfpeck mocked them from the sidelines. Band leader Jack Stratton once shared, "I strive to have low expectations for the group."
Strangely enough, this crazy concept is actually working.
Here are five elements of the band's DNA which inform both their music, as well as their business model. They read like a hacker's playbook, offering access to something closely guarded (music industry success), via a quick wit and willingness to be bold and unconventional.
1) Untether Yourselves From The Money Machine
Being in Vulfpeck is not the only source of income for the band members and that's part of what helps to sustain the carefree Vulf vibe.
Their lack of desperation is so apparent, it actually contributes to their magnetism. Without extensive touring, cloyingly pimping out their music to every outlet, or getting lost in the mix of hefty festival lineups year after year, they offer a welcome contrast to those who do. The absence of all that commercialism -- it creates a little bit of a mystique.
In fact, the last time Vulfpeck played Chicago they actually paid fans to attend their show. Who does that?!?
2) Get Comfortable In Front Of A Camera
A YouTube video of their first performance together (during an impromptu college studio session) documents the birth of Vulfpeck.
This took place before the foursome had ever even played out live. Since then, they've embraced content creation and social media with both aggression and creativity.
Stratton is the mastermind behind most Vulfpeck videos. He records and edits with a distinct aesthetic that embraces the old school feel of the band's funky music.
Live video feeds on Facebook, YouTube tutorials, sketch comedy skits, and straight takes of recording sessions have engaged their audience consistently over their course of five years.
This approach provides an inherently organic form of promotion. To date they have over 14 MILLION views on YouTube. The result: Vulfpeck has grown a virtual audience before ever hitting the road hard to tour.
3) Sell Out Every Show
While this goal seems obvious, it comes at a cost. In fact, this is probably one of the most intriguing elements to Vulfpeck's marketing strategy and an undeniable source of mystery.
Consequently, I have never been able to score a ticket to one of their shows because they notoriously sell out immediately when they go on sale. [Editor's note, as of this publication, tickets still available to their North Coast Music Festival After Show]. This is largely due to the fact they are playing venues with a capacity smaller than my high school graduating class... and that's 100% intentional. The reasoning is if a show is sold out, it will be 1,000 times better than if the room is only half-filled. Genius.
4) Own Your Masters And Publishing Rights
With no record label pushing for "the hits", nontraditional PR and unconventional marketing, not to mention in-house distribution, it's a combination that accelerates this group into a special category of "independent." Vulfpeck doesn't even have an accountant cutting checks!
Having full autonomy means this band can get away with dropping a silent album on Spotify and asking their fans to listen to it at night in order to take full advantage of streaming revenue. Vulfpeck's notorious "Sleepify" campaign put this band on the map, without any actual music needed! Plus they netted roughly $20k to help fund a free tour. Since no one else gets a cut of their revenue, the Vulf gets to keep every penny.
5) Make 'Em Laugh
Finally, fans gravitate towards the content Vulfpeck puts out because most of it is pretty damn funny.
From their quirky outfits to imaginary mythological back stories, it's almost as if this group lives in a land of make-believe. The hilarity crosses over into their live show as well. Vulfpeck approaches each performance with both ups and downs, plus lots of laughs in-between. They often talk to their audience before each song, set the scene, and create a vibe all their own.
Young bands should take note of the ways Vulfpeck sets themselves apart from their contemporaries and the music industry in general.
Their newest studio baby will be out in October, but between now and then they will be playing North Coast Music Festival in Chicago, followed by the Brooklyn Bowl in New York before venturing across the pond for some shows at the Brooklyn Bowl in London. While it seems as though this band has just hit that glass ceiling of recognition, something tells me there are plenty more surprises around the corner.