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4/30/2006

SISTER SARA PROVES JOE RIGHT

Sara Groves (no relation) speaks up about the music industry as she sees it:

“Unfortunately, there’s no difference between a deal in 2006 and a deal in 1960. If you look at the language, the percentages, the numbers and everything, folks today are signing the same contract they signed with Motown (a big label based in Detroit in the 60’s). Those were the same lousy deals you’ve heard about that ruined the lives of artists way back in the days of Rock & Roll, and are ruining the lives of artists today”.

Read the rest here.

These words of Sara's were hanging out on the couch in my brain minding their own business for days when the inspiring idealism of Joe Trippi's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised came in the front door. They became instant friends and started having a conversation in my head that got quite noisy and messy at times. Ideas and questions have piled up all over the place in the last few days. Allow me to sweep one pile out the back door and into your brain for more pondering:

Has the publicity department at evey label just been replaced without us realizing it?

With a few key strokes in an e-mail, on a blog, in a messageboard or to the editor of a webzine we artists - independent and signed - can now potentially ruin or resurrect our careers. "Fans" of a web savvy artist don't have to wait for her to appear in a costly music magazine answering innane questions about favorite colors to learn more about her if she is easily accessible via her blog and e-mail. Why hope an interviewer asks the right questions, the questions we want answers to, when we can ask artist's our own questions?

From an artist's perspective: Hey, I like magazines but printed and broadcast media are not my only choices for communication with my present and future audience any more - and the alternatives are almost always free!

And, frankly, I prefer the new media over the old most of the time: The old media is a one way monologue. I talk. You listen. The new media is a two way dialogue. I talk. You talk back. We both listen.

The old media is closed. Publicists with connections who happen to work for artists who sell magazines or attract listeners to stations get access to the pages and airwaves of the old media. Limited exposure for a limited number of fortunate sons.

But there are no fences keeping the new media from me...or from you...yet. With technorati and a good site meter I can see who's linking to me, talking about me, my music, music in general, subjects I care about, my last show, my upcoming CD, my friends, my theology, and the list goes on and on. Then I can decide if I want to link back, jump into those conversations, debate, say "thank you", or ignore them altogether. The choice is mine - not my label's. I can spend all day or no days posting to messageboards, arranging interviews via e-mail, or posting to my and millions of other blogs.

And while it's quite an enjoyable ego stroke to be on the cover of a magazine, the big one shot of old media can't compete any more with the many shots of the viral yet small new media. (Almost 500 sites currently link to SHLOG.COM.) It's nearly impossible for the audience of a radio station or magazine to forward paper or audio to millions of people of their own choosing in seconds. Blog rolls, links, e-mails, message boards, p2p communities like youtube.com and myspace.com are just some of new media's tools making the spead of information not only easy but compelling to do on-line.

Sara's words spoken to a webzine editor have now bounced around in cyberspace and landed here at SHLOG.COM to be read and pondered by my audience. This posting is spreading her words and giving them continued life long after a print article's influence would have fizzled. Magazines die in trash cans. Communication on the web never dies.

And so the idealistic Trippi is right about technology's power to change the power structures of almost every industry - even the slow changing music business. It's a revolution made possible by effort and technology, the replacement of top-down one way publicity by bottom-out two way conversation.

Now if we could only get lawyers to revolutionize the record deal...

26 Comments:

Anonymous Stephen said...

Any post that quotes Sara is worth reading.

I have some friends that are looking at signing their first record deal, and the first thing I encouraged them to do is establish a strong online presence. Sometimes a label might be helpful in giving you an initial push to get your name out there, but it seems the most effective way to continue momentum is doing your own legwork on the internet.

5/01/2006  
Blogger supersimbo said...

this is a great post shaun, the power for the blog and its potential to overthrow many other media forms amazes me.......the speed at which your blog or on a lesser scale my blog becomes known, read and uselful in so many ways is astounding, it excited me to start blogging and i probably thought it was a passing interest at the early stage but once you embrace things like technorati, sitemeter etc etc the possibilities become endless.....
i mean, i still dont really know if i have a real purpose for 'supersimbo' but we are discovering that with "atiG" it may be a very vital way forward in a difficult market that takes no prisoners!

good thoughts man

5/01/2006  
Anonymous jwise said...

I have to admit, the first while I visited this blog, I figured you just had a PR department posting random thoughts while you were off putting on concerts around the globe. I was very geeked to find out the man behind some very thought-provoking songs not only spoke to his fans, but converses regularly with them.

I think there's an image of most artists, whether "Christian" or "secular" -- the image that they want their money and have no time for the millions of peasant fans roaming around after the crumbs from their tables.

I find SHLOG a very encouraging site. Both in its content and even in the fact that your accessibility and willingness to interact make the words in your songs and writings hit a little closer to home. "This guy means what he says, and he's around to back himself up. He's not just looking for more money and fame."

My $0.02.

5/01/2006  
Anonymous Ryan G. said...

Shaun,

I've heard the exact same thing from tons of other artist who stayed indie for a loooong time before actually being "signed". (actually I think you were one of the first I heard it from...way back when you were touring w/ Jars (Astroworld Houston, TX)) The sad thing is its still "the dream" to be signed. Its when you've made it - at least secularly. I guess there are those who would say that as long as your heart is in the right place its all that matters, but that doesn't pay the bills. (Forgive my cynicism)

Its a struggle to really give my all when I know that what's waiting for me at the end of the tunnel is just a darker hole.

5/01/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Andrew gets it...

5/01/2006  
Blogger bdg.theTRu said...

please don't put me out of business, Shaun. I mean well...

seriously though, i read that "interview" a while back and i thought that it was almost an example of the bad side of media... I loved Sara's thoughts, don't get me wrong, i think for sure, she's got it right, but hey, how many "unfortunate sons" (who don't get the royal treatment) can afford to lead with 80k and make the album that they want to?

What i didn't like about the article is that it felt like the author was manipulating the words and writing more with his own agenda in mind - i see now that you replied to his "bitter" statement.

i don't know, maybe i'm part of this revolution on the media side as well, whether i know it or not. I try to find the artists that deserve coverage, who may be overlooked elsewhere. And i try to have actual conversations during the "interviews" that i conduct. I don't know...

Maybe we CAN all join together someday and tell the beast "no" collectively... maybe you ARE the leader you told me you weren't...

for now, i need to get back to work... and apparently work harder to be compelling or something, because otherwise you and your cronies will run me out of town...

peace... love... bdg...

5/01/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

I don't want you replaced any more than I want radio replaced. You're just not my only option any more. If I don't get any love from you I can go elsewhere now ; ) And I guess I'm still Republican enough to believe that competition is a good thing - makes us all better in the end perhaps.

You are one of the good guys.

Thanks for your writing.

As to the 80K question. That shocked me. I've made all my records for 40K and under. What's she doing with 80K??? Anyway, I think I can make a record that sounds as good as my label records for 10K. We'll see. But I know people willing to help me too. An indie may not have those connection to musicians, engineers, studios etc. Point taken.

I meet indies on the road who have rich dads or friends, or sell a cheap bedroom recording for a few years to earn the money for a studio project. It can be done. Much easier for an established artist going indie than for an unknown indie for sure.

Good point.

SG

PS. I'm sick today with little to do so I apologize in advance for stalking my own blog.

5/01/2006  
Anonymous Stephen said...

Sara worked with Brown Bannister on her newest record, and there's a level of quality that Brown offers that includes his team that usually works with him. If you want a well produced album with the level of sophistication that Brown offers, you pay for it.

When Brown produced Sara's record, he was in the middle of several other projects - Third Day's newest, Mercy Me's Christmas and regular records, and Point of Grace's Christmas record. All of those will far outsell Sara's, but he wanted to work with her because he believed in what she is doing. The end result was one of the best albums of last year, in my opinion.

5/01/2006  
Blogger Chaotic Hammer said...

Well, the trend certainly seems to be away from "old media" -- the rich studio exec who controls everyone's fate, with a cigar in his mouth and his "kid, we're gonna make you a star" priesthood. The "new media" is moving toward a media of, by and for the people. The barriers are down, and it seems like everyone has a website and responds more directly to feedback now. But maybe it's just me -- I do see a potential downside or problem with all this...

Simply -- too much information. Way too much. I've been reading SHLOG faithfully for some time now because you rattle my cage a lot, challenge conventional thinking -- I find it spiritually provocative. I read a few other blogs or forums occasionally, and I read news and weather on-line. I read the Bible at a couple of sites like biblegateway.com and blueletterbible.org. My guilty pleasures would include a couple political websites (which I'm finding less interesting lately) and occasionally myspace.com -- though I'm having trouble finding a genuine use for myspace, apart from perhaps networking with old friends and maybe finding a few new artists there from time to time. And then there's just "browsing" -- taking any of the above sites or a search engine, and just following links -- one after another after another, seeing where they lead and what there is to see out there, or doing general research on any subject of interest using a search engine.

Anyway, I don't mean to belabor the point by making this an exhaustive list -- but my point is, just what I've listed above consumes way too much of my time. There are so many more sites out there. Eventually, even the most avid internet consumer, with all the time in the world, will find himself overloaded with information (even if you're a gluttonous information consumer like me). So if there are too many separate independent artists, and too many places to see and things to do, without any centralized control, then the audience may be spread too thin to effectively support most of them. People tend to start "clumping" into a few select locations where things interest them, and with the present rate that the volume of information is expanding, it just seems like there will be more things to see out there than there are eyes to see them.

I sure don't mean to discourage things -- with or without me, new media will continue to grow, and it is certainly the trend. Heck, I make my living off internet technology, so far be it from me to present the counterpoint to all this excitement. :-)

I just think that the reality of where this is going may or may not be quite as revolutionary (destructive to the old way) as is being expected. Guess we'll find out by and by...

5/01/2006  
Anonymous Andrew said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Shaun. I have to agree with you pretty much completely. As someone who has gotten his name out there through the old school label system, through my old band The Normals and my current role in Caedmon's Call, I've found such a wonderful freedom in the last year or so via the internet, even financially.

Almost a year ago I wrote a post about wanting to make a new record but not being able to afford it. A number of people responded by offering to buy the record then, so I could have that money towards making it. I was able to sell a couple hundred albums, before it was even started, and that, plus some people just happy to paypal a few bucks my way no-strings, helped get the project on its feet. I still have to sell quite a number of records to pay the whole project off, though it was assuredly less than 80k or even 40k. Way less. And I "splurged" on a great mix engineer.

Anyway, not only has the blog and internet enabled me to do what I really want to create, it has let me know that there are people out there who care about what I do and are willing, and excited, to jump in and be a part of it with me. That, to me, is probably the greatest thing an artist could ever hope for. I live in no mansion and drive no fancy car, but I wouldn't trade the music of my heart for those things and most music on the radio, christian or secular.

And the blog world is how I got to know Shaun and his heart, ministry and music. It's one of the few blogs I check every day (I don't know how to get that RSS feed thing to work). So many of my friends are in the exact same position as he and I and Sara Groves and I'm so glad we get to create what God has called us to, and grateful for audiences, no matter how small, that will rise to support us.

Rock on, Shaun. Now let me play guitar on your next record!!

5/01/2006  
Blogger bdg.theTRu said...

you heard it here first folks! Andrew Osenga and Shaun Groves to collaborate on a new project... sounds like a headline...

i'd have to agree as well that competition is a good thing... i'm not even sure that the playing field has to be entirely level... but without competition, we wouldn't have nearly as much motivation to do things to the best of our ability... i'm quite grateful that Andrew has been able to record as he does and i'm confident that you'll be able to find the right methodology to suit your needs as well...

anyway, now it's starting to look like i'm stalking the Shlog now too, so i should go...

"happy to be a good guy"

peace... love... bdg...

5/01/2006  
Blogger Kat said...

This is my favorite topic.

I think that there is definitely a big enough audience to go around, but even if it does become oversaturated in the future, it doesn't mean that those with talent and business-know-how can't rise to the top.

There are so many aspects of artists own web sites and the web in general that most artists have yet to fully embrace. I think that the opportunity that the web provides to indies is downright exciting. It just takes some creativity, dedication and a willingness to ride on the front of this wave.

If I start talking about this subject I won't stop, so I'll just mention that another great web stats tool is Google Analytics. It's based on a really great stats program called Urchin that provides a variety of excellent reports about your visitors with really detailed graphs. It's free, although you may have to wait a couple weeks for an invite. Statcounter.com is great too, although more simplistic.

-Kat

5/01/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Kat, for those of you who haven't had the chance to meet her as I have, is very knowledgible of all things web related. I don't know her entire resume but I know she's been involved in web stuff for a while now and knows far more than I do about it all.

So, Kat, kissing up over, let me ask you a thing or two:

What aspects of the web have we artists not yet fully embraced?

What does the edge of this wave look like to you? What new technologies/tools/sites/trends do you see emerging at the moment that we could exploit today and be ahead of the herd?

SG

5/01/2006  
Blogger GrovesFan said...

Shaun,

Let me know where to send the money! I'll gladly pre-buy, support, etc. any cd, book, or whatever (within reason) you're ready to get out to the masses (or even just me!).

Beth

5/01/2006  
Anonymous c long said...

This all makes me feel so overwhelmingly green. Wish I could download all the info in Kat's brain and put it to use. I can't even figure out how to manipulate the font on my website which is waiting on an extreme makeover.

I guess the first thing I should do is add a pay pal account for those wanting to put me through web design classes. Maybe after that I can take some music engineering courses and then produce, mix and master my own stuff....or maybe I'll just work on being content with those He's put in my path to talk to one on one about this journey of "in but not of" and let the rest of you big shots handle the world's love an affection.

Very cool having Groves bring up Groves. I bought Conversations and Invitation to Eavesdrop right before heading out to my first GMA event,Seminar in the Rockies a few years back. They rocked my world then and are still the c.d.'s I turn to when I need a little centering.

I walked in one morning and Sara was up on stage singing a song off of that c.d. I thought maybe I was dreaming, but it was all real. So I went and sat behind her to share how unreal it seemed. I'm sure she thought I was some weird stalker type. I haven't learned yet how to keep all that's in my head to myself.

5/01/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

You don't need much money at all. The bulk of my budget - I'm thinking at this point - will be spent on the mix.

For less than $300 you can get a good interface for recording to your laptop (This is assuming you have one - or a desktop computer). Then you rent a couple good microphones. The M-Box comes with ProTools. You won't sound like Weezer but you'll sound good. Then you hire a mix guy that's great for, well, more. OK, a lot more. But a great mix guy really can make the most of what you've recorded.

This isn't detailed I know, but it's the general approach an indie can take. Call in favors, stay up late, make lots of mistakes, start over again several times, and in the end you'll have something good for cheap.

You don't need 80K to make a CD these days. You do if you're Brown Banister and you work in the Sound Kitchen in Franklin, TN and have a small team working for you. But a guy and his guitar, some friends, and a bonus room can make music any college student would pay $10 for. Oh, wait...any college student would burn a copy of. Yea, and that's cool. At least you're making something wanted right?

Thanks for your comments.

SG

5/01/2006  
Blogger Kat said...

What fun questions. Here goes:

Shaun asked - "What aspects of the web have we artists not yet fully embraced?"

It's not that they haven't been embraced at all, it's just been one of those "I don't really know you and I don't know why I'm hugging you" side hugs rather than a good old bear hug. They are mostly things that many artists already have on their site, but have just not truly taken advantage of. Here are what I believe to be the most important parts of any artists web site and a few ways to use them to their full potential:

Music Clips
I've actually visited several artist sites that have no music clips at all. Crazy! I've also visited sites that require me to click 3 or four times to get to a music clip. People are there to hear music, so it's a good idea to make your music as accessible as possible. Music clips should never be more than one click away on any page of an artist's web site. I think that embedding a Flash music player (either into an HTML site or within a Flash site) is the best way to do this. Ideally, it will be set to autoplay as soon as a visitor loads your homepage, thereby creating an "ambiance" on your website and taking the focus of your site away from the design (good or bad) and putting the focus on your music.

On pages that don't autoplay music like a blog, then make sure that there is still a player there, so that they still have one click access to your music.

A Flash developer can easily create a music player for you or you can use something like: Wimpy Player and insert it into your existing site.

Newsletters
Most sites I've seen have a little box that says "Sign up for my newsletter" but they don't give any reason why or incentive to do so. Your newsletter is often the only "active" method of communication you'll have with your audience. A website, a blog and a forum all require you to just hope that a visitor will come by and check it out. However, the artist decides when to send a newsletter and it can be used to notify fans of upcoming shows, a new cd, or just to remind them of all the fun going on at their website. Send your newsletters out regularly so that fans who love what you do, but get distracted from visiting your site weekly can still be in on all that's happening with you.

Make sure you have a signup box on your Myspace page too.

Give people a reason to sign up for the newsletter too. Put links to secret content on your site in each newsletter or give away cool prizes or cd discounts to people who sign up.

People who sign up for your newsletter are people who are already interested in what you do and it's the artists job to keep them up to date so that they can attend your shows or buy your new cd.

Resources:
Constant Contact - easy web based solution, phplist - free and robust solution (needs to be installed on your site).

Blog, forum, community
Shaun and Andrew Osenga both do a great job of giving people a reason to come back to their site, but they're relatively rare. They post interesting(this is key) entries regularly and share their lives and thoughts. If there isn't some form of interactive community on an artist's site, then it's really not much more than an online brochure - and they're really not harnassing the full power of the web. Music naturally creates community, and the artist's site is the ideal place for that community to start.

(There are so many blog, forum and community programs out there I couldn't begin to recommend one. It really depends on your plans for your site.)

Statistics Programs
I think that a good statistics program is one of the most overlooked aspects of most artists web sites. Stats programs can tell you lots of fun and helpful info about your visitors. For example, if you notice in your stats program that 35 of your daily visitors are from Pensacola, Florida, but you don't have any street team members or newsletter subscribers from there, you can give them a shout out on your blog or news page and encourage them to join your team.

Your stats program can also tell you which pages on your web site or blog entries are the most popular so that you can focus your energies where your audience is interested.

Of course your stats program can also tell you how people found your site so that you can focus on the sites, keywords, tags that send you the most traffic.

With a little creative thinking a stats program can really help an artist understand their audience better and help them focus their energies.

I already mentioned Google Analytics as a great stats program, but there is a waiting list. It's based on Urchin which comes installed on many hosting plans. Another great one is called Mint which needs to be installed on your site.

Use What You Got
Make sure that your web address and perhaps some sort of slogan that makes your site sound interesting is located on everything you do. EVERYTHING. Make sure you connect your live audience to your website and vice versa. Don't just mention your website, give them a reason to go there. Give them a fun password that will get them access to a special blog entry or pictures from the show.

Have a giveaway at every show for those who sign up for your newsletter. Then send out a newsletter the next day thanking them for attending the show - include a link in the newsletter so that they can easily visit your site, buy your cd or join your street team.

Be creative to try to turn your live show attendees into web site visitor and your web site visitors into newletter subscribers and your newsletter subsribers into street teamers.

Don't just try to focus on getting as many people as possible to your website, also focus on getting current visitors more involved in your music and your ministry.

Order Options
Not everyone feels comfortable ordering on the web. Not everyone wants to buy a whole cd. Give a couple options for people to purchase your music. There are systems like payloadz.com that will allow you to sell downloadable goods or you can set up a shopping cart to handle that. Not all fans have heard of cdbaby, so sell your music at amazon too. Don't forget to sign up for cdbaby's digital distribution so that you can get your stuff on iTunes (the only place I buy my music currently).

Don't Do It Yourself!!!!!!!!
Whatever you do, unless you're truly interested in HTML, CSS, PHP, Flash and Javascipt, please don't try to "make your own website." You'll waste so much of your time, pull out your hair and end up with a product that doesn't truly reflect the quality of your music. If you have the money, hire a designer who will create a great design and set up a content management system (so you can update your site whenever you want to).

If you don't have the money, there are great services out there that will allow you to create a really nice site and set up all the technical stuff so that you can focus on your music.

There are many but best one that I've found is Hostbaby - run by the CDBaby folks.

****Shaun asked, "What does the edge of this wave look like to you?"

The Next Wave
Clearly video is already playing an important part of the web as a whole and I think that it's an amazing - AMAZING way to introduce yourself to your audience. It doesn't have to be professional. I've seen two artists use video really well in the past week or so. JJ Heller has a video journal that offers a sneak peek into the record making process. There's also a fun video that shows how excited she is when her cd's come in - fresh off the press. Fun and interesting for us non-musicians.

She's not an indie, but Bethany Dillon also does a good job of using video on her site. You have to be a member to view it, but the Pomme-and-Kelly-like Aretha Franklin lip sync is pretty funny and the live performance clips from various radio stations are great.

You Tube is currently the most popular and one of the more simple ways to get your video on the web. You can also use the Wimpy Flash Video Player.

Get Techie - or Find Someone Who Is
We're really in the midst of a revolution, in a sense, and you've got to be in the know or find someone who is so that you can take advantage of all the changes and new opportunities. Subscribe to the RSS feeds of a few tech sites like wired.com and techcrunch.com so that you can see what's on the horizon. If you're not into that sort of thing, then find someone who will give you regular briefings and help you out.

Social Networking
As the popularity of Myspace.com shows, social networking is big. Real big. It's another great way to get your music out there. Make sure you're on sites like myspace.com, friendster.com, purevolume.com and frequently poll your fans to find out where they're hanging out and make sure you at least have a profile there. Focus your energies on one site, but make sure you're available at the others as well.

Conclusion
OH MY! I'm so sorry this is so long. I'll stop there. Shaun, you just asked me the most loaded question possible and these ideas have just been jumping around in my brain with no outlet. Feel free to edit this or delete it. Hopefully, it will be of some use to one of your readers.

5/01/2006  
Blogger Beth said...

It makes me feel really old that I know what Motown is, but it has to be explained in this quote.

I feel the need to put on a cardigan and shove used kleenex up the sleeves.

5/01/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

GREAT STUFF, KAT. Want a job?

I've got thoughts but let me process a little longer.

5/01/2006  
Blogger The Cachinnator said...

Kat = Rock Star.

You're awesome, Kat. Good stuff.

5/01/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

One problem I have with all this awesome info Kat:

I don't think people want to be marketed to when they come here. While I certainly would get a great deal of benefit from moving people thought he funnel from reader to street teamer - I'm not sure if the shoe were on the other foot that I'd appreciate being moved through that funnel myself.

It feels like top-down to me. It doesn't feel like a team, like folks here and I are doing something together. Feels like I'd be doing something TO them and not WITH them. How can we fix that?

5/02/2006  
Anonymous Josh Madison said...

http://dickstaub.com/culturewatch.php?record_id=1005

Interesting article that I thought was somewhat related to the Sara Groves interview.

5/02/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

josh, that link goes nowhere good for me. can you check it?

5/02/2006  
Blogger Kat said...

Great question Shaun. You're right. No one wants to feel manipulated or managed. We want to feel appreciated, special and important. Here are my thoughts.

Every team needs a leader. Every leader needs a plan. Likewise, every leader needs a team.

You need a team to help you achieve your goals. You're simply giving willing volunteers opportunities to put their skills and passion to work for your music and your ministry. As long as we're not manipulating people into doing things they don't want to do or as long as we're not being insincere or dishonest in the way we communicate, I think it's not only good, but necessary to have a funnel - or a plan for those who want to join us in the journey.

I think the most important way to fix this is the check our motives. As artists who are also believers, is what we do all about our wealth and fame or God's fame?* Are we so in awe of the God we serve that our ultimate goal in everything we do to increase His glory and His fame? If we're leading people through a funnel with the ultimate goal of making us soft rock stars, then, yeah, that's kinda selfish. But if the goal is to get music that will heal into the hands of the hurting and give those without a "ministry" of their own, an opportunity to be a part of your team, then that's a different story.

*I'm not saying every song needs to be about Jesus. Art should be an expression of every aspect of who you are. Like a journal. I think that whole of EVERY believer's life should be inextricably woven with the purposes and heart of God and that no matter what "industry" we're in, though there may be lots of other goals along the way, God's fame should be our highest.

5/02/2006  
Blogger GrovesFan said...

Hurry Shaun! Hire Kat now! She's pure genious and you need her own your team.

Beth

5/02/2006  
Anonymous Josh Madison said...

Sorry about that link Shaun! Not sure what happened there, apparently copy and paste is not as reliable as I hoped it would be. Try this one.

http://www.dickstaub.com/culturewatch.php?record_id=1005

Josh

5/03/2006  

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