A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Grit

Don’t try to be everywhere. We live in an internet era and each day is information overload day. The more that artists try to appeal to everybody, the less people actually care. Satisfy the audience that is your hard core fan base. It will give you a career in music. Don’t chase trends because what is here today will be gone tomorrow.

Europe and Y&T are two 80’s bands that have control over their masters and are making more money now than they did in the 80’s. Metallica and Motley Crue also own their masters and by having control of their catalogue, they can exploit their recordings in any way they want. Hell, Metallica even did their own special deal with streaming services.

Why do you think Tom Scholz (Boston), Duran Duran and Don Henley took their labels to court? They tried to get back the rights to their masters and the record labels said no. The labels know that power and money comes in the catalogues they hold.

There has been a lot of press over the last 15 years around how the internet would make the record labels redundant, and how artists would not need a record deal anymore. Well those old gatekeepers are even more powerful than ever before. What most clueless writers failed to realise is the negotiating power back catalogues bring to the argument. And the labels are the ones holding the rights to those catalogues.

Never quit. Greatness comes from frustration. Don’t be upset about failing. If you are upset about failing, it just means that you haven’t failed enough. Dream Theater almost called it a day, during the period between 1988 and 1991, when months rolled by and no suitable singer appeared.

Perseverance is a skill. It keeps you estranged from the conventions of society. You know the conventions that tell you to get a real job.

Quiet Riot during the Randy Rhoads years, used to compete with Van Halen on the L.A circuit. Van Halen got picked up and Quiet Riot struggled. Randy left to join Ozzy and the band more or less ended, however lead singer Kevin Dubrow persevered under his own surname, and resurrected the Quiet Riot band name after the death of Randy Rhoads.

George Lynch’s story is one of perseverance. He auditioned for Ozzy’s band on two occasions, losing out to Randy Rhoads once and then to Jake E. Lee. After Randy got the Ozzy gig, Lynch got Randy’s teaching gig at Randy’s mother school. In relation to the Jake E. Lee situation, Lynch got the guitar slot and then Ozzy (aka Sharon) changed their mind. One of his earlier bands The Boyz had a showcase gig organised for Gene Simmons to attend. Van Halen opened the show and the rest is history. Gene even said to George Lynch, that with a name like his, he will never make it, unless he thinks about changing it.

Ronnie James Dio spent 18 years paying his dues before finding success with Rainbow in 1976. Will musicians starting out today, put in 18 years of service to music.

The band Rush is a perfect example in perseverance.  Back in 1976, before “2112” came out, success was far from guaranteed. In 1974, Rush had released their self-titled debut, which was a standard hard-rock album in the vein of Led Zeppelin, Cream and Free. “Fly By Night” came next and it was Rush’s first with drummer Neil Peart. It featured the Ayn Rand-influenced “Anthem” and the progressive multipart “By-Tor & the Snow Dog”. For 1975’s “Caress of Steel”, Rush went even more progressive to diminishing returns.

On the verge of being dropped by Mercury Records, and under pressure to deliver a radio-friendly product, Rush went even further away from the mainstream, more into the world of progressive music and delivered “2112”, a concept album about a futuristic society, ruled by a class of people known as the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx. This future does not allow people to create or to be stimulated. In the story the main character finds an old guitar and learns to play it. The Priests punish him and destroy the instrument. From perseverance, the album “2112” was born and it laid the groundwork for all of Rush’s future success.

Rush delivered an album that satisfied their muses and the label got a band with a career. If they delivered what the label wanted, a radio friendly album, the label may have made some money, however they wouldn’t have had a band with a career on their roster. Breakthrough work is usually rejected at first. Success is slow.

There is plenty of money to be made in the long run if you don’t make money your number one priority. Start small and remember you don’t have to start perfect. Just start.

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A to Z of Making It, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Piracy

Metallica and Bob Rock

I ended up re-watching the Metallica documentary around the making of the “Black” album.

The album is what it is because of Bob Rock. He drove it, he knew from the start exactly what every song needed, he pushed Metallica to the limit and I can understand why Metallica invested so much trust in the direction of the band with him.

Hell, the Producer role should be expanded to state, dealing with egos and arguments.

The demo of “Sad But True” (I had a drummer who always thought it was called “Sad Patrol”) was heaps quicker. Bob heard a “Kashmir” feel and asked James to slow it down and make it crunchy.

Rock kept on telling James to re-write lyrics to songs. He told him to use fewer words in the choruses and to use stronger words. He questioned James on what the song is about. He asked him how the verse lyrics referenced the song message. James didn’t like this line of questioning. If James couldn’t explain it simply, it means he hasn’t nailed the lyric.

Rock told Lars to take drum lessons and he told James to take singing lessons. In my view, Metallica needed that kick up the butt and the amount of physical product the “Black” album has moved is a pretty good indication of that butt kick.

Personally, I would have loved to have seen a doco on the making of the “Load” album just to see the influence Bob Rock had on that album and how those studio sessions went.

Rock’s mentor was another Canadian called Bruce Fairbairn. Most of the records Bob engineered, Bruce was the producer. Fairbairn produced “Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet” and “New Jersey”. Total sales of over 30 million for both albums and Bob Rock engineered both of these albums.

Without Bob Rock, Metallica wouldn’t be as big as they are today and without Metallica, metal music would not have become as mainstream as it is today.

However, having said that, Metallica’s demise music wise (my opinion) during the following years is also attributable to Bob Rock and the reasoning comes from this;

  • The songs designed for the “Black” album were originally designed following the process of good old fashioned Metallica songs.
  • The style of the “Black” album songs weren’t too far apart from the old Metallica songs that appeared on “Justice”, “Master” and “Lightning”, heavy with thrash elements.
  • The song writing process was that James and Lars would take all the riff ideas they accumulated in between albums and go away and listen to all of the ideas. They would make notes as to what riffs where good and take the good ideas and start to turn them into songs. The returned to this songwriting process with the “Hardwired” album.
  • So when Bob Rock came in after the songs were written and added his influence, changing the songs tempo and asking for better lyrics and melodies, he created what I call the “gap” between the earlier albums and the “Black” album. But because the songwriting process was the same as the earlier albums, the songs still are Metallica.
  • However following the “Black” album, when Metallica designed the songs for “Load/Reload”, they didn’t follow the original good old Metallica song writing process. Rather they wrote songs from the place I call the “gap” which is now influenced by commercial expectations.
  • So when Bob Rock gets involved this time around, he amends the sound and feel of the songs even further, creating a greater divide from their original sound then the “Black” album. In other words, the “gap” got bigger.
  • Coming into “Load”, Metallica has never written 30 demos for an album. They always wrote enough songs for the album. For the “Black” album, they had 12 songs, nothing more. For “Justice”, all the songs they wrote for that album are on the album, no leftovers, same for “Master” and “Ride The Lightning”. So when a band writes 30 songs for an album they are writing for a hit.
  • I also think there were other motivators behind the influence of the sound of “Load” and “Reload” as well, and that had more to do with the longevity of the band, I remember seeing an interview with Lars years ago which gave this impression on me, basically following the “Black” album, Metallica became one of those all-time great bands like the Rolling Stones and potentially they can be riding the waves of this success in their 60’s. BUT, when they are 60 years old, how are they going to tour playing thrash all the time? The songs the Stones produced are not that hard to pull off when your 60+, but how is Lars going to cope drumming “Battery” every night on tour when he is 60+? How is Hetfield going to growl every night when he is 60+?

It’s very rare I play any songs from “Load” or “Reload”, and I’d say that would be the same for the majority of Metallica fans, whether they are hardcore or new, the album sonically might sound awesome but the songs would be ranked at the bottom of their entire inventory, other than 5 or 6 songs.

I think James summed it up with the following comments about the whole Load and Reload era…

“Lars and Kirk drove on those records. The whole ‘We need to reinvent ourselves’ topic was getting discussed.  Image is not an evil thing for me, but if the image is not you, then it doesn’t make much sense.  I think they were really after a U2 kind of vibe, Bono doing his alter ego. I couldn’t get into it. The whole, ‘Okay, now in this photoshoot we’re going to be ’70s glam rockers.’ Like, what? I would say half — at least half — the pictures that were to be in the booklet, I yanked out. The whole cover thing, it went against what I was feeling.  Lars and Kirk were very into abstract art, pretending they were gay. I think they knew it bugged me. It was a statement around all that. I love art, but not for the sake of shocking others. I think the cover of Load was just a piss-take around all that. I just went along with the make-up and all of this crazy, stupid shit that they felt they needed to do.” James Hetfield

Is Hetfield passing the buck with his comments?

He recorded the songs, wrote the riffs, he did the vocals and so on. Whether he lost interest or passed the controlling influence to Lars, regardless he was on board with the direction, it’s his band, regardless of who’s pulling the strings in the background. Without James, there is no Metallica, all the rest can be replaced in my mind.

I also watched “Get Him To The Greek”, Lar’s gets told off by Russel Brand. “Go sue Napster and your fans”, and that is the stigma that will forever stick with Metallica. They got so out of touch with reality that they sued their own fans for sharing their music. Nicko McBrain sums up piracy in Flight 666 “We sold out in Costa Rica but haven’t sold an album in this country…“

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Critical Mass

There are always different kinds of audiences. You have the early adopters, the first to hear about an artist. These early adopters are looking and wanting a different experience than the people who identify as the critical mass market. Early adopters want something fresh, exciting, new and interesting. The critical mass market doesn’t. They want something that that’s familiar.

Metallica when they started had an audience that adopted them early. Some of those fans stood by them all the way, even when they broke through to the mass market in the 90’s and some of those fans just moved on to something new and different.

Motley Crue had an early start in the Sunset Strip look and sound, so the early adopters saw them as the innovators. Meanwhile bands like Ratt and Dokken appeared when metal and rock music reached critical mass.

Sometimes a person in the mass market becomes an early adopter and sometimes the early adopter becomes part of the mass market. It’s all by choice.

And artists are in it for the art first. And if they get an audience, money might start to come in. And money makes it complicated, because money promises a shortcut. A bigger recording budget, a fancy video clip, a big name producer or better marketing budgets or hire session musicians. We use money to hurry up, but it distracts us from what we actually seek to build. Great art. Without the art, the artist has nothing.

And who should the artist please, the early adopters of their music or the mass market?

Does the artist start creating art for profit?

Profits are fine as they allow the artist to invest back into their art. But if profit becomes the main aim, well, nothing and no one benefits if profits are the only thing the artist seeks.

If you want to be as big as the MTV stars of the 80’s and early 90’s you’ll need to hit critical mass. MTV was the critical mass vessel that spread music to the masses. It allowed metal and rock music to go viral before going viral was a thing. In physics, critical mass has a negative meaning as it describes the amount of plutonium you need in a certain amount of space before a reaction goes out of control, leading to a meltdown or explosion. But when you talk about critical mass in a circle of artists, it’s a positive thing.

There is a belief out there that once enough people who know enough people start talking about your music, your fan base will multiply and growth kicks in.

And that is true from a certain point of view. Like “Game of Thrones”, when it hit the right number of conversations, the buzz creates its own buzz and popularity, which in turn creates more buzz and even more popularity. But “Game of Thrones” didn’t start off with critical mass at the start, even though it was marketed heavily. It was people who spread the word. And it was in full swing by Season 3. Same deal with “The Walking Dead”.

Twisted Sister had this buzz with “Under the Blade”, “You Can’t Stop Rock’N’Roll” and reached critical mass with “Stay Hungry”. “Come Out And Play” should have continued the rollercoaster ride, however poor decisions over what songs to release as singles, over exposure of the band (mainly Dee Snider) in the press, competing against album releases of other artists and an MTV ban on the video clip of “Be Cruel To Your School” hurt the band.

Facebook reached 100 users in a Harvard social circle. It was enough people for it to gain traction and it started spreading all over the campus, the town, the state, the country and then, eventually, the world.

And yes, there are routes to popularity which are random or accidental or luck or being in the right place at the right time.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Saying One Thing At Time

There is a common view in economics, if something is difficult to get, it’s better because in the mind of the customer, the goods or service they cannot get becomes a powerful want.

How does this work for an artist?

If an artist is creating songs and making those songs difficult to get, the audience would surely move on to something else.

Super fans of artists make up 10% of their audience base.

I believe the way the artist releases songs is out of sync with the time.

If a person talks for 70 minutes we will hear nothing. If an artist releases 70 minutes of music, we will remember some and forget the rest. Because most of the time, we’re hardly listening. If you don’t believe me, ask a Metallica fan to name all the tracks of “Hardwired To Self-Destruct” and then ask them to sing the chorus of every track.

Back in the 80’s we had time to listen. When we dropped the needle on our latest purchase, we laid back, looked at the album cover, the lyrics, the credits and listened. There is a study out there that states we enjoy music even more when we have this information at hand and we know the story behind the songs. But back in the 80’s all we really had was our music and movies for entertainment. Technology and the home PC was starting to enter homes, however it wasn’t big enough to take up the conversation. Also, some of favourite albums lasted between 30 to 40 minutes in total. So what the artist had to say back then was less than what they say now.

But today, the youth are not like the youth of the 80’s. Hell we are living in times were a country (Saudi Arabia) made a robot a citizen. All new music is competing with the history of music, plus TV shows with movie budgets, plus blockbuster movies, plus technologies and social media, plus AI created news stories and the history of print.

Maybe music works are better when they are released frequently and when an artist tries to say one thing at a time, instead of 10 different things at once.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Our Best Work

Systemic change is a process, not an event. It’s a long-term, consistent and persistent effort that makes real change happen.

You want to lower carbon emissions. Then small changes need to be made. If every single person and corporation made some small changes today, carbon emissions will be reduced in a year. Make some small changes again the year after and carbon emissions will reduce again. Keep these small changes happening year after year and watch carbon emissions come down to acceptable levels.

You want to write a book. Try to write 500 words every day. At the end of the year, you will have written 182,500 words. A 300 page book is between 90,000 to 110,000 words.

In Sweden, a company called “Plantagon” is building a skyscraper to grow food to provide the city with fruit and veg. A small change now can help the future because our world population is getting bigger. And as we populate more and more spaces, questions are asked as to how nature can support our infinite growth. For every human pound, there is 30 pounds of infrastructure in roads, concrete, cables, pipes created.

But everyone just thinks about the now. It didn’t used to be this way. But today it is. It seems like every conversation is centred around “how can you be paid today” or “how much money can you make” or “how can you monetise your latest idea or creation” or “how can you pass a law that a corporation paid you handsomely to bring to the Senate floor?”

Even our emails are offering us ways to make money. I am sure every single person on email has come across one that says, “Take this survey and get paid”.

The best are the news stories of 20 something millionaires who purchased goods from retail stores at a discount and then sell them on line for a profit. But the news story is a PR stunt, paid for by the 20 something marketing team to increase awareness of their brand. And in a lot of cases, if people dig deep into the stories, those twenty something millionaires are children of multi-millionaire parents and grand-children of multi-millionaire grand-parents.

Our best work is the heart of what we do and sometimes getting it out there is a long difficult journey full of scams and rip offs, highs and lows, good and bad people, rejection and acceptance. But you will not get there if you quit. It’s what you do in the dark, which will make you shine in the light.

Because when you create your most important work, it could be ignored by the audience because it’s ahead of its time. It requires people to change their thoughts and beliefs. But all important work ends up rising above the noise.

Black Sabbath’s debut album didn’t reach platinum in the U.S until October 13, 1986. Yep 16 years later, the most influential heavy metal album had moved a million units in the U.S.

But their tours sold out, which goes to show that people didn’t always buy recorded music. It goes to show that music was always a live business. Compared to the 80’s hard rock scene, Ratt went platinum within a year and multi-platinum within two years on “Out Of the Cellar”. Their shows sold out and by the 90s it was all over.

You could be an artist creating work which is popular, and it resonates with the audience who already like what you do. “Dr Feelgood” was always going to be Motley’s best seller. They spend 7 plus years building an audience with each release and tour. And it also became their most important work as well. In addition, it spawned a new production sound that would become known as the “Black” sound after Metallica’s self-titled album destroyed our senses.

A recent addition to the list is the viral sensation. This happens when the audience can’t stop talking about what an artist did. Remember, “Gangnam Style”. Umm, where is PSY now.

On occasions, all the planets align and all three things will co-exist in your career. But the truth is you’re going to need to choose which kind of art you want to produce.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Convergence of Forces in 1986/87

After touring with AC/DC and Aerosmith for a year, I felt a little more aggressive. Some nights I would come up with something pretty, but after seeing Angus bash it out, I would say “Fuck pretty”.
Vito Bratta GW September 1989

This quote has remained with me for ages.

Vito Bratta is a guitarist who understands music and loves his instrument. His soloing is liquid joy and his rhythm work is complex.

So how does a musician who uses complex chord inversions and arpeggios to color a song compete for people’s attention against the blues based rock of AC/DC and Aerosmith, especially when those two bands had a head start of 15 plus years building up an audience.

Furthermore while Aerosmith sang about a dude who looks like a lady and a rag doll cutie, White Lion via Mike Tramp sang about the sinking of a Greenpeace ship. While AC/DC sang about woman as fast machines, White Lion sang about broken homes and violence in the home.

I remember a magazine reporter writing about how Mike Tramp introduced “Little Fighter” to metal kids when White Lion was opening for Ozzy. It went something like this;

Tramp: “You like to go to the fuckin’ Jersey Shore?” 
Crowd: “Yeah!” 
Tramp: “Don’t you get pissed off when you can’t swim because of the pollution?
Crowd: “Yeah!” (half-hearted)
Tramp: “Well, here’s a song about a group that’s doing something about it.”

White Lion toured with blues based hard rock bands for 12 months during the “Pride” period and there is no doubt that the rock vibe and party connection with the audience would have influenced Vito with the writing process of “Big Game”. But he didn’t want to just follow blindly what others have done before him so he tried to create something new, something interesting. But the majority of the pop music consumers don’t want interesting. They want carbon copies of what came before, something they can sing too, and something that is very uninteresting.

So “Big Game” was rushed. All because the label wanted to capitalize in the new-found interest in the band. But the label must have forgotten that MTV still controlled the public interest metric. If MTV played your band on the channel, you would sell a million plus. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t sell as much as you expected regardless of the quality of the music.

So with great power, comes great responsibility and MTV became a powerful and corruptible gatekeeper and for all its evil ways, it was still the best marketing tool to turn acts into global superstars.

But MTV didn’t play the video clips from “Big Game” as much as it played the clips from “Pride”.

And it’s funny when you look back to the 1986/87 period, the artists who had their biggest hits and sales during that period, never replicated those numbers again.

Bon Jovi never topped “Slippery When Wet”. Europe never topped “The Final Countdown”. White Lion never topped “Pride”. Whitesnake never topped their “self-titled” debut. Guns N Roses never topped “Appetite For Destruction”. INXS never topped “Kick”. Joe Satriani never topped “Surfing With The Alien”. Def Leppard never topped “Hysteria”. U2 never topped “The Joshua Tree”. Stryper never topped “To Hell With The Devil”.

There was something of a convergence during these years. MTV was well established by 1986 and massive, CD’s had taken hold by 1987, artists that had been around for a while had enough experiences on the board to write their masterpiece and fans of the 60’s/70’s rock movement had teenage families, so suburbia had cash to spend on entertainment due to low employment.

But with all things great, disaster was just around the corner. Black Monday happened on Monday, October 19, 1987, when stock markets around the world crashed. The single day drop was enough to scare people from spending and make people lose their jobs. Maybe it put a dent into the recording business for a few years, because from 1989 to 1999, the labels turned over billions.

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A to Z of Making It, Derivative Works, Influenced, Music, My Stories

RD Friday

There is a saying “Just because you can make it, doesn’t mean anybody cares”. And with music these days, there are so many artists creating, how do they make people care. If the goal of the artist is world-domination, maybe they need to re-assess their goals. All artists have to operate in their niche and maybe they will cross over to the mainstream. And even then, once you crossover don’t expect everybody to know. 

Release Friday is upon us and my Spotify playlist is up and cranking.

Sweet And Lynch – Unified

Another song appeared on my Release Friday playlist today, so I figured I would check to see if the album is out. I clicked here, clicked there and 11 new tracks appeared. Brilliant, because back in the day, I would need to leg it, train it and leg it again only to find out the record store didn’t have it in sold out of it.

The first album caught me by surprise how good it was. It was creative, nostalgic and modern sounding. The second one on its own is a good album but compared to the first album, it’s not as good. But that’s okay, because there’s still good tunes to unpack.

“Promised Land” is the opening track and the first single in the lead up to the album release. This song deserves more attention, but it’s hard to break through the noise. Each new track is competing against all the hit records plus everything in between.

“Take my hand, the promised land”.

“Unified” has this cool Lynch jam like groove that appears a lot in his work post Dokken.

“Defiant we stand, united we will fall”

“Bridge Of Broken Lies” has a cool lyrical theme about strangers hiding behind the faces of trusted people. It’s a ballad, that rocks hard.

“I never guessed you would be someone I’ve never known”

“Better Man” is a clichéd title. Pearl Jam probably has the definitive take, but Art of Anarchy’s version is not that far behind, especially when Scott Stapp sings, “it’s time to come home”. This one is more like a love song.

The first thing that hooks me is the riff. It’s classic Lynch with a lot less distortion.

“When I’m not with you baby, I want to be a better man”

Babylon A.D – Revelation Highway

Their self-titled major label debut I have on LP and man it got a lot of spins. It was a perfect blend of hard rock and melodic rock. I even own it on CD. “Nothing Sacred” is also a favourite, and I have that on CD. And that blend of hard rock and melodic rock heard on the first two albums is evident on “Revelation Highway”. Also, because I’ve been cranking “Whitesnake 87” and “Diary Of A Madman”, I’m hearing influences from both albums on this one.

“Rags To Riches” is one of the singles released in the lead up and it hooked me in with its “Atomic Playboys” style riff. Musically its excellent and that solo break with that riff underpinning it, is just brilliant.

“Rags to riches, young girl got her wishes”

With the whole #METOO movement and people speaking up, maybe the young girl didn’t get what she really wished for. It’s a relevant lyric line regardless in what context you read it.

“One Million Miles” is a pretty cool mid-tempo melodic rock track. “She Likes To Give It” is also cool and basically a clone of “One Million Miles”. Nothing wrong with that at all.

“Floating on a Jetstream with the cool wind in my face, sinking in the green grass in the calm of your embrace”

“Last Time For Love” sounds like the best Def Leppard song that Def Leppard hasn’t written. It immediately transports me back to 1987.

“Last time for love, I won’t be hanging around your door”

And the lead break with the underpinning riff just works a treat. I press repeat just to hear it again.

“Saturday Night” reminds me of those “Saturday Nights” from a time long ago.

“On a Saturday night, we will rock to the morning light”

Shakra – Snakes & Ladders

They are from Switzerland. When I Googled them, I was surprised to read that they’ve been around since the mid 90’s and their first album dropped in 1998. It’s been a long time, but they are playing the game to succeed and picking up fans day by day.

“Cassandra’s Curse” is a terrible song title, but the song is awesome. The music is foot stomping and the melodies are perfect.

“Snakes & Ladders” has one of the most simplest but truthful lyrical lines.

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you fall, snakes and ladders”.

“Rollin’” is one of those bluesy hard rock style songs which you can listen too driving your car.

“I Will Rise Again” is the bomb. It’s tempo and foot stomping / back breaking drum beat work brilliantly.

“Open Water” is a ballad but not a clichéd. Lyrically it’s got that Euro Purple/Whitesnake vibe like “Sailing Ships” meets “Lost Without You” from Three Doors Down.

Artists don’t operate in the old world anymore. 

MTV might have made artists global superstars, instantly, but they fell back to earth just as fast as they got outside the atmosphere. Now streaming rules and anybody can play, but only a limited number of artists get attention. Today, these three artists had my attention. Tomorrow it will be someone else. They might come back at another time and get my attention. Maybe they won’t.

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