Bob Dylan's Mythical Private Archive Is Real

The New York Times reports that Bob Dylan's legendary private archive is real and has been purchased for $15-20 million by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The vast collection (6,000 pieces!) includes lyrics, notes, recordings, contracts, correspondence and other items (i.e. a business card from Otis Redding!). It will be housed at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, OK, right down the street from the new Woody Guthrie Center.

Sounds like Bob could have used Songspace to organize his files! Read the full story on the Times' website.

The Benefits of Owning Your Masters in A Streaming World: Conversations with Traci Thomas (Thirty Tigers) and Jack Stratton (Vulfpeck)

Artists: own your masters and streaming can work for you. That’s the message we heard in our recent conversations with Traci Thomas and Jack Stratton. Thomas, a music business veteran, works at Thirty Tigers, where she manages the likes of Jason Isbell and St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Stratton, a relative newcomer to the industry, is the mastermind behind the virtuosic and subversive Los Angeles-based funk/soul outfit, Vulfpeck.

Thomas has quietly established herself as one of the best managers in the business. She played a huge role in Isbell’s 2013 resurgence with Southeastern, a commercial success that topped a variety of critical year-end charts and received praise from the likes of John Prine and Bruce Springsteen. Not to mention Isbell’s 2015 release, Something More Than Free, which hit number 1 on the Billboard Rock, Country and Folk charts, and is nominated for two GRAMMYs this year. As for St. Paul? Within two years of partnering with Thomas, the band released a hot-selling album, Half the City, performed on CBS Sunday Morning, and toured with the Rolling Stones.

Vulfpeck first made international headlines with its Sleepify album, a silent record that was streamed 5.5 million times and raised $20,000 on Spotify before being pulled down by the service. The release was intended to fund a free tour for the band, but ended up drawing attention to the platform’s payment structure. Stratton has no qualms with bucking the system. He releases the band’s music through their own label, Vulf Records. He funds the projects using Kickstarter. (The latest campaign raised over $55,000. The goal was $1.) 95% of Vulpeck’s limited marketing outreach is via their cult following on Youtube, Reddit, and social media. (Their recent Colbert performance was shared on Facebook over 5k times.) And even though they’re a fantastic live band, they don’t really tour that often.

But Vulfpeck owns everything, so they can grow at their own pace. Stratton said on a podcast last year that he told his band, “We could be a fraction of the size of some of these groups we love, and still be getting the same amount of money after the split.” Thirty Tigers’ forward-thinking release model also allows the majority of its artists to control their masters, and so take a bigger piece of the pie. Thomas says the arrangement is extremely beneficial as we move into a streaming-dominated landscape.(“For my artists that own their masters [streaming] has affected their bottom line greatly.”) Read on to hear more from her and from Stratton. One manager leading the charge in the world of Americana, and one whip smart upstart trying to funk the system all up.

“If you’re in a position of owning your own master then it’s definitely a win.” — Traci Thomas on Streaming

Indie record labels have always played a role in championing music that might otherwise be overlooked by the majors. Has the rise of streaming services like YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Music leveled the playing field at all? Is it easier or more difficult for left of mainstream artists to gain exposure under the new model?

Thomas: I don’t know if they’ve leveled the playing field per se but I come from the mind set of the more the merrier. The streaming services offer everyone additional avenues to get their music heard. If you’re in a position of owning your own master then it’s definitely a win. I think it’s easier but everyone has to continue to be creative and most importantly only put out quality material.

How has streaming and the constantly evolving digital space changed your approach to releasing your artists’ music? Does an artist really still need 3 months to set up a record?

We’re not all Adele and can’t withhold our music from streaming services on release. I don’t think it’s changed the way we release our artists’ music.

Yes, I think to properly set up a release, it’s still smart to have that 3 month window….we’re all not Beyonce either.

Curated playlists on streaming sites have also gained influence as a marketing tool. How do you incorporate playlists into your promotional strategy? Do you see the power of playlists increasing as we move forward?

Our digital marketing team is alway asking for playlists from our artists and pitching for such curated playlists. Some are good at doing them…some are not. I don’t know that I’ve seen the needle move with those artists that make the playlists.

We’ve seen a lot of misinformation being thrown around regarding streaming payouts and streaming in general. How is the shift from ownership (sales & downloads) to access (streaming) affecting your artists’ bottom line?

Most artists don’t fully understand how the payouts work or they wouldn’t keep signing to labels. For my artists that own their masters it has affected their bottom line greatly.

Do you think streaming will produce a viable recorded music business? What needs to happen for it to work most effectively?

Yes, streaming services aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. For it to work more effectively they need to increase the payouts for songwriters.

“We own all our rights, so getting plays on Spotify is good for us.” — Jack Stratton

Vulfpeck has had a lot of success using Kickstarter to fund your releases. A lot of artists turn their nose up at the platform. Why do you think that is? Will you continue to utilize crowdfunding as the band grows?

Stratton: Kickstarter is fantastic. It is backwards that it’s uncool to raise money on Kickstarter and cool to take an advance from a corporation. People who think it is uncool should look inward. I will use Kickstarter for future releases. It also happens to be the cheapest method of doing preorders (cheaper than iTunes and Bandcamp).

Youtube has been another great platform for Vulfpeck, especially considering your videos appear to be produced for next to nothing. How does Youtube stack up as a promotional tool vs. revenue source for Vulfpeck? How can the platform improve?

Promotional. That said, hosting large videos that playback reliably would be expensive. Youtube is fantastic. I don’t know what it could do to improve. In fact, better is stay a little janky so that it doesn’t wipe out all the real music services.

You made a lot of noise with your Sleepify album, which you released as a way to raise money for a free tour, and to draw attention to Spotify’s payment structure. What benefits and challenges does streaming present for a band like Vulfpeck? What are some realistic changes would allow the system to work for artists of all shapes and sizes?

I wrote a short article about their payment structure. I don’t think any changes will be made. Spotify is fantastic. I go back and forth. They don’t seem to care about independent musicians. I’ve tried to get in touch a few times. We own all our rights, so getting plays on Spotify is good for us. If you don’t own your masters on streaming you will never make money. As far as changes, get the word out to musicians to keep all their rights. That would change the backlash against Spotify.

It seems like the most press you’ve ever gotten as a band is for that “album.” But you sell out of pretty much any physical product you manufacture and seemingly all of your live shows. What’s does the overall Vulfpeck marketing strategy look like?

Our marketing strategy is very Jewish. There is no outreach. It is my view that Vulf fans already exist and will find us. This approach has led to a fantastic group of fans. I want Vulf to be it’s own thing. Like Radiolab or Tim & Eric.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of running your own label in 2016? What would it take for Vulfpeck to sign a traditional label or publishing deal?

I enjoy running the label. It’s just me. If you have a working knowledge of Gmail and Excel, you can achieve incredible productivity alone. What type of deal would we sign? I have no idea. Once you get a taste of owning everything you can’t go back.

"A Conversation with Chris Stapleton"

"We're all a part of the same community, and music in general is a broader spectrum to me, like, if somebody's being successful and somebody's selling tickets to shows, it's good for the health of the whole thing," Chris Stapleton told the Nashville Scene. "And out of that, the commerce pays for the art, and the art lends some credibility to the commerce. To think that they're all separate things is just a ludicrous idea."

Stapleton graces the cover of the Scene's 16th Annual Country Music Critic's Poll Issue. The singer/songwriter topped four categories; Album, Artist, Male Vocalist, and Songwriter of the Year. He's also the subject of an insightful Q&A, in which Stapleton discusses the massive success of his recent album, Traveller. The #CMA Award-winning, #Billboard Chart-topping artist is also nominated for four #GRAMMYs this year.

John Strohm, Senior Counsel at Loeb & Loeb, on Streaming and the Bright Future It Presents for Unconventional Artists

The last 15 years have been a wild ride, but the dust is finally starting to settle, and we’re on the brink of a more efficient, transparent, and sustainable music business. All Together Now is a series of Q&As with some of the best and brightest minds in the music business regarding the changes they are experiencing and the steps they are taking to adapt. We interview influential artists and songwriters, as well as leaders from labels, management teams, publishers, and streaming services to hear what they think it takes for us to come together to build a faster, smarter music industry. All together now. Subscribe here to receive our roundup of notable music business news and ideas — delivered by email weekly.

“I want major labels to continue to be healthy and to continue to find their way in the new industry, but even more so I want for there to be viable alternatives and opportunities for artists who exist outside the commercial center lane. If everything goes as it should, there will be more opportunities than ever for all sorts of artists to have careers and sustainable livelihoods.”

John Strohm means it when he says that he cares about the musicians operating to the left of the dial. He spent half of his career playing in critically-acclaimed and criminally underappreciated alternative bands like the Blake Babies, Antenna, and the Lemonheads, before moving on to get his law degree in the early 2000s. These days, Strohm is Senior Counsel at Loeb & Loeb in Nashville, TN. He represents artists like GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter, Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver, and Gold-certified rock ‘n rollers, Alabama Shakes, whose Sound and Color is nominated for Album of the Year at the upcoming GRAMMY awards. Both demonstrate Strohm’s knack for finding unorthodox artists and helping them go on to achieve massive commercial success on their own terms.

Most recently Strohm was a part of the team behind Sturgill Simpson’s 2014 breakout album, Metamodern Sounds of Country Music. That record eschewed the sounds blasting from the genre’s current mainstream. It was cut for next to nothing (Simpson told American Songwriter it was “Around $4,000”), and it was released via a non-traditional partner (Thirty Tigers). But an impressive online campaign allowed Metamodern to reach wider audience, and it eventually rose to #8 on the Billboard Country charts. Simpson, who is also nominated for a 2016 GRAMMY (Americana Album of the Year), went on to sign deals with Atlantic Records and Downtown Publishing.

It’s not surprising that Strohm is also fan of streaming. “It’s been my prediction going back a decade that streaming would dominate,” he says. Read on to find out why the lawyer thinks the medium creates promising career opportunities for artists working outside of the box.

There’s a lot of buzz about artists being able to grow and break independently, especially with strong management teams. What’s does an artist’s ideal team look like in 2016? Do you still see advantages of partnering with a traditional label or publisher?

Strohm: This depends so much on the type of artist, and what their individual goals are. It would be very rare to find a commercially successful artist who didn’t have a personal manager, agent, attorney, and business manager accountant; however, what makes sense in terms of label and publisher will vary greatly. It usually comes down to balancing the need for resources against the artist’s willingness to let the label or publisher have a seat in the creative process.

If an artist doesn’t need expensive resources such as access to commercial radio or extensive “song-plugging” support, then it often makes sense for the artist to keep the label and publisher relationships fairly bare-bones, such as a label services or distribution deal on the label side, or an administration deal on the publishing side. But minimizing the role of the label or publisher also means increasing the role of the manager, or the artist taking on more business responsibility. Every successful artist “team” is tailored to the specific needs and goals of that particular artist.

How has the growth of streaming affected the label and publishing deals that cross your desk?

I think at this point most everyone in the business has accepted that subscription streaming is a big part of the current business and an even bigger part of the business going forward. It’s been my prediction going back a decade that streaming would dominate, and we’re seeing that. We’re also seeing artist careers made through streaming, and labels using services as valuable A&R resources. Publishing deals haven’t been affected too much, since the deals are based on percentage splits of mechanical income that would include streaming monies. These splits have remained constant despite the rise of streaming. Nevertheless, there is a lot of focus on the proportion of master to publishing payments for streaming on the policy side, with the publishing industry generally unsatisfied with the portion of streaming revenue that is paid to the publisher.

On the label side, streaming has become a term that can tip the scales towards artists doing indie deals over majors. Majors have been fairly aggressive in negotiating the streaming rate, typically pushing to keep the rate consistent with the artist’s all-in royalty rate (which is typically between 15–20%). Indie deals are often based on a 50/50 net profit split, including streaming monies. Everyone realizes how valuable this piece of the deal is, so it becomes a major focus. The industry standard is still developing, and deals will probably look a lot different in coming years. I predict that net splits will become more common as the retail/wholesale royalty based on a unit of physical product becomes less relevant to the economic reality.

We talked to Paul Roper from Dualtone about Spotify’s problem with misinformation re: payouts. What are some of the biggest issues that you see holding back the streaming services at this point? How can they improve the situation?

It’s such a huge challenge, with billions of streams and millions of rightsholders. It seems almost inevitable that there will be some serious growing pains. I would like to think that the services are doing their best to pay the appropriate amount to the appropriate parties, and they’ve seemed to be responsive to criticism. We’re already seeing lawsuits, and there will be more. I’m hopeful that the future will be a selection of user-friendly subscription services that give consumers access to all recorded music and pay an appropriate split to rightsholders in a reliable way. We’re getting closer to that reality. Competition will force the services to maintain a quality product, and the pressure of rightsholders and their negotiating bodies such as the RIAA and NMPA will force the services to account and pay as they should.

On the other hand, there is so much misinformation about how artists and writers are paid, and so much emotion as they try to comprehend the new system. There is a danger of “devaluation” as we switch to an entirely new way to making music available; however, some people assume that going from a product-based system to one of micropayments for performances is a devaluation by definition. I’ve seen how the scale can work to artists’ benefit, and I’ve seen the opportunities that can come through streaming. There’s plenty to work out in how the system will work, but a great deal of it is a matter of time and exposure. I’ve seen plenty of streaming converts once people see how much money can be generated.

There’s been a lot of recent discussion about potential changes to copyright, consent decrees, rate courts, etc. By design, it takes a lot of time to update laws, but technology is exponentially changing how intellectual property functions in the market. Will the legal protections for music rights ever be able to keep up with the pace of technological progress?

We’re all hoping for an overhaul of the copyright act, and it will happen eventually. But Congress has a lot of important issues to address, and copyright law isn’t their first priority. But since we’re dealing with a copyright law that precedes digital, and amendments drafted decades ago to address specific issues, it’s clear the law is strained to deal with current issues. We’re able to protect rights largely through private contract; but as the technology continues to develop and evolve, we will need a new copyright act in the next few years. Then, I’m sure, we’ll need another one right away.

Moving forward, what do you see as a viable model for the music business as a whole? What can music creators and the folks who represent them do to move towards that?

One thing I like about subscription streaming is that, once it’s firmly in place, it’s tough to think what will disrupt that system. The business and laws are always scrambling to adapt to new formats that become possible via technology — wax cylinders to vinyl discs to cassette tapes to CDs to digital files — and it seems that once everyone can stream at CD quality at home, in their cars, from their phones, that we’ve arrived at a potentially stable place. If the industry isn’t constantly disrupted, then we can really get things right for once, with a fair system of licensing and payment. But we’re not there yet, and there’s so much yet to work out. But I’m optimistic we will get there.

For creative artists, the Internet provides opportunities to connect commercially without having to give up copyright ownership or creative control, which is fantastic. I hope this continues to be the case, as major labels figure out how to effectively market music in the digital space. I want major labels to continue to be healthy and to continue to find their way in the new industry, but even more so I want for there to be viable alternatives and opportunities for artists who exist outside the commercial center lane. If everything goes as it should, there will be more opportunities than ever for all sorts of artists to have careers and sustainable livelihoods.

Joe Conyers III, VP of Technology at Downtown Music, on Forward-Thinking Music Publishing

“Many companies in our space do not understand that data is their most important asset. They’re still using databases built in the 90’s.”

In his role as VP of Technology at Downtown Music Publishing, Joe Conyers III works hard to make sure the publisher isn’t one of those companies. Downtown offers a wide range of services to a roster and catalog that includes John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Hans Zimmer, and Elle Goulding. Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Imogen Heap signed an innovative administrative deal with the publisher in December, which allows her to develop her new blockchain-inspired “fair-trade” music distribution and payment system, Mycelia.

Heap, who contributed as a co-writer and producer to Taylor Swift’s 1989, praised Downtown in an interview with Billboard, saying, “It’s really a great opportunity to work with a forward-thinking publishing company when the future is so wide open at the moment.”

Conyers was right in the middle of that deal, and told Billboard it “was great to partner with somebody like [Heap], who’s really going to be a builder with us. That’s the spirit of this.”

In 2011, Downtown started Songtrust, where Conyers is also the VP/General Manager. The platform’s online admin system allows songwriters, artists, managers, labels and publishers to efficiently collect royalties from digital service providers like Spotify, Youtube, and Pandora, as well as terrestrial radio, film, TV, and other formats in over 50 markets worldwide. Songtrust now represents more than 50,000 writers with a combined catalog of 250,000+ songs, some of which have been performed by the likes of Bruno Mars, Selena Gomez, and Frank Ocean.

Conyers eats, sleeps and breathes technology. In our brief email exchange, he referenced an illuminating article he penned regarding the issue of unlicensed music in user-generated Facebook content, discussed the possibilities of virtual reality music videos, which he says we aren’t ready for yet, and mentioned the rising number of digital proposals (i.e Heap) that cross his desk every month. Downtown and Songtrust are in good hands, as it’s clear that Conyers will continue to study and adapt to the various new platforms and deal structures he sees on a regular basis.

There’s been chatter that Adele’s recent decision to keep 25 off on-demand streaming services is short-sighted. How can labels and publishers balance a need for what’s best for them “right now” with what’s good for the overall industry in the long term?

Certain incredibly high profile artists have a market privilege right now. Right now it’s just a gut calculation that people will still buy CDs and Downloads from some artists. I think labels and publishers have little ability to influence any change here, it’s a technology adoption lifecycle issue. A small few are able to take advantage of the fact that they will be able to double dip here, in 6–24 months when they launch on streaming services they will still get incredible amounts of playlist addition and a bunch of free marketing from DSPs.

CDs are slowly becoming a relic — this is a function of how many cars with CD players still exist and how many holiday seasons where a gift receiver complains they don’t have a CD Player. (There are now zero new macs with optical drives. PCs with them are becoming a rarity as well.) Digital Downloads are well understood by the late majority and laggards and streaming is still barely cracking into the early majority. It will take 2–4 cycles of replacing phones to really move the needle here — and switching to streaming must be easier than moving your download catalog to your new phone. Once Apple and Google/Youtube crack this UX problem it will be a lot easier to convince people to go.

We’ve also heard different opinions concerning streaming royalties. You are in a position where you see a wide variety of statements between Downtown and Songtrust. What do you see as the most exciting emerging revenue opportunities for publishers and songwriters?

The old adage of publishing being a pennies business is still going strong and bears repeating. I’m now looking at 5–10 new digital deals a month. We are seeing more and more interesting business models outside of traditional streaming services. I’m very excited about other UGC video and streaming platforms getting licensed in the coming years, in particular Facebook will be a major opportunity. (For those interested, I’ve written in depth about their issues in video on our advocacy blog.) I’m also excited by Instagram, Vine, Periscope, YouNow, and other short form and live platforms.

It is a Huge challenge for these companies to get licensed and operational — but once they have the music ecosystem will be so much more robust. Looking farther on the horizon VR will be a major category. I think we will have another ringtone / Guitar hero like spike in revenue from a number of emerging services there(think VR music videos). VR is likely going to be massive but I’m not sure if music is going to be a top category just yet. The next two holiday cycles will be the big indicator of the future there as at present the average consumer’s computers are not powerful enough to run VR.

Has the shift towards Film & TV as a primary publishing revenue source affected Downtown’s strategy towards signing artists?

It certainly helps when our clients are attractive for synch, Downtown started in 2007 and never relied on mechanicals as a major income source. We’ve always had to go out and earn money for our clients. Synch has always been core to our business — we’ve kept this strong as we’ve grown by maintaining a high staff to song ratio.

What are the biggest challenges and opportunities an all-streaming future would present to Downtown?

We see the ratio of Publishing to Master revenue to be one of our biggest challenges. Publishers are investing more in artists and writers in recent history but are not being compensated for it. We’ve only really started to see that rate creep up in last year, there is still so much uncertainty around the consent decree so it’s tough for the DSPs to ask for this give from the labels.
Opportunity wise we really tried to get ahead of metadata issues, which is now paying off. Our investments in technology and staff on that front are beginning to show the fruits of their labor.

Putting the politics aside, from a pure technology perspective, what still needs to be built for the music industry to be as structurally efficient and transparent as possible?

There is a lot of 90s business organization and ‘IT’ thinking still happening in various institutions. The industry and institutions in the market have not really grasped the idea that your software development teams should probably not report to your IT division who was originally charged with making sure everyone had a computer. The industry is still heavily reliant on FTP and batch files rather than using real time APIs which leads to a lot of bad data and slow feedback loops. The other major issue is that many companies in our space do not understand that data is their most important asset. Many institutions are still using databases built in the 90’s that are silo’d by division. This is all stuff that was solved in the 2000’s by finance and tech companies but has yet to come to our industry as there has been a distinct lack of technology and operational investment in this space.

Downtown Music Publishing, along with a handful of other publishers are customers and investors in Songspace.

Check out our All Together Now series.

David Lowery leads $150 million class-action lawsuit against Spotify

Happy New Year?

Last Tuesday, Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven frontman David Lowery jumpstarted the New Years Eve fireworks with a $150 million class action lawsuit against Spotify, claiming that the streaming service "knowingly, willingly and unlawfully reproduces and distributes copyrighted" music.

That music includes songs written by Lowery, a known artist rights advocate, such as "Almond Grove", "Get On Down the Road", "King of Bakersfield", and "Tonight I Cross the Border." Statutory penalties can be as high as $150,000 per occurrence of willful infringement.

Spotify responded that it is "Committed to paying songwriters and publishers every penny," but that "Unfortunately, especially in the United States, the data necessary to confirm the appropriate rightsholders is often missing, wrong, or incomplete."

In an interview with Complete Music Update, Lowery's legal representative, Sanford Michelman, rebuked the statement, calling it "the worst excuse in the world." Stay tuned...

T Bone Burnett on the Value of Music in the "Brave New Digital World"

"Music is an important part of who we are, an indelible record of what we care about and how we live.

And if we let that slip away — whether through legal gridlock, cultural apathy or technological drift — we will have lost something irreplaceable and fundamental to our lives."

Read legendary singer, songwriter, producer and music supervisor T. Bone Burnett's Op-Ed in the Washington Post regarding the value of music in the "brave new digital world."

Copyright Royalty Board Announces Ruling

Pay Up? The Copyright Royalty Board ruled yesterday that starting January 1, 2016, and effective through 2020, Pandora and other Internet radio stations must pay rights holders 17 cents per 100 plays of a song. That's an increase, albeit small, from the previous 14 cents per 100 plays.

SoundExchange declared that "the rates set by the CRB do not reflect a market price for music and will erode the value of music in our economy." The digital rights organization was pushing to raise it to 25 cents per 100 plays. Pandora was hoping for a drop to 11 cents, though CEO Brian McAndrews called it "a balanced rate that we can work with and grow from." The ruling provides the internet service more leeway to make deals directly with labels and publishers. In the past few weeks it has announced agreements with Sony/ATV Publishing, SONGS Music Publishing, and Warner/Chappell Publishing.

Ryan Faughnder from Los Angeles Times wrote a great breakdown of the ruling. Read it here.

2015: The Year of Dave Cobb

"I think I moved here for the same reason everybody else is moving here now. I moved here because I felt like it's mecca for music. I've never lived in a city that had the energy, musically, that Nashville has. The fact that I could go out to any bar tonight and see something that's really badass — every night. There's so much to be discovered. There's so much to be found. I moved to Nashville because Chris Stapleton lived here, Sturgill lived here, Jason Isbell lived here. It's easy to connect when you're in the same neighborhood."

Nashville's been good to Dave Cobb. So has 2015. NPR Music's Ann K. Powers sat down with the GRAMMY-nominated producer behind two of year's biggest releases, Chris Stapleton's Traveller and Jason Isbell's Something More Than Free, as well as Sturgill Simpson's 2014 breakout album, Metamodern Sounds of Country Music. Read the full interview.

Steve Markland on Downtown Publishing's First Two Years In Nashville

“My strategy always starts with the songwriter and the song first. I try very hard to focus on developing a balanced roster of writers, including developing new writers, veteran writers, producer-writers, and developing artist-writers as well. I try to find that balance, and that adds a great synergy. It makes you a more versatile publisher.”

It's been almost two years since Steve Markland set up Downtown Music Publishing's shop in Nashville as VP of A&R. In that short time, Downtown Nashville has signed Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Old Crow Medicine Show, and fashioned a multi-functional space that allows Downtown writers to "to come and connect with other writers, work, do emails, work on anything they need to."

Read Music Row Magazine's exclusive interview with Markland. Congrats to him and the whole Downtown team.

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