Once Again: Just Because You Can Go Indie, Doesn't Mean You Need To

from the details-matter dept

For years and years we've argued that there still is a role for labels -- even major labels, if they are able to do more reasonable deals that embrace new opportunities, rather than shun them. In fact, we've pointed to many different examples of pop stars on major labels doing creative things to connect with fans and give them a reason to buy. Nothing in that says that major labels have no place any more. What we have noted is that the overall market has changed and there are a lot more options. We've also noted that, historically, being used to their gatekeeper position, the major labels have treated many artists badly, signing them to questionable contracts, where very, very few of them end up making out well.

The reality today is that you don't need to go that route if you don't want to. That doesn't mean that there is no need for major labels at all -- even if some will confuse those two statements. It just means if you want to be a successful musician, it's now a choice, rather than a requirement. In short: major labels can and do play a role in helping some artists. Historically, I think they've done a pretty bad job of it (mostly representing their own interests much more than the artists'), but that doesn't mean they don't do certain things well. And for artists who need those certain things -- with radio play being a big one -- it may be reasonable to do a deal with a major, though, preferably with eyes wide open and (if possible) on their own terms, rather than the labels'. The point of what I've said all along is that you can now succeed without the labels if you want to. But for those who wish to use the labels, that should be an option to. It's just that the rise of alternatives should mean that the labels become more willing to change their terms to be less artist-unfriendly. It also likely means that we'll see more overall competition and that many artists will find alternatives appealing. As such, the majors will be forced to adjust over time, even doing more reasonable deals.

I bring up all of this again, because there's a lot of attention this week over the news that Trent Reznor has signed some sort of deal with Columbia Records (owned by Sony Music) for his new(ish) band, How to Destroy Angels, leading a bunch of people to claim that he's "abandoning the DIY" market. You can see everything there is to know in the statement Reznor released last week, which doesn't go into many details, but it certainly hints at the idea that this is not a standard-issue major label deal:
Regarding our decision to sign with Columbia, we've really spent a long time thinking about things and it makes sense for a lot of reasons, including a chance to work with our old friend Mark Williams. There's a much more granular and rambling answer I could give (and likely will in an interview someplace) but it really comes down to us experimenting and trying new things to see what best serves our needs. Complete independent releasing has its great points but also comes with shortcomings.
I'll be interested to hear about the details eventually, because that certainly hints to there being much more to this than just "signing with a major." And there's nothing I disagree with in what he says. Being completely independent does have its great points, but it also makes certain things much more difficult. I don't think anyone's denied that. Of course there are also well known shortcomings when working with a major label. So, it's a case of tradeoffs, and when you have someone in a position to negotiate a more favorable deal that can hopefully minimize the bad side of a label deal, and get the good part, that seems like a perfectly reasonable strategy for those who want it. I think that Reznor likely would have been fine staying indie for this release, but depending on what he's doing, there may be perfectly reasonable arguments for doing this deal.

I know that there are some people who think that everyone absolutely should go indie, but I've never said any such thing, nor do I believe it. I think that going indie is now a much more viable option than it's been in the past, but going to a major label certainly does not preclude being innovative. In many ways, I think of it similarly to the way I view startups as well. It's less and less necessary to raise venture capital to do a startup -- but that doesn't mean that raising venture capital is necessarily a bad thing. There are certain opportunities that really require it. If you go in with your eyes wide open and can negotiate a favorable deal that lets you do what you need to do, more power to you. In the long run, I think that there are much bigger opportunities in focusing on better connecting with your fans, and historically major labels have sometimes made that more difficult. But if an artist sees good reason to work with a major, there's nothing inherently wrong with it.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    gorehound (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 12:12pm

    I have no intention of ever buying anything for the Big Labels nor any Artist signed with the RIAA.
    I am perfectly happy to stay in my Punk Rockin, Garage Rockin, and Obscure Rockin DIY and Small Label World.
    Boycott The MAFIAA
    Support & Buy Local & Indie Art.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    saulgoode (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 12:29pm

    As Columbia a member of the RIAA I won't be supporting Mr Reznor's new ventures.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 12:33pm

    Masnick just can't accept that he's failed.

     

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  4.  
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    Mike42 (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 12:33pm

    Well, Mike, looks like you have an interview to do!

     

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  5.  
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    Nigel (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 12:39pm

    Re:

    Quit being human and logical about things Mike. As you can see, you are scaring the kids.

    Nigel

     

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  6.  
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    bob, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 12:43pm

    Whoa-- is that the sound of hell freezing over?

    Once upon a time, this blog hated paywalls and came up with a number of reasons why companies were evil simply for asking people to pay for what they consume. Then Louis CK and Kevin Smith set up paywalls and this blog fell in love with the idea.

    Then came Kickstarter, the ultimate paywall that saves the creator the trouble of doing much until there's a proven demand. Nothing could be more consumer unfriendly yet this blog fell in love.

    Once upon a time, this blog hated gatekeepers because no one should be making decisions about what we can read, watch or listen to. Then Big Search needed help and everyone decided that glomming onto the good will of the librarians made sense. Who cares if the librarians are the biggest gatekeepers in the world who take their funding by force. Maybe gatekeepers are good.

    This posting takes the cake. It's wonderful to see that this blog has finally understood that most artists don't have the time, energy, or talent to handle the chores of marketing and fulfilling orders. That's why the marketplace invented publishers. When it was useful to dump manure on the publishers, the pitchfork crowd around here was happy to demonize them.

    I'm glad to see that the blog has finally come to its senses once again. Publishers are often good people who bring alot of talent to the process. Thank goodness the blog is realizing it.

    Now I'm waiting for this blog to endorse RIAA and MPAA memberships for the indie artists who want to be part of the regulatory process. The trade groups could let small folks join on a pro-rated basis and then the cycle would be complete. Think of all of the advantages joining the RIAA and the MPAA would bring the indie artists. This blog should endorse this in about 6 months.

     

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  7.  
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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 12:47pm

    Re:

    Why, just because he bowed down before the one he served?

     

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  8.  
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    Cory of PC (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 12:56pm

    Whoa-- is that the sound of bob?

    Good God, is this crazy! My head is swarming with the number of dead brain cells trying to figure out the insanity of this post.

    And an true estimated time: 16 years, or never. Money's on the latter.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 1:04pm

    Okay Mike, I'll let you have that point, even though I don't like it. I believe that if the major labels go out of business, then so will the RIAA and by association, a large number of threats to Internet freedom. The sooner the RIAA and its member companies go bankrupt, the better (assuming Congress doesn't bail them out).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 1:46pm

    Re:

    Support & Buy Local & Indie Art.


    No, support and buy whatever the fuck you like. No one should feel as though you're trying to force second rate indie crap on them if they don't want it.

    You realize that while you rail against "the man" (the music industry in this case) for forcing things down people's throats. However, you turn around and do the same damned thing, except the stuff you're trying to force is 99% crap.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 1:52pm

    Re: Whoa-- is that the sound of hell freezing over?

    Oh god bob, again? Do you not tire of having people constantly shoot down every single idiotic thing you say? I suppose not, else you wouldn't keep up with the posting of moronic and far from reality based comments. So here goes...

    "Once upon a time, this blog hated paywalls and came up with a number of reasons why companies were evil simply for asking people to pay for what they consume. Then Louis CK and Kevin Smith set up paywalls and this blog fell in love with the idea."

    "Paywall" that word, you don't know what it means. A paywall DOES NOT mean that something must be paid for. DOES NOT. Regardless of how many times you've stated/thought otherwise.

    Louis CK and Kevin Smith's offerings were NOT hidden behind paywalls. A paywall is when something that was previously free is now requiring you to pay to access it. Online newspapers and whatnot have had paywalls.

    Louis CK's $5 comedy special, nope.

    I won't go on further about this point, because I know it'll just fly over your head. But "YOU FAIL" would be putting things mildly.

    "Once upon a time, this blog hated gatekeepers because no one should be making decisions about what we can read, watch or listen to."

    This may be semi true. But this blog has NOT had a problem with enablers. Meaning those who act as middle men but do so in a positive manner.

    In this case, there may be something that the gatekeepers in this case, the major label, can do for Trent Reznor and his band that couldn't be done through an indie label. Since the information is rather limited, I can't speculate further. Or better said I can, but I'd rather not for fear of stating something that may be in error. (A fear I notice you do not have. More power to you. Because why hide your "brilliant" comments and insight, right?)

    "Then Big Search needed help and everyone decided that glomming onto the good will of the librarians made sense."

    Just f*cking say GOOGLE! GOOGLE! GOOGLE! GOOGLE! It's not hard, you won't die if you say it. But I fail to see what gatekeepers being seen as a bad thing has to do with Google. Beyond you attempting to conflate the two in an attempt to take a shot at Google, which we know you love doing. Oh yeah, how's that Kindle working out for you? Still running it's own proprietary skin on top of the Android (Google provided) OS is it?

    "Who cares if the librarians are the biggest gatekeepers in the world who take their funding by force."

    Only you care, because only you believe that. Librarians are NOT the biggest gatekeepers in the world, nor do they take their funding by force. They get funding through taxes at the local, state and federal level. The very first of which is decided by local communities, meaning people WANT to fund libraries. (Which is the whole point about PUBLIC libraries. They're not for an elite few, they're for everyone to benefit from. Even those who don't want to, but the opportunity is there should they ever change their minds. Seriously, stop in to a library some time. I think it might do you some good. I'm not saying it will, but it could.)

    "Maybe gatekeepers are good."

    As this blog has said on more than one occasion. Gatekeepers can be good. It's all a matter of what they're doing and how. There's a difference between a gatekeeper and an enabler. I'll let you figure out what it is. (But it's been discussed at length on this site more than once.)

    "This posting takes the cake."

    Yeah, your comment really does. Every time I think you can't possibly be any dumber, you go and write something like you did. AND COMPLETELY PROVE BE WRONG!

    "It's wonderful to see that this blog has finally understood that most artists don't have the time, energy, or talent to handle the chores of marketing and fulfilling orders."

    That's not at all what this article is about. Nor is what this site says. Without going on at length, this website advocates that there are now a variety of methods through which artists of all sorts can present their art to the world. Some work for some, others for others. Simply put, it's a matter of trial and error and seeing what best works for one.

    "That's why the marketplace invented publishers."

    The marketplace didn't invent publishers. And it wasn't for the reason you seem to think it was. Again, sometimes I just don't want to waste time to explain things to you because it's pointless to do so. This is one of those times. Someone feel free to explain why publishers came to be and who invented them.

    "When it was useful to dump manure on the publishers, the pitchfork crowd around here was happy to demonize them. "

    Ad hom/generalized statement about the people here. Nice. Way to not stoop to the level of a true troll. /s

    People here have no problem with publishers or labels or studios who do a good job and do so to the benefit of artists. NONE AT ALL. We have a problem with those who do screw artists over though and those who would attempt to enact laws that curtail on our rights in the name of imaginary/perceived losses.

    "I'm glad to see that the blog has finally come to its senses once again."

    I'm glad to see that you think it has, but I'm sad to say it never had lost its senses to begin with. Only you can lay claim to that. And I greatly fear you'll never regain any sense at all. [shrugs] Oh well.

    "Publishers are often good people who bring alot of talent to the process."

    Would these be the same type of publishers who went with a 200% increase price hike on public libraries? Yeah, real good people there. /s

    This one is too easy to shoot down and make you look even more foolish, so I'm going to spare you. Mostly because at this point, picking apart your comments feels like picking apart the comment of a 4 year old. It's just not fair and I (almost) feel a little guilty about doing so.

    "Thank goodness the blog is realizing it."

    Sigh. Moving on.

    "Now I'm waiting for this blog to endorse RIAA and MPAA memberships for the indie artists who want to be part of the regulatory process. The trade groups could let small folks join on a pro-rated basis and then the cycle would be complete. Think of all of the advantages joining the RIAA and the MPAA would bring the indie artists. This blog should endorse this in about 6 months."

    As long as those two groups keep doing stupid things you won't see that happening any time soon. (Which means enjoy the "not a chance in hell" long wait.)

    Yes, plenty of advantages. Like having them sue your fans, opportunity for rather shady accounting practices cheating you out of royalties you're due, and so on and so forth.

    At least with the indies things are a lot more consumer and artists friendly. I'm not saying they're perfect but it's better than the devil you advocate for.

    Like I said though, enjoy the wait. (Hint. 6 months from now, when I see you comment, I'm going to ask how the wait is going. I expect a response or a statement saying, "Yes, my name is bob and I'm an idiot. Apologies to all for all the brain cells I've destroyed all this time, which I'm sure has felt immeasurable to each and every one of you. There's nothing I can do in the way of making amends, but you have to forgive me. I'm stupid on another level. [shrugs and walks off into the sunset, until the next opportunity presents itself to share my stupidity with the world]"

    bob, I'm going to say this for what will hopefully (but probably won't be) the last time, STOP AND F*CKING THINK FOR A MOMENT OVER THE BULLSH*T YOU WROTE BEFORE HITTING THAT SUBMIT BUTTON. That or put a sign around your neck saying, "I willingly choose to (not) participate in Lion Day. Meaning, lions, have at me."

     

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  12.  
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    MahaliaShere (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 2:02pm

    Re: Whoa-- is that the sound of hell freezing over?

    "Now I'm waiting for this blog to endorse RIAA and MPAA memberships for the indie artists who want to be part of the regulatory process. The trade groups could let small folks join on a pro-rated basis and then the cycle would be complete. Think of all of the advantages joining the RIAA and the MPAA would bring the indie artists. This blog should endorse this in about 6 months."

    You say "this blog". Do you mean the writers, specifically, or the commenters as well? Or only Mike Masnick? He's already gone on record stating he doesn't want RIAA and MPAA to fail, why is this not enough?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 2:05pm

    It's funny watching Mike flip flop like this. Are you running for elected office now?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 2:22pm

    Re:

    It's funny watching trolls not realize that Mike has on more than one occasion flat out stated he DOES NOT want the RIAA/MPAA to fail. (In fact, there's at least one entire article about it. By Mike.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 2:49pm

    Oh Mike, this must be such a kick in the nuts for you. An entire post to try to find a way to justify what Reznor is doing, so that it won't hurt your base arguments.

    It must really suck when another one of your poster children crosses back over.

    What Reznor really seems to be saying here (not directly, mind you) is that the indie release thing has drawbacks, and those drawbacks were enough to hurt this project. Even with his name attached to it, and all the profile he can give it, there is nothing he could do through indie releasing that could match what could be done by the label.

    You can wiggle all you like, but it's pretty simple: Trent saw something in having a label deal that he could not achieve on his own, at least not in a reasonable time, cost, or process. It's pretty much an admission that the labels still have more reach, more access, more profile, and more connections than even someone like Trent can pull off.

    The Sky is Rising! That's why Trent is back with a label.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 2:52pm

    Re: Re: Whoa-- is that the sound of hell freezing over?

    Can I get this as an e-book?

     

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  17.  
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    The eejit (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 2:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: Whoa-- is that the sound of hell freezing over?

    Sure. But it'll cost you a Kindle and an iPhone 5.

     

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  18.  
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    The eejit (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 2:57pm

    Re:

    0/10 for reading comprehension. Reznor is still experimenting, and seeing as we don't know the details, it's entirely possible that this is an "enabler" deal, rather than the usual contract dreck that comes up.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 3:09pm

    Re: Re:

    99% of ALL 'content' is crap. Even the so-called 'professional' stuff. What you like and what I like aren't going to mesh.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Tunnen (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 3:15pm

    Just because I could go and buy content from a gatekeeper, doesn't mean I need to.


    =P

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 6:07pm

    Re: Re:

    -1/10 for your answer. Even if it's just an "enabler" deal, it shows once again that for all the internet, for all the hype, even a guy like Reznor doesn't have the reach or the time.

    Doesn't bode well for smaller, lesser known artists, does it? Reznor was one of the first to "go indie" and now he's come full circle back with a record label deal. Perhaps there is something to be learned here (something Mike probably won't like).

     

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  22.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Sep 26th, 2012 @ 6:35pm

    Re: Re:

    "No one should feel as though you're trying to force second rate indie crap on them if they don't want it."

    Please then tell the labels to muzzle Ke$ha already.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 26th, 2012 @ 9:46pm

    Re: Re:

    It's funny because that sort of post is a Mike tradition. In order to gain both a little crediblity and a whole bunch of deniability, Mike generally makes a post or two on a topic like "I don't want them to fail, but they are buggy whip companies and they will fail".

    Then when someone says he wants them to fail, crafty people like you point and say "see, he said he doesn't want them to fail".

    It's sort of like saying Mike doesn't want to get rid of copyright and patents. That's true in the absolute sense, because his goal is just to neuter them until they have no effect, leave them on the books, and be able to say "I don't want to get rid of copyright". It's an attempt to seem reasonable while taking an extreme position.

    You should be proud of yourself for falling for it.

     

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  24.  
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    The eejit (profile), Sep 27th, 2012 @ 12:35am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Because it is a full-time job on top of the performances. If the labels could just do that instead of the cons that are implemented right now,t hat would be progress.

     

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  25.  
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    Tim Griffiths (profile), Sep 27th, 2012 @ 2:27am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "I don't want them to fail, but they are buggy whip companies and they will fail if they don't adapt"

    FTFY since you missed out the key point that allows for the holding of the a views you seem to presume must have two mutually exclusive ideas. The whole point of this blog post is that deals with labels will get better as they are forced to adapt to viable indie competition as a line for success.

    The labels that don't adapt to that new reality will fail and deservedly so.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2012 @ 3:04am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Because it is a full-time job on top of the performances."

    The one thing I learned on Techdirt is that artist have all sorts of time to do things other than art. It's the basis of the whole deal here, really - artist manage themselves and their business, and get all the income.

    Haven't you been paying attention?

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2012 @ 4:09am

    oh look, delusional, narcissistic dorks bloviating about the music business.

    how incredibly unique...

     

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  28.  
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    writeem (profile), Sep 27th, 2012 @ 5:18am

    Hmmm

    Interesting times. First Google breaks the Internet and crushes free speech by downgrading pirate search results, now Mikey's shining example of DIY can't do it himself -and the major labels and studios continue to deliver the overwhelming % of content. What has the world come to? Time for techie's to alter their world view? Backtracking becomes you.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Michael, Sep 27th, 2012 @ 5:43am

    Maybe it was a commissioned project rather than a standard record contract, sort of like handing over the rights to the recordings (including royalties, mechanicals & publishing) in exchange for the label's promotional muscle, e.g. MVs, marketing, etc. In order to profit, Trent would tour, sell merch, etc.

    Just an idea.

    Whether or not you can make it independently is largely dependent upon how good your music is. You need to really stand out and be something special in order to make an impact without a major label backing you. For every success story, there's probably several hundred who never make a dent.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    Just because you don't have to go copyleft doesn't mean that you shouldn't.

    (This is a message sponsored by the Free Software Foundation and the Free Cultural Works Movement)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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