Singer Claims He Quit Because He Only Made $16K, Manager Shuts Him Down

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Shortly before the 2015 holiday season began, the lead vocalist of the popular deathcore band Thy Art is Murder called it quits and made a very personal statement online as to why he did so. The story went viral across all the various social media platforms.

What separated this statement from every other departing member statement we tend to see on a weekly basis is that CJ McMahon dropped the bombshell that he quit because there was no money to be made from being in a band. I quote, “to put the finances into perspective for you, I/we have earned between $16k-$18k each over 6-7 years.”

With a mix of both negative and positive emotions, I inform you all that I have parted ways with my band Thy Art Is…

Posted by CJ McMahon on Monday, December 21, 2015

Depending on how you read that statement, (and I surely hope that I am reading this right), this boils down to about $3,000.00 per member per year. If you were to equate this to an hourly salary for full time job (40 hours per week for 52 weeks) that would come out to about $1.44 an hour, which surely gives the impression that if you are in a moderately successful international touring metal band with hundreds of thousands of fans, you stand to make less than a 12-year-old with a paper route.

Once that statement came out I imagined the crushed dreams of those same 12-year-old paperboys who were diligently saving up their minuscule earnings to buy some gear in hopes of becoming a “rockstar” when they get older. More so, I thought about the actual guys and gals who have been in bands for some time, worked hard at their craft, earned somewhat of a name and were eventually rewarded with a label deal to help further their career, all the meanwhile putting off college or other prospective job opportunities. I can only imagine them saying, “What the fuck am I doing with my life!” after reading McMahon’s statement.

This particular statement also brought about a lot of debate, at least on my Facebook feed, of the current status of the music industry (“the music business is dead!”) and how artists can’t make any money due to streaming or illegal downloads. Some were using this statement to proclaim that “fans should go to their local Best Buy and buy a CD to support their favorite artist,” This is all well and good and the sentiment is sincere, but I am here to say this:

THE MUSIC INDUSTRY HAS CHANGED AND STREAMING IS HERE TO STAY. Artists must take this into consideration and adapt, ESPECIALLY in the metal genre. Most of the consistent money that mid-level metal bands will make will come from touring and merchandise sales. Period. Metal bands will never be Adele or Bieber.

At this point you might ask who the fuck am I to be saying all of this, and that’s fine to ask. I have worked primarily in the metal/rock music industry for a good part of 10 years and currently manage clients that range from death metal to alternative. I manage bands that grace the covers of some of the most popular music magazines and headline festivals, and at the same time I have new bands that have recently signed to labels but have just started touring for the first time. I also have bands that are somewhere in between all of that, but all of them are continuously on the incline and have the potential to become the best at their game. I have a strong, working, first-hand knowledge of how the touring industry runs in metal and rock.

I have the luxury of seeing all types of touring budget scenarios, and while some can get pretty ugly, I can absolutely say that bands that are equivalent in size and popularity to Thy Art is Murder (based on album, merch and ticket sales) can definitely make a living on their music… more than the alleged $3,000 per year McMahon is quoting, for sure. I am going to demonstrate for you just how that happens based on a typical tour budget.

Before I begin I want to make it clear that I have never worked for Thy Art is Murder. I really don’t know how much they get paid, what they sell in merch or how they spend their money. I don’t really know them at all. So this isn’t a dig on them by any means. In fact I give them props for building their brand as far as they have (and they haven’t even reached their prime). I also give their former vocalist respect for coming out with a statement that I felt was very personal and detailed. He didn’t owe that to anyone. If he felt that he could make a better life for himself and his family by NOT touring on a full time basis, then more power to him and best of luck with everything he can accomplish in the future.

What follows is a basic synopsis of a touring budget.

This is an actual tour budget from 2015 I that I have personally overseen and put together. I feel it is a good representation of what is going on out there, but I want to give a few bullet points first before you dive in.

• Some numbers might fluctuate slightly at any given time (hotels, gas, etc.).

• These numbers are based on a typical guarantee of a touring band in the metal world that sells approximately 500 tickets at mid-size clubs. I also factored in a low-end conservative estimate of merch sales from each show, along with the typical rate that crew members would expect.

• I am running this budget with a 15-passenger van and trailer that is RENTED from a company. Because I don’t expect my clients to sleep on the floor of a van every night (that is their choice entirely if they want) I have included cheap hotels nightly into the budget as well.

• This is a 32 day tour; 30 of those days performing along with one-day driving to start and one day driving home.

Here we go…

Tour Income

$2,000.00 per night show guarantee (30 dates)= $60,000.00
$750.00 per night in gross merch sales (30 dates)= $22,500.00

TOTAL INCOME GROSS= $82,500.00

Tour Expenses

Merch/commissions:

Estimated merch expense (cost of goods, venue fees, shipping )= -$9,000.00
Management commissions of guarantee (15% gross) = -$9,000.00
Agent commissions of guarantee (10% gross) = -$6,000.00
Management commissions of NET sales of merch= -$2,025.00
Total commissions: $26,025.00

Crew Expenses: (weekly salary per week for 4 weeks)

TM/FOH $1,000.00 per week = -$4000.00
Merch seller $650.00 per week= -$2600.00
Driver $600.00 per week = -$2400.00
Stage tech $450.00 per week= -$1800.00
Total crew cost: $10,800.00

Vehicle and Travel expenses:

Estimated cost for 32 days van rent w/ trailer= -$5200.00
Estimated cost of fuel for full US tour at 12,660 miles ($2.50 gallon/10MPG) = -$3150.00
Estimated cost of tolls/parking= -$500.00
Hotels (25 nights x $100.00 per night [double bed, cots, band brings air mattress]) = -$2500.00
Total vehicle/travel cost= $11,350.00

Production Expenses:

Small light rig/fog machine/strobe rental = -$2,000.00
Misc. costs (gear, taxis, uber, incidentals) = -$1,500.00
Total Production cost s= $3,500.00

Band/Crew Per Diems:

$10.00 per day for 5 members/4 crew/ $90.00 per day total for 32 days = -$2,880.00
Total per diem cost= $2,880.00

TOTAL ESTIMATED COST OF EXPENSES: $52,060.00

GROSS INCOME = $82,500.00
Subtract EXPENSES- $54,555.00

Remaining Profit = $27,945.00

Amount that each of the five band members receives: $5,589.00 for the month-long tour.

Now, this isn’t going to be enough money to buy your dream house in the Hollywood Hills BUT it is pretty comparable to a decent “9-5” job. Plus you have the perks of traveling the world, meeting fans, performing the art that you created each night for 45 minutes on stage and the profound social aspects that come with being a “rockstar.” Most bands on a new album cycle tour 6-9 months following that release… so you do the math as to what you could possibly make in a year if the business is there. This doesn’t even include what you COULD make from online merch sales, pub advances, royalties, sync licenses, etc. — so when you consider ALL of the potential income that could be derived from a moderately successful band… all is not lost (at all).

I know full well that there will be some “experts” that come back on this article and say, “But you didn’t include the cost of this and you forgot to include the cost of that. I know there might be flights for band members and crew, visa costs, vehicle breakdowns, missed shows, broken equipment, medical emergencies, etc. but I also didn’t include additional income that one might get from VIP sales, above average merch nights, sell out bonuses, or even label tour support that a band could get before hand to offset any of those expenses.

Each touring entity is different. Maybe there are only four people in your band, maybe you don’t need a driver or a tech, hell, you might even OWN your van or RV. You might also have a vast network of friends across the country that let you stay at their houses, cutting out hotel costs. The above is just a boilerplate synopsis of a budget for a typical band that is established enough to sell the tickets warranting a guarantee of $2,000.00 a night. I will say this: it DOES takes TIME to get to that level. Nothing comes overnight… being in a successful, profitable band REQUIRES very hard work, patience and dedication. Whenever you start a new business, regardless of what it is, you need investors to get through the early, lean times, and the investor is most likely you. Your band is an investment in yourself and your art. A new band making $100.00 a night on a tour will 99.9% lose money on that tour. As a new band you will probably lose money on your first 5-6 tours (maybe even longer than that). If you decide to commit and make this your career, be completely prepared to spend your own money to cover the touring deficit you will have. If you have a label, or even a parent, that will come in early and invest in your band to help offset these costs then CONGRATS… there is no shame in that. But in order for your band to get noticed you HAVE to tour and that is a reality. The money to allow you to do so has to come from somewhere.

You may also notice that the management/agent commissions account for a chunk expenses as well. YES, it is typical and expected for a reputable manager to get a 15-20% commission. Don’t ever let a manager charge you an upfront fee for services; we earn money when you start making money. An agent typically gets 10% from shows… they play a huge role in the artist’s career and development. Unless you are totally DIY and you have the ability to handle EVERYTHING while writing GREAT music and touring all at the same time, then this is how your band is going to REALLY get things done and grow to the next level. We are your partners in this whole thing 24/7 and we are here to help you make the best decisions possible, protect you from any evil wrongdoing and ultimately provide you with further opportunities… so you can MAKE MONEY.

With that being said, even the biggest bands out there have the best intentions on putting on the greatest show for their fans, and this causes them to get sacked with additional expenses that cut into their profit margin. Books can be written on this subject (and probably have) but here are a few pointers that come to mind:

Keep the crew to only what is necessary for you based on the reality of where your band is at the moment and try not to hire crew that isn’t absolutely needed or too costly. You might not need the sound guy that did Metallica seven years ago who wants $3,000.00 per week — there is surely someone that is more fitting for your band at $750.00 per week.

1. Make sure your management (or you) handles all the proper paperwork in advance and on time (visas, work permits, invoices, flights, etc.). Nothing screws up tour finances more than paperwork that hasn’t been properly handled.

2. Don’t rent a vehicle that you can’t afford. If you are drawing 200 people you don’t need a bus to yourself. Come on… a van will do. This should actually be the number one rule on the list. You should only look at a bus if you are making at least $3,500.00 per night in guarantees.

3. Spending too much money on production — this is a tough one. I agree with the sentiment that you want to look great on stage and give your ticket-buying fans a show they wont forget, but if I can quote Jamey Jasta from his podcast, “Your fans don’t walk away humming your light show” — especially if you are playing a 500 capacity room. Keep shit real. If anything, make sure your sound guy is adequate. It’s the sound that really matters.

4. Keep track of every dollar that is made and spent on the road every day. Every day.

5. Don’t give away your merch to needy fans or someone you find attractive — or to friends that promise that they will advertise your band to all their IG followers. Unless it’s Miley Cyrus, a Kardashian or someone like that.

6. Don’t buy a lot of cocaine.

I will also be the first to admit that I have bands come back from a tour with much less than they expected (or in the hole), even if thorough budgets have been laid out before hand. There can be a list of reasons that can cause this to happen, but it comes with the territory. T his is the type of business to where I always find myself saying, “Well, I thought I’ve seen everything, but THIS takes the cake.”  This could have very well be the case with Thy Art Is Murder as well.  Again, I don’t know what other factors may have come into play for them.  But I do know that this is the exception and not the rule when you plan ahead.

This should hopefully give you some idea and positive insight of what to expect as a new band (or even better, a band that is at the level of this type of touring). My main purpose is to show that while the music industry is definitely facing financial challenges with each new advance in technology — which forever changes the music buyer’s habit — there will ALWAYS be a need for bands to create new music, entertain fans across the world with their performances and money to be made. Plus, they still haven’t figured out a way to stream band merch.

28 Responses

  1. Anon

    First of all he clearly said 16,000 EACH.

    Secondly, although I don’t follow metal bands, you aren’t going to get a decent engineer to go on tour for 1000/week, or a decent guitar or keyboard tech for $450, so I imagine most of the rest of these numbers are just as bogus. Double or quadruple those figures at least for good people.

    As for streaming being here to stay, I think the jury is out on that. If so, and if they continue to pay almost zero per stream as they are now, then less and less people can afford to make music so it’ll just be a hobby.

    Reply
    • Anon

      I’m a decent guitar tech, that’s worked for national acts at $450 per week.

      Reply
  2. rk

    Looks like the real money is in management.

    The rock and roll artist as a profession was born with the Beatles. The culture and society of the time supported it and it grew over the following decades. No one is crazy over live performers anymore and the mystery of it seems to have dwindled. POINT: There is a lot more going on here than just business, market and product infrastructure models.

    Reply
  3. Phantom of the Rock

    These numbers really suggest that a band needs to be a small compact unit and to keep things as nimble as possible. I remember when the band The Police toured America, they did it very economically as a 3 piece unit with minimal overheads..

    Reply
  4. Dutch

    minus meals on the road 30 x 3 x $8 = -$720
    minus medical insurance and other monthly bills especially cellular.
    minus rent back home.
    and car payment.
    You’re doing this 4 times a year tops.
    And festivals at this level are a wash if you’ve got an early daytime slot and it’s a one-off. Sometimes a loss with airfare.
    And you probably have a terribly-paying job if it allows you to take 4 months off whenever the “road comes a-callin”.
    So even though his original post clearly stated $16k, I think using the above management’s math it’s real-world closer to $14K per member. And that’s assuming not one of the 30 dates in newer markets per outing are doorsplits.
    Then… is the band an LLC and taxed as a partnership or are you individually taxed as self-employed at 15%?
    Is any money set aside for reinvestment in gear? Gonna pay an RTF student $300 to make some awful videos?
    Who is buying the protools updates for recording at home? You’re still at this level going to need a $500 day engineer to mix the final.
    And tastes change generationally in major ways ever 4-8 years. Even within unique genres. The majority of your audience will have kids and jobs and won’t be making it out to shows a decade from now.

    There’s nothing wrong with following the dream. Life is short and you gotta do what you gotta do. Music is the drug that matters. But the numbers do not add up to a healthy life for this type of musician/performer.

    Reply
  5. DavidB

    “to put the finances into perspective for you, I/we have earned between $16k-$18k each over 6-7 years”

    I interpreted this as meaning that each member earned on average $16-18k *per year* over the 6-7 year period. If it were really only 16-18k *in total* – as the writer assumes – the band would surely have given up long ago, unless they had other incomes to support them.

    Reply
    • Jaded Industry+Guy

      Yea, exactly. 16k-18k is not really livable per year… Eventually reality hits and you quit.

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        also this band are from Australia, so he might as well be referring to AUS $

        Reply
    • PPM

      I interpret it as 16-18k over the course of 6-7 years due to the wording structure, but to be fair let’s say it was 16-18k. I made this yearly as a gas station clerk 8 years ago. Hardly a living IMO, especially if you have a family at home you need to support. Still, what this guy quoted equates to about 30k a year with a 6 month tour. I make more than that with a 9-5 job, get to play weekends not worrying about what we get paid to play and have a good time, and still get to see my family every day.

      I think the point to be driven here is people need to wake up to the reality of what it takes when trying to become that proverbial “rockstar”. You get shit until you make it, and you’re probably not going to make it.

      Reply
  6. The Angry Heavy Metal Musician

    Although I don’t entirely disagree here – yes, it’s a financial sacrifice and commitment that will take years of hard work for sure – for any Rock/metal band in the digital age. However, this Manager sure assumes a lot. Not every band, club and promoter are the same when it comes to negotiating these terms. Plus, on the profit side of things (according to his math) that in order to MAINTAIN that type of income, they/we are barely hitting minimum wage, thus a band would literally have to be traveling T-shirt salesmen 365 days a year. Literally. So, Is the recording studio on the 15 passenger van too??

    Wasn’t this “business model” proven ineffective years ago? There are sacrifices, and then there is just plain insanity. This manager is insisting bands need to be insane. You know, have them do the same thing over and over and the results don’t get better, they stay the same or get worse.

    Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll happily stay retired from the music business. 🙂

    Reply
  7. Jim

    Good article. It’s nice to see a balance between the “everything is basically fine” and the “no bands can ever make any money” positions. Comparing them – you’ll notice that plans regarding HOTELS make a big difference. This band seems to be sticking everyone in one hotel room. – $100 a night. Other published budgets for bands in the same ballpark have hotels at $500 a night. The profit, here, was $28K. If these bands went with the upgraded Hotel option of $500 a night, that’s $400 more a night, 25 nights – an additional $10K, taking the profit down from $28K to $18K subtracting $2K from each of the 5 band members. Just by taking a more expensive hotel option. On the road, living like a pig and suffering means more money left over at the end – and that money can be quite significant.

    One thing I found interesting was $2000 guarantee, 500 attendance. $4 a head? We’re talking about multi band shows here, right? Multiple bands are getting guarantees? I don’t go to many metal shows with 10 bands on them, but I do go to shows with 500 capacity. a $2000 guarantee surprises me on the low side.

    The upshot of all of this is that you can make money on the road if you’re willing to cut costs and you can lose money on the road if you’re not willing to cut costs, and hotels are a big part of those costs. Sleeping in moving vehicles is pretty normal for most touring bands. That’s the bands on the bottom, and most bands are pretty near the bottom. Bands that are drawing 500 a night can make money or not depending on how much cost cutting they want to do.

    Reply
  8. Real Musician

    The artist’s numbers look realistic to me.

    The hypothetical budget presented by this manager is complete garbage:

    – Bands w/ a $2,000 a night guarantee are not headlining 7 nights a week on a 32 day tour. Most clubs are dark at least 2 days a week. Thus, the $60k income from guarantees on this tour is fantasy. The real number, if lucky, might be around $40k.
    – For the same reason, merch would only bring in around $15k, not $22.5k
    – Even in the world of death metal, 4-5 band members plus 4 crew in a single $100 hotel room each night for 25 nights on a 32 day tour? I don’t think so. At best, they pay for three rooms a night for 30 days, bringing their lodging to $9,000 rather than the $2,500 cited.
    – $10/day per diem for band and crew is a joke. I have never seen less than $20, thereby bringing the cost to a little over $5,760, not $2,880.

    With these few corrections to account for reality, the hypothetical tour offered by this manager would actually bring in income of $55,000 and costs of no less than $55,260 – amounting to a loss of $260 for your 32 days on the road performing (assuming no traffic tickets, bail bonds, hospital visits, van repairs, bar tabs…) End result: The crew gets paid, the manager gets paid the most ($7,350), and the band comes home with nothing. Try explaining to your fiancé that you have been gone for 32 days, have come home with no money, and need to borrow $52 dollars to pay your share of the newest installment of band debt.

    Touring at this level is NEVER a winning proposition for the band, and can only be justified with the hope that performing live will promote the sale of their recorded music. My guess is the $18,000 of net income that the band featured in this article actually received was from their record sales and the streaming of their music. That is the problem that needs to be fixed.

    Reply
  9. DavidB

    I only just realised the writer is assuming the band plays for 30 nights in a row, without a break day. I don’t know if this is feasible in the world of metal, but in most other genres I think it would be unusual. Singers need to rest their voice, or they won’t have a career for very long. I’m just looking at the tour schedule of Lianne La Havas, who had a short UK tour in December. She had gigs on December 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, and 14. That’s 8 gigs in 14 days, with a break at least every 3 days, which I think would be a normal schedule. A website ‘Singing for a Living’ recommends: ‘For 3 days of performing, take 1 day off. For 5 days of performing, take 2 days off. Take a complete day of monk-like silence every week.’

    Reply
    • Jared

      Finding a venue Sunday and Monday’s is the worst. Not to mention one with a decent capacity, and people to attend. Management has refused to change with the times as much as the rest of the technologically adverse, and retarded, music industry.

      Someone above mentioned a death metal band with 4-5 members and 4 crew… I booked Goatwhore a couple years ago in Louisiana. They had one guy to help with gear and man the merch booth… one. If you bring 9 people on tour and you’re loosing money the fault lies with the band. Bring one person to help sell merch and share the driving for crying out loud.

      Reply
  10. VibrationsOfDoom

    We all know what needs to be said here… If you’re playing to “get paid,” then you’re doing it for the WRONG reasons… And yes, everyone wants to get paid… Why not? You love what you do, you put your heart and soul into your music, you SHOULD be able to at least have something for your future… Because you’re NOT going to be able to tour for the rest of your life, and retirement will set in at some point. The smart bands? Agalloch, when they first started out, stated they will never tour… Now, I’ve seen them live three or four times (so there goes that idea), but they’re probably not out there touring because they need the money. They’re bringing their music to people because they get bombarded with request after request to tour… And they pretty much do it on their terms… Most bands I know do NOT end up on a 30 date tour; most hit maybe 10 or 15 cities MAX and then they head back home… Only a band like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest will do a half a year long tour (but then again, there are maybe 5 or 10 U.S. dates and the rest are in South America (where they will draw 30 THOUSAND fans each gig, easily), Japan, and Europe… And most bands I’ve interviewed say they will coordinate their schedules so they can get a few weeks off from work and go on tour… They don’t expect to make thousands for a few weeks; they want to go play live because they have this burning need to PERFORM their art… ONLY a musician would really understand; but only a dedicated musician and/or metalhead would feel that strong desire to get out on a stage: as it is truly one of the strongest drugs in the world… You touring musicians know what I’m talking about…

    Reply
    • Clive

      You what doesn’t pay bills? Love, passion, and exposure. You what does pay bills? Money. Money pays bills. I assume that you expect to be paid for doing your job, correct? Well, professional musicians expect to be paid for doing their jobs. People like you who say “well, you shouldn’t expect to be paid, anyway” are the reason why this industry continues to collapse. You just don’t get it.

      Reply
      • Real Musician

        You’re never going to make a rockstar’s income without major marketing and promotions, high-end production, and constant headline tours. This “I deserve to be paid more” argument, while noble, doesn’t really apply to this line of work. The consensus that anything below 20k being pretty much worthless I’d agree with, but that doesn’t mean suddenly an influx of people are going to shell out 2-3x more per capita just so (you) can live the dream. That’s just unrealistic and undeserved until someone finds value in your art. Forcing venues (who have their own expenses too, trust me) to shell out more cash means you’re not going to get booked.

        It’s a double-edged sword that anyone who expects to support themselves will never compromise on. The desires and aspirations of a 32 year old child will do little to sway the wallets of club owners who spend more money on overhead in a week than your band will in two. Call around and see how much some of these guys pay in utilities and insurance… it’s staggering. This Hollywood impression that club and venue owners are rolling in cash is about as ridiculous as a traveling musician expecting to gross more than minimum wage without a major following.

        When I started playing live shows as a touring musician some 20 years ago, I never expected to make much money. Mostly because, well, I didn’t think about money. Money was the last thing on my mind until I was hungry or needed to wash my smelly socks because the van we all slept in began to emanate the odor of a recently deceased skunk. There’s definitely some potential, but it takes a lot of years and smart marketing to get to a comfortable level. -As it is for any business.

        Reply
  11. Clive

    Shut him down? This manager flat out said that he didn’t know their actual circumstances and that he was speaking generally. Good job on the BS headline. You’re clearly not an actual musician.

    Reply
  12. witness

    I don’t recall seeing anything written about the venue practice of “PAY TO PLAY”. How much of an actual touring budget goes to that SCAM?

    Most touring acts must pay to play at specific venues or festivals. This unfortunate practice better explains the increase in cover charge and merch pricing.

    Reply
    • Dan

      Pay to Play is something I’ve experienced playing locally for 13ish years. I didn’t realize it was a thing touring bands dealt with outside of Ozzfest type BS. Ugh.

      Reply
  13. witness

    The music business has typically been structured to favor management and venues while “whoring out” the musician. Unless a touring musician knows how to work the system (with self-promotion, endorsement deals and self-produced/distributed merch) they will go broke; quick.

    Reply
  14. Agent

    For time and immemorial, artistic endeavors are mostly a losing proposition financially. The problem is when the artist confuses paying his dues with financial reality. Too many delusional musicians overestimate their body of work, their talent, their marketability. At some point, the artist has to decide if the risk is worth the reward. My point is that no one can take advantage of you without your permission.

    Reply
  15. Guy

    It is worth noting that in Australia there is no chance of doing a 32-show tour with 500+ attendees a night, probably about ten shows maximum. Pay $500 per member and they could go to New Zealand for a whopping 5 additional shows maximum. Sure, they’re well-known in more populated markets like America but it costs so much to go there.

    Reply
  16. Mike

    Simply put? Production companies make the money while fucking over their artists. Ive seen it time and time again from many artists. How do I know? I was a MySpace music profile promoter. If you ever got events sent to you about a particular artist it was probably me that sent it to you on MySpace from 2006 to 2011. Ive heard numerous complaints how artists are getting screwed over by their labels, production, and management. The industry needs better control and accountability to ensure artists are paid better for their hard work and labor.

    Reply
  17. Bankor

    Manager lives in Dream-land. In 2016 being a metal musician pretty much = being broke or living on the verge of poverty. FACT. Unless you’re rich or still have mom paying the bills you might want to look for another career and do music on the side if you like.

    Reply

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