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Why Thom Yorke and Digital Music News Are Completely Wrong

whythomyorke

When Paul asked me to join the Digital Music News team and write a few articles a week, I told him that I’d love to under one condition: I’m not going to censor my opinion – even if it’s completely opposite of his. Paul loved it and said “bring it on” – or something like that.

His 13 Most Insidious, Pervasive Lies of the Modern Music Industry post has gone totally viral. Even Thom Yorke tweeted it saying “nothing else to add to this. except a big smile.”

I have to address this as I’m a working, DIY (never on a label) musician who has played over 550 shows around the world, opened for superstar artists, have had songs featured on multiple TV shows and have supported myself on my music for 5+ years. I will now debunk 6 of the “lies” that need debunking. Sorry Paul.

 

“Lie” #1: The real money is in touring.

“If artists just give away their music for free, and let it be social and free-flowing, they’ll make it up on the road.”

The Truth: That ain’t a lie. The reason I (and many others) can succeed with our music is because of the road. Not digital downloads. A very successful rock band I helped get off the ground in Minneapolis actually did give away their music for “pay what you want” (inspired by Radiohead’s In Rainbows release – go figure!) for years and their crowds grew exponentially.  Now they sell out venues all over the country. Derek Sivers also encourages this ‘pay what you want’ philosophy. I make the majority of my musical income on the road as well. As do many others. Digital downloads are pittance compared to the money we make in merch and show income.

 

“Lie” #2: There’s an emerging middle class artist

“Internet-powered disintermediation will create a burgeoning ‘middle class’ of artists.  Not the limousine, Bono-style outrageous superstars, but good musicians that can support families and pay their bills.”

The Truth: I’m part of that middle class. As are many of my musician friends. Through, ahem, touring, TV placements, sponsorships, session work, co-writing royalties, scoring, music lessons, and freelance gigging, there is a group of musicians (who you’ve never heard of – myself included) figuring out how to make a living (and support families) with music. It ain’t easy, but it can be done if you have the drive and work ethic. Don’t believe me? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do a sampling of these middle class musicians and interview them for a piece here later.

 

“Lie” #3: Spotify is your friend

“Streaming on Spotify will make artists money, if they just wait long enough.”

The Truth: I make money on Spotify. Not enough to pay rent, but it’s something, and the more people that sign up for Spotify the more money us indie musicians will make. Spotify released its Spotify Artists breakdown to be more transparent. Props to them! Finally! Yeah, it took too long and it was super shitty how opaque they were, but it’s out now. So stop bitching. And now they are integrating merch and tour dates. Spotify IS your friend. Use it to allow potential fans to stream your album before deciding if they want to come to your show. At the show, sell them a T-shirt. Get them to back your Kickstarter. Don’t put up a pay wall for people to just LISTEN to your music. Backwards thinking.

Which brings me to…

 

“Lie” #4: T-shirts

“Not only is the money in touring, but artists will make a killing off of merch table sales and t-shirts.”

The Truth: As I stated in Double Your Income. No Really, you actually can double your show income with merch. And more importantly, T-shirts. This is how I survive on the road. You need merch items that are more expensive. Like Ts. I price mine at $20. I actually played a show to 7 people once where everyone had such a great time that they each bought something averaging $15 (some bought my T-shirt/CD combo for $25). That’s over $100 in merch – good for any show.

 

“Lie” #5: Kickstarter can and will build careers

“Superfans will come out in droves to support their favorite artist projects, and power their awesome careers.”

The Truth: I raised $13,544 on Kickstarter. Sure it’s not a million, but I was able to make my record with it. Moving on.

 

“Lie” #6: Streaming Is The Future

“Access will trump everything, and lead to a better, richer music industry for everyone.”

The Truth: It is! What Paul and everyone who agrees with him (including Thom Yorke – god my 19 year old self is kicking me in the nuts right now) don’t understand is that to be a successful musician in this day in age you have to look at multiple revenue sources for your music. It’s not just about music sales! If I gauged my music career on how many iTunes downloads and CDs I sold I would be considered a failure (I’ve sold over 10,000 downloads and over 8,000 CDs by the way). That’s not sustainable. But because I was smart about my merch and touring, open to outside opportunities like freelance gigging and show booking (which lead to me play the World’s Largest Music Festival) and spent years building relationships with music supervisors to get my songs placed on multiple TV shows, I have been able to survive as a middle class musician.

There’s no stopping the future. Those who bitch about it will get left behind. Those who embrace it and use the innovation to our advantage will be able to make a living with music.

“I love Thom Yorke, but when I heard him complaining about Spotify, I’m like, “You’re just like an old guy yelling at fast trains.”
- Moby

 

Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based DIY musician and the creator of Ari’s Take. Follow him on Twitter @aristake

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Comments (99)
  1. Michael Silverman

    Middle Class Musician here. Yes, you’re right, and though I learn from this site every day, it’s often not representing my life as a musician. Spotify has become my largest source of revenue! Merch has added a lot to what we make! So many of your points relate directly to my experience! I certainly hope to hear more from you, and it’s nice to get a variety of opinions on this great site!


    Reply
    1. Curious Musician

      Are you saying you maintain a middle class lifestyle as a musician, and Spotify is your largest source of revenue, at $0.001 to 0.005 per stream?

      So…1000 streams nets you only between $1 and $5.

      That’s hard to maintain a middle class lifestyle, I’d say.


      Reply
  2. vistor

    what about the other seven lies?


    Reply
  3. jamestownstory

    I am a middle class musician as well Ari and really enjoy reading your articles – keep up the great work!


    Reply
  4. Corey Tate - www.spacelab.tv

    Nice work Ari! You get it.

    Most artists are still operating by the playbook of the 1990′s and wondering why it doesn’t work.


    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    “There’s no stopping the future”

    That’s for sure — and the name of the future is Beyoncé:

    She boycotted the streaming fatcats and sold 430,000 albums on release day!

    While an old streaming dinosaur like Spotify still loses money by the hour. Sure, Spotify can finally stream Led Zeppelin’s 40 year old stuff, but that’s not really the future, is it…


    Reply
    1. Ari Herstand

      Beyonce’s streaming boycott only worked because it’s Beyonce. Try to release your new album as an album only download, visual experience for $15.99 with 0 promo and see how well it does. DIY musicians modeling their campaigns after superstars won’t get them anywhere. She looked at her situation and thought “how can I shake things up?” And she did it.

      Every artist has to look at his/her own, specific situation and figure out what will work best for them. What works for the BIGGEST superstar in the world isn’t going to work for middle class musicians.


      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        “Beyonce’s streaming boycott only worked because it’s Beyonce”

        Oh really? Documentation, please.

        Meanwhile, we’re not talking 430,000 sold albums anymore: We’re talking 828,773. In three days. Without Spotify!

        Streaming seems to be history…


        Reply
        1. GGG

          You can’t be serious…how many artists do you think can do this? You think if Ari takes his music off Spotify he’s going magically sell 800K records? C’mon, man.


          Reply
          1. Anonymous

            There’s no doubt he would sell more — people don’t buy what they can get for free.

            As for exposure:

            Again, look at Beyoncé. YouTube previews is the future: Maximum impact, no cannibalization.


            Reply
            1. Ari Herstand

              Hard stats: Mumford and Sons record Babel sold 600,000 copies in the US and 159,000 in the UK AND… wait for it… 8 MILLION streams on Spotify in the first week. It was released simultaneously on iTunes and Spotify.


              Reply
              1. Anonymous

                This is so depressing…

                Imagine what they could’ve sold without streaming. A cautious guestimate would be another 100k.

                Ari, could you please explain why the hypothetical consumers in your unified theory of economics are willing to pay their hard earned cash in exchange for songs they can have for free? Do you also think this principle may apply to other areas?

                Why not?


                Reply
              2. cjhoffmn

                What am I missing here?
                Let’s say the revs per album for the band is $1. That’s 759,000*$1 or $759,000.
                Let’s say the revs per stream for the band is $.005. That’s 8 million * $.005 or $40,000.

                Shouldn’t streaming just be treated as ancillary revenue?

                Also – was the entire album streamed 8 million times or were 8 million individual tracks streamed? I believe that’s tracks but I’m not sure. Is it a more comparable metric to compare 8 million streams to 759,000*12 (ignoring the premium edition that had more tracks per album) or 9,108,000 tracks sold?

                Even if the units are correct as 8m albums vs 759K albums, it just seems strange that $40,000 is preferable or better than $759,000.


                Reply
                1. Joda

                  You would think the math makes sense to everyone, but no, some folks seem to have their heads up their streaming asses.

                  Record sales > Streaming Everytime.


                  Reply
            2. GGG

              Yea, I get it, that’s your slogan. And sure, more. How many? And what’s the tradeoff? That’s the magic question that people like you seem to avoid. Again, what percentage of fans do you think artists actually sell to? Today, last year, 1998, 1965, whenever? You act like it used to be 100%, or hell even 50%. No, it never was. I’ve streamed countless albums I 100% NEVER would have purchased. So I’ve given a few artists some money to give their music a spin. Better than the alternative.


              Reply
              1. Anonymous

                “I’ve streamed countless albums I 100% NEVER would have purchased”

                Good news for you: Everybody can preview songs on iTunes and YouTube. Just open your browser, listen and decide.

                The best thing? You pay the artist — even when you listen to her previews on YouTube. This is one the 3 main reasons why artists will choose YouTube in the future and why Spotify will die.


                Reply
                1. GGG

                  Sorry, I’m not going to search for an artist on youtube to hear a preview of a song. That’s dumb.

                  And so you want me to listen to half a song and not give the artist anything unless I like it enough to buy, rather than just give everyone a few cents from streaming on Spotify Premium? Weird. Why don’t you want artists to get paid!?!?! Stop being a thief! Pay for your previews! Pirate!


                  Reply
                  1. Anonymous

                    “Pirate!”

                    Hehe, now you’re losing it, GGG! :)

                    Anyway, people don’t think like you do, and that should concern you. Check Beyoncé’s previews:

                    Million views/song since release 3 days ago:
                    5
                    1.1
                    4.3
                    1.1
                    1.2
                    1.3
                    1.2
                    1.2
                    2.4
                    1.1
                    1.3
                    2.2
                    1.2
                    .8
                    1.7
                    2.9
                    1.9


                    Reply
                    1. Anonymous

                      …oh, and these numbers are from her YT channel.


                    2. Anonymous

                      Again, sad that people are using this very specific example to prove a larger point. 1) wow, people are going to YouTube to try and watch Beyonce videos? Crazy! 2) it’s 2013, those numbers are absolute shit for someone of her stature.


                  2. GGG

                    Sorry, that’s me above.


                    Reply
                    1. Anonymous

                      You old-school Spotify-believers are funny:

                      Ari thinks M&Sons’ 8M Spotify streams during the first week are awesome — though they obviously cannibalized sales (they were complete songs) — while you think Mrs. Carter’s 30M YouTube streams the first three days suck though they did NOT cannibalize sales (they’re previews).


                    2. GGG

                      See, here’s your, and many other peoples’ problem. You presume to know WAY too much about consumers. How the hell do you know those 8M people would have otherwise bought that album. You don’t think there’s 8M people in the world who after hearing about Mumford & Sons nonstop for 3 years decided to check out a highly anticipated follow up to a smash shit record? One that was pirated probably millions of times itself? Would some of them have bought it? Probably, I’m not going to act like not one person would have just said “fuck it, I’ll buy it.” But this continued idea that there is anywhere close to a 1 to 1 ratio with streams and buys is so childish it’s ridiculous.


                    3. GGG

                      For the record, I meant smash hit, not smash shit haha. I enjoy Mumford & Sons.


        2. PiratesWinLOL

          “Streaming seems to be history…”

          How are the overall download numbers looking this year, compared to the growth of the streaming services? These facts will tell you who is dead. This little side show is just a foot note in history, which no one will remember in a year or so. It is not like she is even boycotting Spotify and the album will be available there soon enough. It is like there is almost no body left rejecting streaming except Beatles, AC/DC and Yves. In a couple of years it will only be Yves.


          Reply
          1. Anonymous

            Man, I still love what you said about Beyoncé’s new album 2 days ago:

            “it is just some silly arty-farty project, which very few will care about”

            :)


            Reply
          2. Yves Villeneuve

            My music is available on Rhapsody at the moment because the terms are acceptable. If the terms degrade, I’ll pull my catalog.

            I won’t add my music to a streaming service unless I have a good idea what are the terms, meaning there has to be transparency or there are reliable information on payouts (eg Zoe Keating) so I can make an informed business decision.


            Reply
  6. smg77

    Great article. Nice to see some real info for a change instead of shrill complaints about streaming.


    Reply
  7. Minneapolis Musician

    It seems to be over. The young hopefuls have drank the Kool-Aid.

    Define “middle-class” by the way. Can you afford vehicle insurance for your touring? Can you provide some college savings for your kids’ educations? Do you carry health insurance in case you have a serious accident or illness?


    Reply
    1. Paul Resnikoff

      That’s a very good point. I’d define ‘middle class’ as having:

      (a) Ownership (or handling a mortgage) on a modest home.
      (b) One vehicle (if needed).
      (c) Ability to pay college tuition for two children simultaneously.
      (d) Ability to take a vacation (maybe a modest one, but once a year).
      (e) Ability to eat out at a restaurant once a week.
      (f) Ability to shop comfortably at a supermarket.
      (g) Ability to have health insurance for self an entire family.
      (h) Capability to deal with unforeseen financial calamities.
      (i) Not being hopelessly in debt (with reasonable spending habits)
      (j) Time to actually send time with your kids.

      How much money is this? I think it depends on location, number of kids, etc. I haven’t researched enough to have a firm number or numbers (yet)


      Reply
      1. GGG

        I mean, if C and H and, to varying extents, I, are incredibly important to being middle class, then a huge chunk of the country isn’t middle class, musician or not.


        Reply
      2. visitor

        @Paul Resnikoff & Ari – two things.

        1) your description of “middle class” seems fair. Ari, how’s that working out? Or, are you in a 1 bedroom apartment with a beater car? What one can tolerate when young and willing to work for free or below minimum wages is one thing (we’ve all in our 20s once). But a sustainable, professional, middle class career is another…

        2) $50k a year seems middle class in smaller markets 100 miles from major cities. But those artists are now down to $25k a year which is why the shrinking middle class of musicians hurts. Likewise, if your making $50k a year as a musician in a major city center that’s pretty much = $25k-$30k in the same said smaller markets 100 miles outside of town.

        Final thought, isn’t a professional musician the one who notes that as their primary source of income on their tax return? there’s nothing ambiguous about paying taxes… What’s your Tax Return say Ari?


        Reply
  8. tippysdemise

    Well done, Ari. Thank you.


    Reply
  9. Paul, this kid has lost his mind

    Paul,

    I comment here every so often but read almost daily…. and as a #1 billboard charting songwriter i have to agree with you here….DEFINE MIDDLE CLASS, ARI et al. I can almost guarantee you’re not meeting most of what Paul laid out above. The problem is wanna be professional musicians, artists, songwriters live this skewed version of reality. It being my opinion that if you are making less than say 50 – 100K+ per year as an independent D.I.Y. musician you’re not the middle class of the music industry (and that’s on average, year over year income). To give you an example of why you wouldn’t be, do you know that as a musician, songwriter etc most banks if you were to take attempt to take out a loan to purchase a home, require you to show proof of income not just from the current year but also typically tax statements from the previous 3 years. I know this from experience as I have not worked a regular 9-5 job since I was 20. This was 7 years ago.

    We could sit here all day on this thread and tell everyone to define “professional”, “touring” (is it regionally, nationally, internationally) etc and if beyond the scope of regionally, you have to have insurance, pay for other expenses etc…merchandise doesn’t support most expenses of touring…and playing to 7 to 100 people and making 100 to a few hundred bucks for a gig is definitely NOT middle class.

    BTW, i’d like to know what TV shows you’ve had you’re music placed on ARI, because as an unsigned artist (you) I can tell you that you have definitely not made a killing from syncs. I have relationships with several of the top music supervisors for Film/TV including Andrea Von Foerster, Tammy Egan & Scott Vener ….I also run my own publishing company (having turned down offers from UMPG, Ultra International, Reach Music & Great South Bay Music) and have had over 100 syncs including Dancing With the Stars, Nashville, The Firm, La Voz Kids, The Voice, Toyota, Verizon, So You Think You Can Dance, Entourage, How to Make It In America, 500 Days of Summer and used on networks such as MTV, VH1, MLB Network, NBC, ABC, FOX etc.

    The middle class musician in my opinion, has a mortgage, annual income of between 50-100K (and 50 is on the very low end), able to support a child with tuition etc etc.

    I believe ARI you stated you are 19? If I am mistaken, my apologies. I believe you are misinformed about what a middle class musician is…which is my point in writing this here.


    Reply
    1. Ari Herstand

      Just to put some facts out there. I am 28. Live with my gf of 6.5 years. Make 35-80K a year (my years fluctuate like any musician). Lots of bills to pay. No family help. I bought my current Toyota Highlander new. Odd how “Paul this kid has lost his mind” says I couldn’t get a bank loan – when I did as a DIY musician (with NO co-signer). I have damn fine credit. Hmm

      You can spend 10 minutes googling me (I’m also on wiki).

      How about continuing your comments without making presumptions about my situation?

      I and so many other musicians are succeeding well below your radar. You keep living in the past and attacking musicians succeeding in a way you can’t comprehend, we’ll keep succeeding with our music making a fine living.


      Reply
      1. TuneHunter

        Ari, I agree with comment below. You do not understand the situation.
        Your financial disclosure is a proof that we are practicing wrong “business model”
        Musicians in drabby communist Poland in 70s where better off!

        For your information Shazam or Echo Nest similar tune generator (BOTH FREE to any Spoofy user) can be monetized separately and each one is worth more than 9.99 Spoofy subscription.
        Worse, as it is, they plunder the industry and keep all the goods wide open in the streets.
        Lets wake up – we need just few simple motions to go from 16 to 32B in three years.


        Reply
  10. Paul, this kid has lost his mind

    ARI,

    To your SPOTIFY argument….

    SPOTIFY IS NOT interested in subscribers…that’s the “great lie”. They are interested in a IPO. Spotify will claim to be transparent now but as I look to my statements from my PRO, while owning typically between 33.3 – 50% of publishing on the records I co-wrote (while owning my own publishing). Spotify pays NOTHING. If you’re one of the major labels who hold a stake in spotify and were paid a hefty advance, great for you. MOST of the royalties paid by spotify don’t actually make it to the songwriter AND WE OWN OUR COMPOSITIONS (lyrics, vocal melody).

    SPOOFY — may very well scale in 5- 10 years, however I DOUBT IT. Unless SPOOFY were to pull a Sirium XM and be installed in all new models of certain makes of cars. The whole “we will all be paid more when they scale” argument is a farce.


    Reply
    1. TuneHunter

      Fresh cash is also adding to catch 22 situation.
      It is impossible to pull Spoofy from communism and total pleasure to freeloader mode.
      Small caliber musicians are trilled with peanuts they get and call it success and start of new life.
      Big ones in the meantime are subject to bribes that convert them to promoters of this psychopathic “proven business model”
      As we are, our Marks, Engels and Lenin – read Parker, Ek and Keeling, are on the course to reduced and pleasant to chosen few music industry. 40 billion in 2025, if they are lucky, will equal exactly 50% of 1999.


      Reply
      1. TuneHunter

        Does any one know $ details of Led Zeppelin entry to this streaming nirvana?


        Reply
        1. GGG

          $249M dollars.


          Reply
          1. FarePlay

            Please elaborate on this number. Where is it coming from, what is your source?


            Reply
            1. GGG

              It was a joke, based on Spotify raising $250M.


              Reply
    2. Buck

      Perhaps the breakdown is with your PRO? If you’re with BMI, you should see at least some reportings. ASCAP applies sampling thresholds though, which cuts off payments to the large part of the “long tail” (i.e. less than mega songs).

      Another case in point as to how the anti streaming rhetoric is misguided. Folks- the problem is not 100% Spotify here… Your biggest ‘enemies’ in this battle are actually the ones who collect money from Spotify on (allegedly) your behalf. This includes labels, distributors, PROs and HFA.

      If you’re gonna be firing shots, lets make sure that your rifles are aimed correctly


      Reply
      1. TuneHunter

        There is not enough cash in wide open discovery loaded streaming – no matter who counts and distributes.

        Theoretically you can join Spoofy Premium for one month and become a complete owner of 1000+ tunes for just $10. All legal virtually free.
        We are dealing with turbo charged communism.


        Reply
  11. Minneapolis Musician

    As I read Ari’s claims, I think his definition of “middle class” is actually, “a young, single guy with no family to support who lives with roommates and pays his portion of the rent, and even has an old car.”


    Reply
    1. vistor

      seems spot on… I was in my 20s once too…

      As I read Ari’s claims, I think his definition of “middle class” is actually, “a young, single guy with no family to support who lives with roommates and pays his portion of the rent, and even has an old car.”


      Reply
      1. Minneapolis Musician

        Well, as an update Ari has responded above. He has one roommate – his girlfriend. And he has a vehicle that he bought new with a bank loan. He passed the credit check with his music income.


        Reply
  12. Paul, this kid has lost his mind

    @Minneapolis Musician –

    While that may in fact have been his definition of “middle class”…in reality if it were the case, that he is in fact a young, single guy with no family to support who has a car and lives with roommates paying his portion of rent…

    then he’s not indeed a “middle class” musician. The truth of the matter is the “middle class” musician is almost non-existent. you have the have’s and the have nots in this industry. There is a very small portion of folks who are indeed considered to be “middle class”.

    I am a young, single guy who owns a 2100 sq ft home (that i paid for in full, in cash). I own two cars. I definitely am not poor and definitely not “rich” by most standards. While I do NOT have a family, I do help my mother pay her mortgage and utilities as well as support my 4 brothers and sisters by sending them money to help with their bills (which includes 10K a year for my brother to attend a mid-western university) and any out of the blue expenses . I live comfortably. I would consider myself to be in that middle class.

    So, what exactly is ARI’s argument here? Is he simply trying to prove Paul wrong?


    Reply
    1. Minneapolis Musician

      Well, seeing as I was the one who first questioned Ari’s definition of “middle class” (which Paul R. replied to), I of course agree with you.

      Minneapolis Musician

      http://www/reverbnation.com/GlennGalen


      Reply
    2. GGG

      Oh, YOU’RE a middle class person but he can’t possibly be! Ok, got it.


      Reply
  13. Paul, this kid has lost his mind

    Btw @Minneapolis Musician – I agree with your comment from above.

    @Yves Villeneuve Thank You, you are the first one to point out Rhapsody shares info and you go into it knowing the terms. XBox Music also has a high payout rate when compared to all other steaming platforms. Those are the only two platforms I recommend to clients for streaming.


    Reply
    1. Casey

      I have heard Xbox music is a bit misleading. That their free 6 months of service they offer users only pays from a shared piece of their advertising revenue, which is currently zero. So they are paying out literally $0.0000 for free streams. Only paid streams see the nice payout. Can anyone confirm this?


      Reply
      1. Mike

        My CDBaby earnings report shows a unit stream on XBoxMusic to be $0.0023, but I don’t have any other information surrounding that stream. (If person was a trial member, etc.)


        Reply
  14. Mike B

    Hey Ari: would love to get a follow-up piece here that enumerates the middle class musicians you know, or have heard of, as well as interviews with details on a few of them.

    That phrase is thrown around a lot, but I’ve never seen a post that actually gives us a sense of how many people fit that description, or a well-reasoned look at what their medium-term futures might look like.


    Reply
    1. Ari Herstand

      Will do bud. Contacting some middle class musician friends now for the piece! Check back soon &:)


      Reply
      1. Mike B

        Thanks, Ari – looking forward to it!


        Reply
  15. Paul, this kid has lost his mind

    ARI, I never stated you couldnt get a bank loan lets make that clear, first off. Secondly, Im the last person here who’s living in the past. I’m 27 and have turned down several major situations, due to my understanding of how the industry actually operates. Let me also make another thing clear i constantly, constantly find new talent for labels from the pool of those “operating well below my radar”. Also, attacking “musicians”? really? Interesting when I support independent artists to the fullest and even help several by giving out drafts of contracts for them to use whether for licensing, split sheets, etc…drafted by my lawyer, paid for out of my own pocket.

    Kind of hard to attack something I support…and even have done so by NOT signing with a major publisher etc…interestin, indeed.


    Reply
  16. AnAmusedGeek

    Umm – you guys have some pretty interesting ideas of ‘middle class’…
    According to the US Census median _HOUSEHOLD_ income is only $51K. Given this include ALL wage earners in a household, and the number of two income family’s in the country, I’d say a ‘middle class’ salary has sunk well below $50K per earner. The ‘middle class’ in all fields has constantly been eroded over the past few decades :-( Data available here: http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acsbr12-02.pdf

    Anyway, an interesting article … looking forward to the interviews…


    Reply
  17. TuneHunter

    “There’s no stopping the future. Those who bitch about it will get left behind. Those who embrace it and use the innovation to our advantage will be able to make a living with music”

    Ari, streaming and ad support is not our future.
    A lot of musicians embraced the own times in the middle ages or under communism – we know them to this date and they did survive their stupid surroundings.

    If streaming and Tube is our future we are in trouble!

    We are in process of rapid reduction of obvious to laic 100 billion dollar music goodwill to max. 40B by 2025.

    This is not your future we have been at 40B in 1999 in 1999 dollars.

    If we abandon “proven business model” (Mr.Ek) we will be at 100B by 2020 – we got all resources to do it!


    Reply
  18. Lisa

    I love reading your insights Ari, they make tonnes of sense


    Reply
  19. how much from teaching

    if over 5 years, 550 shows, he’s avg. 100 shows/yr, and each show is $200 (going on his statement of 100 dollars of merch sales doubles his gig money) that’s 20,000/yr gross… but let’s say it’s 30K. Gas, food, merch costs must eat into that. And if as he says the majority of his money is from the road…. so 15-20K a year profit from touring, sound reasonable? Sync takes some time to build up revenue… I’d gess 8-10 K if he’s got 30-50 synchs out there over the last 4 or 5 years… so that’s 20 to 30 K from touring/royalties. good for him. great, in fact. but not middle class. i’d imagine that an extra 6 or 7k a year from selling songs (lost to pirates) would be appreciated.


    Reply
    1. how much from teaching

      and now just having read his wiki page, i smell hype (we all do it) so i would revise down that figure. i’d now guess 10-15K touring, and 6K-7K synch. maybe makes up for it teaching music or hustiling how-to seminars… but i would call that teachiing or knowledge income. and i’m only even bothering because of his ‘debunking’ stance.

      the guy above who had a #1 chart song seems a better example.


      Reply
      1. Ari Herstand

        I make anywhere from $50-3000 a gig. Not sure why you inferred $100? I used as an example of a super shitty show where many years ago only 7 people came (we’ve all been there no?!). My mistake for listing hard numbers to prove a point. And yeah, merch ranges. I’ve made as much as $1,000 in merch for a single show.

        Gigging is definitely a main income source, but so are placements, freelancing, session work, private parties, on and on.

        But ya’ll can keep inferring about all my numbers! It’s kinda fun. I guess.

        PS I don’t make any $ from “teaching/speaking” – I only started consulting this past year and it’s nothing compared to what I make with music. But yeah, musicians these days need to open themselves up to all opportunities using their talents. It’s like Dre making money from Beats. It’s all connected.


        Reply
        1. Rebecca De La Torre

          After reading all this trolling I see where you are coming from in wanting to profile middle-class musicians, Ari. I’m busy but I’ll get it back to you tomorrow just to help add some positive stories to the mix.
          Just to set the record straight, I’m 35 and married, and I made well over $100k this year and last doing NOTHING EXCEPT performing, writing, arranging, recording and selling music. I DO NOT teach except a lesson here or there when someone really wants one (I think I made $80 in two lessons this past year – ha!). And none of that income was from licensing – it’s mostly from gigging and running a tight ship business. Oh and I not only have two good cars we paid cash for, a mortgage on a modest townhouse as well as a rental property (condo), but I also have my own 2200 sq ft recording studio (I.e. NOT a room in my house). I only sold about 500 CDs last year, so gigging is still my bread and butter.
          I have been a professional, middle-class working musician for over 7 years (before that I was a DSP engineer) and have had my studio over 2 years. I have no debt besides my mortgage. So here’s a little positive light to add to this mix of naysayers.
          Musicians: believe in yourself, be frugal (check out Dave Ramsey), learn to book yourselves, record as much as possible and NEVER give up.


          Reply
          1. Minneapolis Musician

            Rebecca,

            You personally netted over $100,000 this year gigging? Or was that the gross for the entire band?

            If it was your personal net, then that’s really something. Congratulations.


            Reply
            1. Minneapolis Musician

              P.S. I see you do weddings, corporate events, and private parties. I do think that is where the money really is for those without bigtime money backing.


              Reply
  20. Pingback: Why Thom Yorke and Digital Music News Are Completely Wrong | RSS MONSTER

  21. LK617

    thanks for writing this ari. i would love to follow up with you as i’m developing a book project on a related topic (based on my blog at http://www.demassed.blogspot.com). when you have a moment could you drop me a line? leora.kornfeld gmail.com. tks!


    Reply
  22. R.P.

    as a music manager who manages one of the top artists in his genre, and who has seen success for over 12+ years, this statement has always been what it is and not just now in the “digital streaming age”: “to be a successful musician in this day in age you have to look at multiple revenue sources for your music.”

    In any day and age. You had to perform or tour always to really make money since way back.


    Reply
  23. Virgil

    The initial theory being addressed by Paul’s piece was “digital platforms will produce MORE middle class musicians.”

    The “debunking” basically disagreed with the word “more.” The argument isn’t “there aren’t any middle class musicians at all, so that original theory isn’t true”, but rather “ it doesn’t seem like there is more. Maybe there musician middle class is the same, maybe it’s smaller, but it’s hard to find an overall increase.” Thus, the original theory isn’t panning out, isn’t withstanding scrutiny, at least not yet.

    By responding, “I am a middle class musician and I know other middle class musicians, and I’ll show some of them to you” you aren’t necessarily debunking the debunking. Even if you profile 1,000 middle class musicians in great detail, you’re not supporting or strengthening your implied argument (or counter-argument).

    The middle class pre-digital disruption vs. the middle class 2013: which is larger?

    I think this remains an open question.

    All that being said, by taking the angle of “pervasive lies” , Paul is kinda lobbing grenades and inviting appropriate impassioned rejoinders, but questioning the validity of the widely-believed and constantly-invoked vision of a brighter future where there are more things that are good and fewer things that are bad is a necessary and important task.


    Reply
  24. Versus

    No. The future is not written. It’s up to all of us to write it.

    I, for one, reject this model. I want to make a living from MUSIC, not from ugly t-shirt sales and “merch” (even that word is ugly). The merchandise model devalues the music. If the music is good, and the audience wants it, then that should be the way to make the living.

    As for touring: That’s all good and fine, as at least one is actually making a living from the music. However, what if one does not want to tour, or is unable to tour, or one’s music cannot be re-created live? That should not be a necessity for making a living.

    - V


    Reply
    1. Some guy

      Your idealism is quaint


      Reply
  25. Versus

    By the way, the Moby quote is truly obnoxious. Older people’s opinions don’t matter? Moby is not exactly a tween himself.


    Reply
  26. cjhoffmn

    This is an excellent post – you are very thoughtful and interesting- and a prodigious producer of content and thinker – I am really enjoying reading more of your info and thoughts on your site in part because of your approach and researched opinions. I’m going to disagree with you below, but before I do, I want you to know, I respect what you’ve done and your opinion.

    If you are truly middle class, then clearly you’ve done a great job using music to gain enough notoriety for your other efforts – you’ve turned your music abilities into your own marketing – which is brilliant, but, if you make most of your money because you sell T-Shirts – you are going to end up being in the apparel business or you will lose your money. Making a profit from selling soft goods is difficult and requires a different skill set than writing or performing great music.

    I wonder how many book authors made their living because they sold T-shirts related to their personal brands they built from writing books. I wonder how many movie producers make their money from selling merch related to their own brand instead of movies. I wonder how many sculptors have a great stone tools line and make enough from that to live. I wonder how many architects give away their drawings for free so they can run a lawn-care business.

    For most, it just doesn’t make any sense – these are ancillary add-on opportunities.
    I think it’s great you have enough business sense to have created a successful multi-channel brand by yourself – and I mean that seriously. I’m glad you found this possible and are successful (As a business person and an amateur composer, it gives me some hope – I might try that some day).

    It just doesn’t seem scalable and seems like you’re less likely to be the best musician you can be.
    You are currently your own brand’s marketing arm. At some point, when you’re looking at your living room full of T Shirts or are paying a warehouse cost, or wondering why your T Shirts were dumped by your licensing company into discount stores at a loss, you’ll start writing music just to sell that merch. Or you’ll change your music just to put some seats in a local venue. You’ll have to be there for it always. If you get sick – you won’t eat, and you won’t have any alternative. No one will be there to support you.

    You might feel diversified, but I’d bet you’re not because it sounds like people aren’t buying your music – they are buying the experience of time with you and they are buying stuff that reminds them of the experience with you. (They might be buying your T-shirt because you’re a talented T shirt designer too – but that’s a whole different ball of wax.)

    By the way – I’m not knocking you, I’m impressed – I’m primarily a business person and I know branding. I’ve been the President of a global apparel company. I’ve worked around and been in deals with the biggest and best entertainment merchandise companies and concert venue companies on the planet. I’ve built companies from scratch and some of them became worth hundreds of millions of dollars (and I’ve lived with ones that failed.) What you’ve built is amazing – especially given your competitive set. Your personal drive and hustle are probably astounding. (In spite of the fact that I’m disagreeing with your holding here, I look forward to learning more about you.)

    However, if we roll back the tape a little bit though, you’d find that other people did all that stuff FOR musicians because their MUSIC generated a fan base. That’s what is missing. The brands used to be the music – I had no idea if Devo or Blue Oyster cult could make a T-shirt and I never went to either band’s concerts – but I loved and bought all their albums growing up – because I loved their music. That was scalable.

    I grew up watching my father play 4-5 nights a week as a local act in the ‘70s. In some senses, it was the heyday of live performance – a local act could fill a night club for live music and make a living – and a good one at that. My dad was a local hero, applauded wherever we went – asked to sing regularly when we went to dinner, and generally a minor rock star (and for a while a disco star). People went out, they danced, and they had a great time. He was a very powerful tenor, and a rock solid guitar player and I’ve randomly met people talking about him 30 years later, and he made a good living.

    But if asked, my dad would say “I’m not a musician, I’m an entertainer.” Why?

    Because he played what would entertain people – not music he loved. Why? Because he needed to sell drinks, not have people like his music. He often would muse that recording musicians / performers had no idea how hard it was to make a living from the people listening to music. He viewed them as the ones on an easier path. As the son of someone who successfully raised a family living that life – I can tell you – you’re talking like an entertainer that is in the merchandise business. By the way: I think that’s totally cool.

    I also think you may be missing the point that is being made about the music business.

    While you’re busy writing blog entries, researching your responses to agents (which was a really great response) managing inventory, and selling seats in venues, you’re not writing, rehearsing, or recording music. That’s good for you, but not for your music fans. Perhaps you don’t have to work or rehearse to write and perform great music. Perhaps you don’t have to practice. I was once a music theory major and performer. I gave recitals; I practiced 4 hours a day and it was hard. People liked my performances better if I practiced. They also liked my compositions better if I took more time with them.

    The whole point of “being a musician” used to be to spend time getting great at the craft – which when done really well would connect with massive amounts of people because the music made them feel great and there was a distribution system!

    The reason why people still stand up unannounced and dance if you play disco hits from the ’70s isn’t primarily because they remember they bought a great T-shirt about the song. A small group of their fans will remember the concert they went to for sure, but most people will stand up because it was a fun friggin’ song that can make even the crustiest person stand up and move their hips. It was put together by really talented guys who had the chance to make music. Genres don’t matter either – start up any power ballad from the ‘80s and a bunch of people from the era that never bought a shirt or went to a concert will start singing along and probably start telling stories that the music makes them remember in any biker bar.

    Music is also time tested. Many Americans stand up and sing their national anthem and it moves people to tears because a great musician wrote a beautiful song that evokes emotion. People perform it beautifully (and sometimes even lip sync it!) because that song means something. John Stafford Smith wrote the song (not Francis Scott Key who was a lawyer and amateur poet wrote the poem which became the lyrics). He was a composer, an organist and a musicologist. We don’t know that song today because of T-Shirt sales or because he toured. We know of it because it was written by a full time musician well enough that it moved people and it evoked something deep for them and people chose it as a theme. I’d wager that it doesn’t matter which country’s anthem you choose either there’s probably a musician, not a touring artist or T Shirt maker behind it.

    That’s what musicians do because that’s what they had time to do – even recently. And yes, most of them never made it to the big game, but it was a real path that they actively strived to participate in. Labels used to take risks and invest money in them and let them go live a life that resulted in memorable music. There used to be a series of laws, protections and expectations for that which allowed the labels to have a reasonable belief of making money from those investments. There was enough of that expectation that their investments made it so that the writers and performers could live so that they can get really great their craft (even if that craft was writing / performing / producing ditties). I know it was no bed of roses for artists (both writers and performers) with the labels, but I don’t think your notion that “well – let’s just all go build a brand for ourselves to sell seats and stuff” should be the right answer either.

    Music will get lost.

    I agree with your assertion that the market has spoken, the customers want streaming. That requires major adaptation, HOWEVER no business model that continues to lose money because customers won’t pay enough for it can sustain itself in the long run. Younger fans want their music free. Of course – they’ve always had it that way and it’s easier to sell something for free! However, Pandora / Spotify will run out of resources and be forced to change the way they are doing business. Streaming clearly looks to be the way of the future, but while S&P are well-capitalized and garnering world-wide attention by playing music at a loss instead of trying to match scale and price, all they are doing is trying a large scale experiment to generate and sell advertising. (One that has been tried before, I might add – we only have to look at the news industry when it converted from a pay-for-your-news to an advertiser-supported model for some insights.)

    So while I agree – consumers broke the strangle hold the labels had on music and unbundled the offerings – Spotify and Pandora seem to me to be financially devaluing music by the minute while they experiment with other people’s money. No matter what Tim Quirk thinks – letting people have something for free today that they had to pay for yesterday financially devalues it.

    This will change. It should change, needs to change, and efforts to call out the train should be popularized so that it can be changed before it causes even bigger problems. Blindly going along with a well-capitalized experiment is how disasters like AOL happen – which ended up being one of the largest single write downs in financial history. To me it’s a strange notion that musicians should just get over it and go along. I like Moby’s music a lot – but just riding on a train past your peers who are yelling that something is wrong – makes you complicit. Not necessarily right.

    So while I think your response is fantastic, and again, I think it’s great you have created a business from your musician ship, I think you’re not taking into account the fact that you’re running an apparel business. I don’t think that’s the way the future of music for most should happen. I’m not wistfully hoping for the days-of-yore nor just hoping streaming goes away. I want musicians to adapt, I want new businesses to step in and figure out how to get music to their fans at the price that fills the value chain for great music. I want a meaningful distribution system that is supported and protected because I think the enjoyment of music is, of itself, something that should continue to exist.

    Selling T Shirts is great until you can’t move your merchandise and have to change your music to sell them because you have capital tied up in inventory and you need it to eat. Selling venue seats is great until you get sick, or miss a bus/train/plane (sounds like an interesting movie…). Streaming is great except you can’t live on it (currently). I think they have better futures supporting a musician’s brand rather than defining it.
    I think you’re a beacon of hope for the rise of DIY local entertainers. I’d love to see that again – it was fun growing up in it and people had a great time with it. It’s a hard life and doesn’t scale and I hope you know that. It is also a subset of a subset of people. Musicians have a gift of music, but even a smaller subset has the gift to entertain crowds and the gift of running businesses profitably as well. The risk is high that most just go broke trying to manage stuff they aren’t good at, and given how hard it is to write great music, to perform great music, and spread the word about great music, I think this leads us to bunch of mediocre music, not a sustainable future. In fact, if you turn this on its ear for a second and go to any business convention – companies give away T-Shirts for free to try to win people’s business for what they are really great at…

    I haven’t heard your music yet, but I bought an album yesterday from an up and coming artist. An indie label signed and supported him and it sounds great! He is young, talented and utilized a whole bunch of new ways to connect with his fans about his music – it was awesome to watch. I happily paid $9 for it, and I feel pretty good that he made $3-4 from that sale. Cultivating that one sale was a lot easier than cultivating 10,000 streams. I have hope.

    So here’s the challenge for you: How would you feel if I took a picture of your T-Shirts, silk screened a copy of them with a logo of – pick a company – let’s say “Diet Snapple” on the back and got them to pay me for the cost of the shirt. Then – I just gave them out in front of your concerts. I bet you’d be pretty upset and try to stop me. Not how great would it be if the cops just said “Hey – I think that’s cool because the consumer gets the T Shirt for free!” and wouldn’t stop me. Even better if I used other people’s money to do it.

    How about if when you were giving your concerts, if I rented the place next to you and just played a video of your concert “Brought to you by Trident Gum” and let people in for free. That would probably make you quite upset and want to shut me down.

    That’s not far fetched. That’s what has happened in the music industry because of the last 10 years of tech and what Spotify and Pandora are doing presently. It is the passing train.

    Showing up at the concert without that context, it’s easy to say “Cool, let’s adapt and sell glow in the dark lights instead because the music, T Shirts and the concert are already free.” That’s great, but history tells us that the free stuff gets devalued, and pretty soon becomes cheap and not interesting. I don’t want that to happen to music.

    I want the people on Moby’s train to know it on the wrong track and I’m glad people are screaming at it. Even an old guy like him can hear it if enough people are doing it.

    cjhoffmn


    Reply
    1. Minneapolis Musician

      CJ,

      Lots of good insights here. I really enjoyed your analogy of the Diet Snapple T-Shirts to Spotify. Very good!

      As I see it, what we have is a financial problem caused by an unlimited supply of “good-enough” music being made and provided for free by people who want to become known for their music. The means of production of this music (a laptop, software like Garageband, etc) is now available to all. It wasn’t like that 40 years ago in the ’70s. It took a studio and millions of dollars worth of equipment to record and press records, and distribute them.

      That limited the supply.

      But no more. There is a tsunami of good-enough music for the people who like to listen to music.

      I don;t know how it will turn out. But the law of supply and demand has not been eliminated. It will still control the price you get for good music.


      Reply
      1. cjhoffmn

        Thank you MM – much appreciated.
        I think there are a bizarre number of challenges in the industry right now – and I definitely agree that the incredible swelling of supply of “good enough” music is one of them. None of these issues can be figured out entirely on their own…

        I do wonder if we are in a cycle right now where there will continue to be new musicians trying it out because of the tools that are now available so inexpensively. I also think there may be another side of that cycle where the DIY’ers will run out of time to spend doing it and marketing it to find it interesting. I wonder if the vast majority of DIY’ers won’t make enough money to keep doing it and the supply of “good enough” music will stabilize or maybe decline. Developing a following and keeping it are two different things, and doing the work to do that vs working at something else to pay for Tunecore and other bills will become a time trade off.

        I have faith that sooner or later listeners and fans will begin to make judgement calls about what sounds better than others. Hopefully that personal enjoyment can translate to financial value and maybe a more tiered pricing structure. I’ve noticed some artists (Trent Reznor for example) that have started selling at a higher price, higher quality files. While that may not be the ultimate solution (I’m not sure how that worked for him) – I do think a more fluid pricing scheme might be interesting. I can see a world with advertising supported (free!) DIY streamed music, but higher quality work still has to be bought, but that will only come about if artists try to make it happen…


        Reply
        1. Anonymous

          CJHoffmn,

          I think musical appreciation follows a Bell Curve, like everything else: most poeple’s musical sophistication is in the middle. The right side “tail” holds a smaller number of people who appreciate much more complex and musically sophisticated music.

          In past years I DO think there were gatekeepers who were more musically sophisticated and who “educated” the public by releasing more interesting music. Thus the populace “learned” and came to be a bit more musically sophisticated.

          Then came Clear Channel radio. Now we have a generation of listeners who really have never heard what music can be, and they do not demand it. They are OK with the fast-food-like “music” that comes at them from the corporate machine.

          If somehow listeners demand more complex, inventive, musical art, then the supply will naturally be limited because it is HARD TO CREATE consistently. And therefore the price will go up for artists who can pull it off on a regular basis.

          http://www.reverbnation.com/GlennGalen


          Reply
          1. Cjhoffmn

            That makes sense to me!


            Reply
  27. Pingback: A (Friendly) Industry Debate on Digital Music News - SoundCtrl

  28. DavidN

    I’ve been making my living as a full time musician via Internet sales since 2001… if you believe what you read online (or here at DMN), you’d think it’s simply not possible… and that everyone and everything is against you. It’s just not true. But it does take a strong work ethic and you have to keep creating quality content. I have 14 albums now… but when I started promoting my music online (in 1995) I had only two. Every single year, I’ve made more income from music than the year before. And over the years, even though music in general has become more accessible and I might argue – more disposable – I have still been able to make a very healthy living. And I don’t sell t-shirts… nor am I signed to a label. Independent artists need to hear more POSITIVE stories to let them know that it *is* possible to make a living doing music… so long as they are writing music that people want to own once they hear it. And… you don’t have to be a member of Radiohead (or formerly with a major record label) to do it. But it is hard work, and it takes time to build an audience. Years, in fact. It is a slow, long, gradual process… but success breeds success, and once you hit a certain point, it starts to snowball.


    Reply
    1. Ari Herstand

      Thanks for the note David. Would love to profile you in my new piece. Please shoot me an email ari [at] digitalmusicnews.com


      Reply
      1. DavidN

        Hey Ari… sent you an email, but never heard back… if you ever decide to do a “How 10 More Musicians Make a Living…” article, let me know.

        David


        Reply
    2. cjhoffmn

      That is great to hear David. I agree that we need more positive stories about ways to do it – and am with both of you – that trying to make it fit in the past is not how the future will be written!


      Reply
    3. Minneapolis Musician

      DavidN,

      I think that’s great that you have been able to make a healthy living for 12 years just selling your music.

      But perhaps yours is a special case. What if there there are only 100 of you able to do that, in a country of 350 million people?

      In the next few days somebody will win the Mega lottery; but that doesn’t prove that I can.


      Reply
    4. Rebecca De La Torre

      David is only a “special” case in that he a creative entrepreneur who has worked hard (still does) and built an audience for his music from the ground up. I have followed him online for several years and his story has inspired me to grow as a musician and entrepreneur myself. So good to see you on here, David. Blessings to you.


      Reply
      1. Minneapolis Musician

        Can you post a link to David’s website?


        Reply
        1. Rebecca De La Torre

          Hello Minneapolis Musician,

          For whatever reason, David has chosen not to share his last name. I will respect his privacy in this. I just know of him because he has shared so much good information online that I have used myself over the years to create a sustainable music business for myself. I hope you understand, and I hope that David reads this and choses to share his experience.


          Reply
  29. Clayton Severson

    Thanks the encouraging article, Ari. I always enjoy reading your opinions. Congrats on the DMN position for writing articles. Keep on keeping on!


    Reply
  30. Susan Israel

    Ari, it’s a great post.

    I’m not in the music industry, having got no further so far than amateur violin playing and amateur choir. That said, I defer to your knowledge and experience and admire your dedicated musicianship. I believe that your blog and consultancy outreach will be a great help to other independent musicians trying to establish themselves and find their marketing strategy.

    The discussion around merchandising is interesting.

    I hadn’t considered Spotify and I’m sure that others will now consider it.

    By the way I enjoyed your performance clip! You have a contagious energy. I love the trumpet.


    Reply
  31. Professional in the business

    Thank you Ari. As a professional in the business your points are insightful and potentially profound.


    Reply
  32. Mike O'pry

    All of these that Ari has picked aren’t even debatable. Ari is totally right. Does Thom Yorke know the difference between his asshole and a hole in the ground?


    Reply
  33. FarePlay

    Ari, apologies I’m not familiar with your work. Are you a solo performer or is the revenue figure split with either other band members, management or outside marketing support?

    Of course. this gets to the core of your post, so please respond at your earliest convenience.


    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      Ari, you’re funny.

      I guess I did open the door to “encourage” this extensive promotional post of your work.

      Game well played.


      Reply
  34. Esol Esek

    I understand Youtuve, Vevo, online distribution, and sending your work to still great radio like KEXP in Seattle and other stations that get listeners by being part of a local and or international geographic or stylistic community.

    SInce Spotify and Pandora are never going to pay me jack squat as an indie, I grasp not at all why I should sign over rights to my music to them. Promotion only, right? Promotion I can’t get anywhere else? Really? You mean if I make a song good enough to catch fire on multiple radio stations, Spotify and Pandora will be the make and break, over word of mouth, which will then at least have to go to Youtube or Bandcamp or Soundcloud? Screw the streamers.


    Reply
  35. Pingback: The Streaming Music Hullabalo | Jungle Physicians

  36. michael u

    So to make money you have to live in the Northern Hemisphere, pretty much. Damn.


    Reply

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