New Guit-A-Grip Post and Upcoming Gigs

Guit-A-Grip

The music business post series on Guit-A-Grip continues with a new post that discusses the real economics of touring and the importance of building a scene.  You can read that post, Touring Fact And Fiction here!

Your Unfunny Valentine and more

For those of you in the upstate NY area, I’ll be playing 2 hours of original improvised music for a benefit gig for the Amsterdam library this Friday (i.e.Valentines Day) to help them with a fundraising effort.    Tickets are $15/pp or $25 per couple and features local cheese, chocolate and wine tastings.  You can find out more about that even here.

The Flurry Festival follows this in Saratoga Springs and while I’m supposed to be performing again at the Gloversville Library the following Saturday, a scheduling conflict might prevent that.  If the gig happens I’ll promote it here.

A few more things on the table, but I’ll be performing at (and am on the steering committee  for) the Buck Moon Arts Festival this July.  It’s in its embryonic stages at this point) but here will be performances, vendors and various workshops that will make it a cool event!  You can find their facebook page with more detailed information here.

I also have a couple of dates in March and April penciled into the books more info when they go to pen (or marker).

Etc.

More guitar-muse posts, books and recordings to follow in what I hope to be a busy year!

 As always, thanks for reading!
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A Holiday Thought That May Help The Whole Year

Note: this was originally posted on GuitArchitecture but I think the message is still valid.

If web traffic is any indicator, I should be writing more about guitar shops in Vietnam, 8 string guitars (and pickups) and Philip Glass arpeggios which comprise the top 3 Google searches for my guitArchitecture blog.  (With absolutely no disrespect to Mr. Glass,  I never would have dreamed that there are thousands of people in the world actively trying to find out about “Philip Glass arpeggio”s.  Hopefully that makes someone’s day better!)

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But  since I don’t work with Google ads for ad revenue, I get to post on whatever interests me and while the personal motivation /psychology of guitar playing, tangential music business and music making observational posts get substantially fewer hits – they seem to be the ones that affect some people more.

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I’ve talked before about the need for a thick skin if you’re going to be an artist and how having a strong opinion could result in people reacting strongly to it as well.  While that’s an observation I still stand behind, I feel I should temper that advice with another suggestion that may serve you well.

Forgive people (including yourself) and

try to empathize with them.

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These things are actually related.  The more you see where someone else is coming from, the less likely you are to judge them harshly. This doesn’t mean forgetting, or letting people do hurtful things to you without consequence –  it just means letting go and moving on.  If this sounds counter-intuitive, then you should consider doing this because it will serve you better in the long run.  As Carrie Fisher once said:

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“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

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Looking back at my own life I see much truth in this statement.  I think of the actions of other people I resented and I see a series of torches that I carried.  Each requiring an exhausting amount of energy and maintenance to keep burning.

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John Lydon once said, “Anger is an energy” and while I believe that there are things are worth fighting and things worth fighting for, I also recognize that you only have a finite amount of energy in life.  In my own life, I eventually had to ask myself the question, “do you really want to spend energy and time on resentment or do you want to spend it on making your life (or the lives of other people) better?”

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A friend of mine recently sent me a link of yet another video of Pat Metheny going off on Kenny G.  When I saw it, I thought about some of Pat’s earlier diatribes about Kenny and my reaction was the same this time as it was before.   I didn’t laugh or think that it’s cool but instead I thought that it’s sad Pat Metheny has to be so insecure about what he does that he has to attack another musician for doing what they want to do musically.  Because if you’re secure about what you do, you don’t need to attack other people.  It does less to debase Kenny G in the public eye and instead of makes Pat Metheny look like a bully. Think I’m wrong?  Consider these questions for a moment:

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Does going off on Kenny G  get Pat more fans?

Does it get him more album sales?

Does it get more people going to Pat Metheny shows? Or

Does it keep Kenny G’s name in the news?

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If Kenny G had a deliberate plan of making music he hated just to sell a million copies of it then perhaps I could understand the rancor but I believe that Kenny  is playing music he wants to play just like Pat Metheny is.  It’s not something I dig, so it’s not something I buy or listen to so and (like many people I suspect) I don’t think about Kenny G until I stumble across another video of Pat going off on him.  If Pat empathized with that sentiment he might be less resentful of what Kenny G is doing (and would look a little less ridiculous).  Some jazz purists might not think that Pat looks ridiculous, but in support of my argument I ask only one question:

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Of all the ills in the world, is going off on Kenny G really the best you can do?

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Again, this is just my $.02 but don’t waste energy on people and things you dislike.  Instead, take that energy and invest it in making things better.  It’s something I’m still working on for myself.  Perhaps it will be helpful to you.

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all!

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Don’t Let Time Become An Excuse For Not Starting Something

Hi everybody!

I just wanted to add a post to go with the new series I’m running on my podcast. (if you like this post you might want to check it out if you haven’t already!)

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Time and Fear

It can be scary to start a new project, take on a new initiative or choose a new direction. One fear-based response I hear from people consistently for why they don’t want to take on something new is some variation of this:

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“Well…what if I put all of this time and energy into it and it doesn’t go anywhere?”

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The Tough Love Part Of The Post

Here is the reality check for this line of thinking:

Your time has no fixed economic value before you start something.

Let me clarify this.  If you’re currently making six figures a year in your day job, you are sorely mistaken (or outright delusional) if you’re taking on something new at the ground level and assuming that your time in your new venture will initially have the same value as what you’re currently making.

If you open a hot dog stand and sell five hot dogs in your first hour, SOME portion of that wage (and given the cost of supplies will be a negative figure in this case) will be your new (hopefully temporary) hourly wage.

While it doesn’t mean that’s what you’re worth –  it does mean that’s what you’re making at this moment.  Five years from now your artisan dogs might support a dozen stands selling hundreds an hour and bringing in real money – but at this moment – in the simplest equation – your business is valued at the dollar value generated when expenses are subtracted from assets and revenue.

Later on, once your project has inertia, your time will have a definitive value and there will be numerous things fighting for your time.  But initially, it’s like going to court in that just as you don’t get compensated for your time to appear in court – you don’t get back the time or energy in a project that went bust.  It’s gone.  Eat the loss and let it go.

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Sometimes you take a step back to move forward.

When I realized that my fretting hand technique was holding back my playing I had to re-learn about 1/2 of what I “knew” how to play.

It was a drag, and initially it felt like a huge waste of time taking a step that far back and I resisted it for a year because I didn’t want to wast my time taking a step back when there was already a lot I could do on guitar.

But what I could already do wasn’t getting me any further ahead in the long run.  The process of revamping my technique made me re-evaluate my relationship to the instrument and to music as a whole.  I began to hear my playing differently and began to hear other people’s playing differently.  Ultimately it got me the fluidity and clarity that I admired in so many other players playing that I was always wondering why it was missing from mine.

I sometimes wonder if people get frustrated when they talk about whatever they saw on the internet or TV (i.e. “if your time is so valuable how exactly are you spending it now?”) and then go on to ask the initial question:

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“Well…what if I put all of this time and energy into it and it doesn’t go anywhere?”

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Here’s the answer:

The good news is that if the project is a bust (and if you haven’t invested EVERYTHING into it) you can quit and take what you’ve learned from this venture to move on to the next one.

I copped this from Seth Godin who once said that quitting is undervalued and that the problem with quitting is that most people quit something when it’s too late.  The time to quit is in the early stages BEFORE you take the second mortgage, empty the bank account and realize that if this doesn’t work out that you and your family need to move back in with your folks.

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And now the caveat!

If this website has a one word core idea, it’s balance“.

Before I played guitar, I started off as a drummer in junior high school.  If I didn’t quit drums in my first year and later switched to guitar I never would have stayed in music because by the time I had enough time in on drums in high school I wouldn’t have had the energy or interest to transition to learning guitar.

If I quit my pursuit to revamp my technique too early, I never would have made the progress in my playing that I did.

The balance is the hardest thing because the onus of understanding and maintaining that balance falls on you, the individual.

Balance will play a huge role in the posts and podcasts ahead!

Starting any new project will take inertia to keep it going.  Once you get the project going you’ll have plenty of opportunities to evaluate your use of time and address it’s value in a real way, but don’t let that short circuit your plans for starting something.

More content coming soon.  As always, thanks for reading!

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It’s Not All Gold

As a professional – one important lesson to start internalizing is the need to balance being passionate about what you do and maintaining an emotional distance from it at the same time.

Hostile Terrain

Most of you have never heard of my first self published book, an unabashed DIY effort called Hostile Terrain.  It featured poetry, some plays, essays and other works.  Truth be told, about 30% still holds up as writing that I’d be willing to show to other people.

Hostile Terrain came out of a process of years of journaling.  I wrote everything down as an outlet.   I was depressed and desperate and it took a long time to realize that journaling just fed right into that.

I didn’t realize at the time that writing wasn’t getting bad things out of my system, but instead, it was just making me sicker.  I was breathing in the same stagnant air and thinking that I found something invigorating and relavatory because I was equating output with discovery.

In the next stage of this process, I was living with a person in a completely isolated situation and had hit emotional rock bottom because I had to confront things that intellect alone couldn’t solve and that I simply didn’t have the emotional maturity to deal with.

In the middle of this terrible living situation, a freak accident happened where the room I was living in flooded.  I lost 10 years of writing and journals.

I was devastated.  It was thousands of hours of work down the drain (or so I thought).

So being emotionally crushed, I went back to what I knew.  I went back to writing and eventually I wrote some more and then put out Hostile Terrain. I sent it out to friends and to a few publishing houses I was into, and while I got a few “attaboys” I got no interest from anyone for anything resembling publishing.

Bedtime Stories For Mutant Children

In the meantime, I decided to move away from poetry and into short stories.  I was really influenced by Tomas Bernhardt’s The Voice Imitator and decided to write a series of short stories that focused on dark stories for adults told in a children’s storybook style.  This was about 1996 or so. The Tim Burton book, The Melancholy Death Of Oyster Boy, came out mid project and even though I was jealous he beat me to the punch – my stories were much darker and I thought I might be able to get some publishing interest for a character I developed while on a grim tour of Germany (Kommandant Kumar) and for the overall book concept, Bedtime Stories For Mutant Children.

I had all the stories online so I could get feedback from my friends.  I didn’t have a computer at the time so I was working on my friend’s work computer.  I did this off and on for about a year.

Then something happened.

Within a 24-hour period the web server went out of business AND the hard drive that I had all of the files on seized.

I lost 30 short stories. Gone. Casper.

I hit my frustration limit and I stopped writing.  I abandoned the screenplay I wrote. I stopped all of the other writing I was doing and I worked on other things.

Eventually, I started seeing things differently, and I came to a realization.

It’s Not All Gold

  • There is no scarcity of ideas.

  • Not every idea has value

  • Important ideas will return

  • Sometimes it’s the process and not the product

There is no scarcity of ideas.

This was the biggest obstacle that I had to overcome in my own thinking and it’s one I still wrestle with.

There’s a fine line between being attached to an idea and being chained to it.

The difference is whether the idea you’re working with serves your larger goals, or if it’s only serving its own completion.

You don’t have to hold onto every idea like it’s a precious nugget.  There are more of them out there.

Not every idea has value equal to the amount of work needed to put it into action.

Again, it’s easy to get emotionally attached to the work put into an idea and equate work with value but that’s not always a direct relationship.  If you ever watch an episode of Shark Tank, you’ll likely see businesses where people have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into a product that has generated no revenue after several years in place.  This is what I’m talking about.

Cultivating the mindset to distance yourself emotionally from what you’re doing is a difficult process to develop and maintain but it’s an extremely valuable one.

Important ideas will return

I like documenting things because sometime I find things worth exploring but, in retrospect, every really good idea I couldn’t remember came back to me or presented itself in a different form.

Sometimes it’s the process and not the product

For me, this is the most important lesson in this piece.

Earlier, in regards to losing all of my writing, I said that:

“It was thousands of hours of work down the drain (or so I thought).”

That work wasn’t down the drain at all.  The work I put into that sharpened my writing and really honed my ability to focus.

That emphasis made huge differences in my practicing and ultimately affected other areas of my life in a much more positive way than the actual writing ever did.

When I work on projects now, I assess the value of the outcome and the value of the experience and if either one makes sense for me to do, then I’ll take it on.

Don’t get hung up on old ideas at the expense of new ones.  Implement, assess and then continue or abandon as need be.

I hope this helps and as always, thanks for reading!

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The Five Words Or Less Challenge

(Hey everyone.  Since I’m in the process of moving, the gone fishin’ sign is still up on the door and for this week’s post I’m rolling out some more excerpts and miscellaneous observations from my Selling It Versus Selling Out ebook that you may enjoy.

The podcast will come back in the weeks ahead after I’m settled.  In the meantime, you can check out the latest one here.)

Five Words Or Less

Up until fairly recently, I had a habit that, in retrospect, is quite embarrassing.

I couldn’t describe what I did musically in five words or less to other people.

When asked what I did, I said I played guitar, and then went into a painfully earnest description that was supposed to be informational (but in reality probably sounded more like babbling).

No matter how sincere people are, most of them shut down with information overload and anything more than 5 words describing what you do initially (“initially” is an important qualifier here by the way) is information overload.

That might sound harsh but it’s not meant to be.  It’s simply that even musicians (i.e. people who do this every day of their lives) tend to lose focus after 10 words or so. I might talk about how hearing koto playing worked its way into my comping and they might be looking at me smiling and wondering about the discolored tooth in the front of my mouth (it’s discolored because I got into an accident the day of my grandmother’s funeral and ate a face full of gravel killing the nerve in my front tooth.  It’s also why I very rarely smile with a full open-faced smile.  But I digress….).

To non-musicians it’s even more alien.  They often really want to understand what you’re doing, but experience has shown me that the more descriptive you get, the more you’re going to lose them.  People are busy.  They have a lot on their mind and they’re often easily distracted, so don’t lose them if they’re interested in what you do!

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The restroom pitch

Now I’ve clarified this with the word initially.  For those of you familiar with the term, this is less of an elevator pitch and (in terms of length of time) more of a restroom pitch.  Imagine you walk up to a sink in a restroom and someone is already using the neighboring sink.  The person recognizes you and taps the soap dispenser and asks, “Hey don’t you play music – what kind of music do you play?”  you’ve got about 5 words to get it across before he or she runs the tap water and can’t hear what you’re saying.

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The goal of being able to do this isn’t to limit yourself in a bad way.  

The point of it is to come up with just enough of a description to get someone’s interest and have them ask more about what it is that you do.

Interestingly enough, while the 5-word rule applies to a band bio (keep it short and to the point), it doesn’t necessarily apply to other text-based media.  People who want to read about a band are often willing to read lengthy articles and will actually retain the information – but that’s after there interest is piqued, and the window for that is generally a short sentence or two.

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In person – in an initial meeting  – you’ve got about 5 words to bring them in.

If you’re interested in trying this for yourself here are some tips that may help.

  • Try to describe yourself musically in 5 words or less.
  • Make it descriptive enough that people get some sense of what you’re doing – but open enough to let their imagination fill in the other pieces.  “Improvised rock guitar” isn’t a bad start, but people who hear that are going to think “jam band”.  So if you play in a jam band it’s easier to just say “I play in a jam band”.  If you don’t play in a jam band, you might need a better description.
  • If you’re comparing yourself to other bands – don’t use any more than two (“Black Sabbath meets Elton John” gets someone’s attention.  “Take Yngwie Malmsten’s leads with Tony Levin’s pocket and hold it together with Zakir Hussain’s tabla” looses people.  Shred guitar with tabla gets it back again.  Will your bassist get pissed at that description?  Probably – but again the idea is to distill it down to its essence – because the essence is where all the potency is.

While this process will help you describe your music to other people (and thus make it more accessible to them automatically), it has a second (and ultimately more significant) advantage. It clarifies in your own head exactly what it is you’re trying to do.

If it takes 30 seconds for someone to initially describe what they’re doing it’s generally because they’re a little muddled on the goal as well.  Again, it’s something I was guilty of on my own and I now have short descriptions for everything I do.  They’re not all 5 words or less (and they all need revision and improvement)  but they’re distilled enough that people get the gist of what I’m doing.

For example, when people ask about performance I often tell them I play “ethnically influenced rock guitar”, “loop-based improvised guitar” or “improvised music for multi-media”.

When asked about my teaching style, I can explain that as a teacher my goal is to “help students hear the music within” or to “help students sound like themselves”.  Both sentences are a little clunky – but that’s the simplest essence.  That’s what I can boil it down to and if I understand it on the base level, I can always expand on it later. How I do these things is a much longer discussion.  Even though none of them fully define what I do, they help open a door for that discussion to occur and opening doors is what music should do in general.

Give it a try!  You may find out some interesting things about yourself!

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As always, thanks for reading!

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PS – If you dig this post, you may like my ebooks (both available for Amazon Kindle or for the FREE Kindle App).  Click on graphic for book link page.

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Indie Musician Wake Up Call

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Do You View Your (Music) Career Like An Actor?

I just saw a documentary on Netflix called “That Guy Who Was In That Thing” which is about a number of instantly recognizable character actors and their paths to get to claw their way to the middle.  ; )

The documentary is thoroughly engaging by being both entertaining and thought-provoking.  There also happen to be a number of parallels between performing in the film/television industry and performing in the music industry.  The subjects spoke at length about the difficulties that come with the ebb and flow of work that their careers take.  They talked about how they were (and are) out of work for years before they get a few gigs or hit a streak of work and all of them had stories of other parallel jobs that they worked while trying to make a living acting and tales of losing gigs for any one of a dozen reasons.

Two things grabbed me right away.

1.  The subjects spoke at length about how the number of actors out there willing to work for less has caused many of them to make less money than they did before. The thinking being, we don’t have to pay you that anymore because there are 10,000 other people who will kill to sit in that chair for less money.  The number of parallels with this and recording musicians (and performing artists) was striking. I’m paraphrasing here, “You realize that they don’t need you to fill the role, they just need to fill the role.”  Does this sound familiar to anyone performing and/or recording music out there?

2.  Musicians might actually have it easier than actors.

Here’s my thinking behind this.  Actors need vehicles to act in.  So the model they use is basically variations for  Advertising / Televison / Film.  For a TV show, this might mean

  • auditioning for a pilot with hundreds of people
  • getting a callback with maybe 50 people
  • getting a second callback with 20 people
  • doing a test with 5-6 people
  • having a series of negotiating calls made to see what you will cost them
  • testing in front of the studio executives this will limit you to a group of maybe 3 people
  • if chosen, you then shoot a pilot
  • the pilot then has to get picked up and
  • then you hope that the series doesn’t get cancelled after the first few episodes

The interesting thing to me was that this paralleled musicians and major labels.  The thinking was for years that you had to be in a band and signed to a label to have a career. Online distribution changed that model forever.

Having said that, artists on labels are/were the only people getting tour support. (They’re  generally the only people to also get tour support via sponsorship. )

For actors, working with studios means you get to keep your SAG card.  You get to keep your benefits and the SAG card is key to the audition process (and the securing of roles).

It doesn’t say it directly in the documentary – but some of these actors slogging it out in endless auditions seem to be afraid that the new (up and coming) actors are just getting pulled from YouTube.

I don’t think it’s the case for major films – and won’t be for a while.

Studio legend Tommy Tedesco once related a story where some MI students went with him on a session and one of them said, “I don’t understand.  Someone who’s been playing a year could play that part.”  And Tommy said, “yes. that’s probably true.”

The student pushed it more and said, “But you make triple scale, why do they pay all of that money to bring you in when they could get someone to do it much cheaper?”

Tedesco replied, “Because when you spend 50 or 75,000 on a recording session with an orchestra, you don’t want to lose money because some guy might screw up his part.  You’re going to get the best players on the session to make sure that absolutely nothing goes wrong.”

Again, I’m not knocking YouTube – but a YouTube performance doesn’t mean you can handle the rigors of any gig that comes your way.  While it might get you an audition, in and of itself, it’s never going to give you traction if you don’t have the skills to back it up.

Here’s what bugged me about the documentary.

No one talked about going DIY.

No one talked about making their own films.  Writing and staging their own plays.  Starting their own companies. All they talked about was a variation of the formula:

Get call from agent + audition + a dozen factors MAY = a gig.

It’s easy to view a music career like this.  Waiting for a shot – the right moment, the right contact – to make a big pay out.  It’s the lottery mentality to which I say, “sure, put a couple of bucks in and see if you get lucky, but putting your life savings in it probably won’t pay off.”

Those development contracts like Joan Crawford were on back in the day are never coming back to the movie houses.  Those days of getting signed to a label and having a carer carefully cultivated over multiple releases are never coming back.

Elvis already left the building.

While I’m fully in favor of seeking out opportunity – by and large you make your own opportunities and the formula for that is:

Do really good work + Do it frequently + Affect, motivate and/or move other people = being the go to person for “that thing”.

If what you do services a niche audience, you might not get rich but it’s probably the best way to build a long-term career.

Thanks for reading!

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Guit-ing A Grip On Technical Difficulties (Podcasting)

Hi Everyone,

Here’s the podcast streaming message but the real notes are below:

[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/guitagrip/Guit-A-Grip_Podcast_Update.mp3%5D

iTunes Trouble

I thought this was fixed, but apparently some component of the lib syn/feedburner/iTunes trinity is broken and despite re-uploading some of the files the links for Episode #4 and Episode #5 are pulling up podcast #2 in iTunes.

I have NO idea for why that is happening but I’ve included streaming and download links here for all of the current episodes.  These load right up in my podcasts so hopefully they’ll do the same for you!

I’ve moved all the podcasts to one central place, the PODCAST tab on the top of the page.

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Again, my apologies for the inconvenience everyone!  More content coming soon!
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