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Feature

April 2010

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meet the editors

Letter from the Editor

AMPLIFIED VOLUME 1 , ISSUE 2 Evan Low Editor-in-Chief

Rachel Bernstein Gideon Broshy Alex Ma Ian Singleton David Yassky

Pamela Mishkin

Managing Editors

Faculty Advisor

Layout Editor

Hallam Tuck Art Editor

Rebecca Bahr

COVER BY: BACI WEILER, NATASHA STOLOVITZKY-BRUNNER AND JEAN MARIANO

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Issue 2: The Decade In Music I weighed fifty-seven pounds and stood a staggering three feet, nine inches tall when the decade commenced. It was the beginning of a new millennium and the beginning of a digital revolution—only Steve Jobs knew what the iPod was. Ten years ago, I had a CD player, just like everyone else. And I had a few CDs. I’d pop one in and listen to it for a few weeks. Then I’d listen to another. I remember every song on Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water. I remember my parents taking away Blink-182’s Take Off Your Pants And Jacket after they heard the track “Shut Up”. Then Apple released its first iPod in 2001. At the same time, retailers began offering legal downloading services; MP3 blogs and BitTorrent programs also arrived on the scene, allowing music fans to listen to and download music without actually paying for it. Record sales collapsed. There is upside to this decade’s digital revolu-

tion: music lovers now have unlimited access to a vast electronic database of music. Whether it be basement rock produced by a teenager here in New York or African Rhumbira created by an established Congolese artist, a plethora of music from all over the world can be heard by the digital age listener. Just click the button. But how much is too much? Has the digital revolution made it harder for the listener to really connect with an artist? Has it destroyed the concept of the album? What are parents supposed to do now when their children download an inappropriate song or album? Take away their computer? With features on the impact of technology, licensing, and how we should remember the 2000’s, this issue explores the multifaceted nature of this decade in music. Sincerely, Evan Low Editor, Amplified

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April 2010

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Op-ed

Op-ed

REMEMBER THE 2000’S ///Gideon Broshy

Gurgling murmurs of a cold wind and tense, heavy breathing in a desolate freak-horror suburb introduce the video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Soon, our pupils swell to double their size, our eyeballs tumble around their sockets like laundry in a washing machine, and we’re all yellow-teethed zombies, mesmerized by the most unforgettable bass line in pop history. When Jackson died last June, the “Thriller” dance was arguably the defining feature of his memorial—it was performed by thousands of people in Mexico City’s Zocalo, marched down Sixth Avenue in Manhattan’s Halloween parade, and reenacted by my brother’s sixth grade class. Thriller, the album, and the ensuing Victory Tour with his brothers, was Jackson’s pinnacle of success—he sold the most albums of all time, played the biggest arenas in the world, and proved his faintly muttered warning: “I’m not like other guys.” The King of Pop is a unifying figure. In 1984, he was the center of attention; in 2009, his death was his re-coronation. His fame was a force rooted in a dynamic persona, slick moves and great songs. The world’s collective sadness last June is just one proof that it was no 15-minute grab. But in the quarterdecade since “Thriller,” the musical playing field has changed. The way in which music is created, distributed, and received has been turned upside down, mostly thanks to the Internet. In providing endless opportunity in the music world, our digital-age reality has taken the playing field into its hands like a piece of children’s play-doh and stretched it, flattening it out in the process. With so much created and immediately accessible, and a spring of newfound musical diversity, it has become difficult for any artist or movement to poke a hole

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in the phony multi-colored clay and rise to greatness in this industry, bring us all together, and create some kind of definition for what music was in the 00’s. Increased niche-ification has proved that, while Michael Jackson did it in the ‘80s, no longer can one cater to all. MySpace is one of the most powerful tools of the digital age. It has become the leading outlet for musicians to post their music, mounting it in a glass case for a world of web surfers—more than 8 million artists have their work on the site. Through that site and countless other services catered to both artists and listeners, the music world has become a vast electronic sea of faces and names. There are plenty of horrible bands that achieve recognition, but plenty of great ones, too—lack of quality is not the problem. It’s about quantity and availability, and their effects: as each blog hypes up the next (possibly great) indie band and MTV airs the new single from another forgettable Soulja Boy, the “play-doh” theory is only strengthened: if everyone gets the opportunity to be someone, no one means all that much. Rolling Stone is one misguided publication. In music’s “expanded but flattened” condition, the magazine has been fishing for some sort of contemporary Michael Jackson, some unifying figure, but its buckets have only the unforgiving smell of dying bait-worms. Take their stab at assessing the decade, for example: the editors could not decide on suitable relevant candidates for their “most important artists of the decade” feature, inappropriately crowning oldies Bruce Springsteen and U2 instead. It is ridiculous to call Springsteen the face of the 2000’s when he released his best albums

Amplified

in the 70’s. The article is just an exhibit of the music press’ confusion in the face of the “play-doh” theory—if there are so few modern heavy-hitters, who do you turn to? Well, your parents’ favorite bands are still kicking around. Similarly, nostalgia powers the touring industry. Both the Boss’ howl and the Edge’s guitar chime filled stadiums throughout the decade and successfully tore each respective house down. While The Police’s reunion tour brought together 80,000 people per night as if 1983 never ended, not one artistic career born in this decade has led to stadiumlevel touring in the States. The Rolling Stones, U2, and Madonna were the three top touring acts of the decade, and the only contemporary act to even come close was Britney Spears at #25. The fact is, no contemporary artists can gather that many people for a show. Nobody has that unifying power. The flattened play-doh pancake strikes again: in this expanded, Web-ified music industry, new artists just don’t rise to that level anymore. 80,000 voices in unison makes for a glorious unifying experience, but don’t ask Generation Y— we wouldn’t know. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Kanye West, despite his character flaws, is arguably the most important artist of the decade, a pop and hip hop revolutionary who was famous enough for people to pay attention. He is one of our few true unifying figures. However, West is one of a very select group of contemporary heavyweights—the Strokes, Arcade Fire, M.I.A., Lil’ Wayne—most of whom haven’t really reached the level of fame or ubiquity that allowed past greats to transcend generations. The recent “We Are the World – 25 for Haiti” benefit single, while absolutely noble and virtuous in its cause, paints a discouraging picture of our mainstream music landscape. Supposedly an assemblage of our greatest talents, the taping’s contemporary acts were either from the Justin Bieber/Jonas Brothers/Miley Cyrus camp, the American Idol franchise, or the Black Eyed Peas. The presence of Lil’ Wayne, Kanye West and even Usher is evidence that hip hop was one of the mainstream’s few saviors, but the juxtaposition of the contemporary talent in the original “We Are the World” in 1985 with that of the Haiti single is alarming. Is Nicole Scherzinger really our generation’s Diana Ross, and the Pussycat Dolls our Supremes? I’m going to speculate a bit. In trying to explain our lack of great musical figures or definitive genre movements, it’s easy

to fall back on buzz words and blame the Internet, so let’s go deeper than that. Music’s infinite availability has substantial psychological implications for the consumer; perhaps it has created an environment that discourages the development of “organized” genre movements or unifying superstar artists. Maybe the attitude of immediacy and continuous availability has devalued music itself. When we can have anything, we become impatient. If you feed the pigeons in Central Park, soon enough you become the nesting ground, like the beggar-woman in Mary Poppins (although you won’t be asking for tuppence); they persist, pecking at your head to check if there’s more bread inside. Do the pigeons really savor every bite if you keep giving them, and you don’t cave in? No, they just get fat. Music is starting to work the same way. The listening experience has come down to an easy download click, but people used to go out and buy records, cassettes or CDs, get excited about them, go home and listen to them with their friends. Now, the album as a work of art means next to nothing; if you can get that song in 3 seconds, why take more time to listen to it? I cringe at the sight of extreme multi-tasking: putting a song from Shuffle on iTunes on, then IM-ing, checking notifications on Facebook and finishing an English paper. We want immediate satisfaction, and we don’t have time to care. With that sort of attitude, all of this makes sense; it makes sense that the average listener doesn’t grow to love an artist and go see their show, and it makes sense that most mainstream successes are forgotten as quickly as they came. In the video for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California,” the band parodies each decade since the birth of rock music—mop top 60’s kids, 80’s glam rock, 90’s grunge. I have this fear that if they got up to the 00’s, they would be clueless as to who or what to ridicule. What will the 2000s be remembered for? Making a guess would be way too audacious. Maybe the “dots” are holding still, waiting to connect later: maybe definitive genre movements now will become apparent later, and maybe Kings of Leon are the Zeppelin of our decade. What I do know is that through the advent of the Internet as the powerhouse that it is, the expanded music world has not just become disorganized, decentralized, and confusing—the chunk of flattened, squeezable toy play-doh is one grand, diverse, awesome mess. Children, never stop playing.

Everybody Googles themselves. It’s a universal guilty pleasure. In 2005, I was in 6th grade, and Google was getting pretty boring—I had one or two entries that were actually about me—so I iTunesd myself. Yes, I searched “Gideon” in iTunes. And that’s how I found my favorite band. My Morning Jacket’s “Gideon” is based around an innocent arpeggiated guitar melody; grandiose power chords propel it into the stratosphere, and a soaring voice keeps it afloat. That song and the rest of the album make Z the greatest kind of rock record—it has the Who’s power with James Brown’s soul and some Kentucky swagger, it’s in-your-face but beautiful and subtle. Jim James’ voice both shrieks and whispers; James is a howling wolf and a somber balladeer. By the end, the album has touched on all kinds of pop music, but is utterly unique. Z established My Morning Jacket as an unstoppable machine of eclecticism, but more importantly, it’s my favorite record of the decade. -Gideon Broshy

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Feature

ALEX MA WITH GIDEON BROSHY

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The scene has become an everlasting con‐ veyor belt of styles, influences, and experiments. """ "" " """ "" "

Indie has gone mainstream. As ironic as it sounds, the indie music scene, associated with the non-conformist rejection of everything mainstream, has taken the opposite route. More and more, flannel and skinny jeans bathe in Billboard success. The increasingly vibrant indie music scene has become arguably the strongest force in the music world, a kingdom with the Internet as its emissary, Pitchfork.com as its arbiter, and Brooklyn as its capital. The diversification of the indie scene has further proved that it is not unified by genre, even though certain styles do characterize it; a common aesthetic, Do-It-Yourself ethic, and loyal communities of intrigued listeners hold it together. The lines are already fuzzy—with more “indie” acts crossing into the mainstream and even switching from independent to major labels, they’ve gotten fuzzier. Ever hear of the band Phoenix? A classic case of indie crossover, they released Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix last May, and it quickly charted at #37 on the Billboard 200. They have taken a path similar to one of the decade’s biggest success stories: Parachutes, Coldplay’s debut album, peaked at #51 when it was released ten years ago, and it went on the win a Grammy in 2002 for Best Alternative Music Album, the very award that Phoenix won this February. Vampire Weekend is another mainstream success story, and the most extreme display of the hype machine—it was love at first sight, then denial and backlash,

and then love all over again, because they’re a great band. Ezra Koenig, Chris Tomson, Rostam Batmanglij, and Chris Baio all live in Brooklyn, and Vampire Weekend is signed to XL, a label that is home to alt-rock giant Radiohead, the White Stripes, Brit-indie darlings the Horrors, and even M.I.A. Their eponymous debut album, recorded in Brooklyn, hit #17 –

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in comparison, as I’m writing this, #17 on the Billboard 200 is Play On, by Carrie Underwood (everyone’s American idol, sort of.) Their latest, Contra, debuted at the top of the American charts. Point is, indie bands are everywhere, and they’re not stopping. Canada’s Arcade Fire played to 25,000 people at Randall’s Island in 2007; Interpol played Madison Square Garden that same year; and Death Cab for Cutie, My

Morning Jacket, The Decemberists, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and now Spoon and the National have all headlined Radio City Music Hall. Indie music’s reach is far deeper than its crossover successes. The scene has become an everlasting conveyor belt of styles, influences, and experiments, and has produced arguably the most vital music of the last ten years. Indie successes such as electronic innovators Animal Collective or post-punkers TV on the Radio influence their less experienced contemporaries (and often inspire second-rate mimics). Dirty Projectors celebrate eccentricity with their unique art rock. Grizzly Bear revels in the subtleties that soft voice, guitar and piano can bring, and develop those ideas until they reach majestic climaxes. Those bands are just the ones that are talked about most; there are thousands of bands out there, more accessible than ever, each with its own trademark. This kind of creative environment is encapsulated in the indie world’s mecca, Brooklyn; all of the bands mentioned above are based in the borough (yes, that was on purpose). In particular, Williamsburg—and now, as that area has been gentrified, Bushwick and deeper parts of the borough—has fostered a sense of artistic community, where everyone either writes poetry, writes songs, or works at a vegan restaurant. Call it escapism—and yeah, some of this “artistry” is bullshit from unemployed hipsters supported by their parents—but it is not hard to find quality in a lot of the music created in these neighborhoods. Indie bands are born in

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falling into The empty criticism of the indie scene poses the threat of overlooking the ac‐ tual value that it has. """ "" " """ "" "

INDIE?

Brooklyn; if not, they move to Brooklyn. A great advantage and an important facet of the dynamic Brooklyn scene is the shows. Indie has returned to the raw DIY ethic that rock was built on, and promoter Todd P, or Todd Patrick, has a lot to do with it. He hosts shows in small clubs, lofts, and unused warehouses. At places like the Market Hotel, Death by Audio, the Silent Barn, and a newly opened venue simply called Above the Auto Parts Store, indie bands of all styles—lo-fi, math rock, dancetronica, whatever—play $7 shows with no roadies and a plastic table for a bar (but a lot of beer anyway.) If the venue is unlicensed, the cops sometimes come. And the show is sneaked into some other Todd P venue. Other Brooklyn venues include the larger (550-capacity) Music Hall of Williamburg and (600-capacity) Brooklyn Bowl, The Bell House, Spike Hill, Public Assembly, and the new Knitting Factory. Brooklyn in the summer boasts the JellyNYC Pool Parties, free shows originally held at McCarren Park Pool and now moved to the Williamsburg Waterfront, where the sunset, the Manhattan skyline, and hipster jean shorts coalesce. The bitter hipster will always have something to complain about, and the workings of the indie world are sources of complaint and criticism, even if those complaining are part of the problem. Some arguments are viable— for example, indie clichés are easy to fall into, and some overzealous Brooklynites confuse a stripped-down, lo-fi sound with instant artistic credibility. Pitchfork.com, the digital indie music publication, too often sways listeners in a way that strips them of individual opinion, and hype is a manipulative machine. Some bands get big in Brooklyn because they’re trendy. But falling into mostly empty criticism of the indie scene poses the threat of overlooking the actual value that it has. Powerful music critic Sasha Frere-Jones provided a more eloquent argument against indie, specifically the indie rock genre, in his 2007 New Yorker article, “A Paler Shade of White.” Frere-Jones argues that somewhere in the mix, indie rock lost the influence of traditionally African-American music—blues and soul rooted in slave hymns—that rock ‘n roll was originally based in, and, consequently, the riskiness and excitement in this “musical miscegenation.” He has a point—the indie scene is overwhelmingly middle-class and white. The Black Power

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movement of the late ‘60s and ‘70s changed the justifiability of “borrowing” from black music, and ‘90s gangsta rap emphasized separation between the white and black communities. Where Frere-Jones is wrong is in suggesting a loss of exciting music in the indie scene, pinpointing the loss in use of rhythm. True, the oversimplified rhythms in African-American music that translated into raunchy rock ‘n roll by Little Richard or the Rolling Stones, or the Bo Diddley Beat, is less often heard, but it’s only because rhythm is being used in more varied ways, and often in a less direct manner. Soul and R&B still live (both in and out of the indie scene); many alternative British and Scottish indie artists such as the Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand write extra-punchy, hookfilled songs; indie rap in the form of groups like the Cool Kids has returned to big bass and

strong beats; math rock dabbles in polyrhythm; experimental electronic groups rely on rhythm and rhythmic textures as a backbone to their tinkering; synth-pop like Passion Pit results in a lot of crushed dance floors; indie techno like Crystal Castles perseveres; and disco-funk like Hercules and Love Affair revels in slick, crunchy rhythm. For the most part, indie rock, and much of the indie scene, does favor texture over rhythm, but that means instrumentation, sometimes aided by electronics, is more varied than ever. Frere-Jones targets a folky subset of indie rock (Arcade Fire, the Decemberists), and fails to realize that what indie bands are doing now is as risky as when Elvis “stole black music.” That original swing that made rock n’ roll exciting is not lost on us (see: Spoon), but more influences and styles have yielded more target audiences. Some of the more experimental indie music has even bordered on contemporary classical music, and that suggests a more specified, more sophisticated, and smaller audience. Almost no artists have music absorbed by everyone anymore, but more music is directed at more people. So let’s recap on indie over the past ten years: if there’s one word to describe the scene’s development, it’s probably the word expansion. The scene got much bigger, and consequently more varied, while Williamsburg became the new East Village, the center of the indie world. A bunch of bands broke out, and that was great, but most of them stayed underground. And on a makeshift stage in some sketchy loft in Bushwick, they were sweating their asses off.

GOING MAINSTREAM Crowds watch a performance at Music Hall of Williamsburg,“Indie” band Vampire Weekend’s Contra hit #. April 2010

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Feature

Feature

DAN HOCKSTEIN

-Ian Singleton

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dio. As an ever-expanding tool, current technology impacts the lives of musicians with a budget and without a budget. For those with a budget, it’s possible to sit in front of a laptop and have an idea recorded—the choices on which new program to use are limitless—for as long as it takes to play or express that idea. Then, one can add GarageBand or Audacity effects into the mix, which can enhance the experience (or make it sound absolutely terrible). For those already backed by either a record label or affluent friends or family, there are more opportunities to make the recording sound good. In the digital age, it’s commonplace to find a Pro Tools setup on a computer as the final destination from a chain of expensive and babied gear that would have otherwise been hooked up to an analog tape machine. This generally doesn’t sound very different; computerizing the editing process just adds more options as far as editing and processing. Hell, you don’t even have to put real instruments on songs anymore. There’s a whole genre for that: electronic music. Anyway, we’re done with the recording. Now what? Well, because of our reliably shape-shifting friend, Technology, the music can then be released in a ton of ways and heard by a ton of people; this is where the Internet really comes into play. Sites are constantly being created to host free downloads, paid downloads, and announce shows and the like. This widespread distribution allows the artist to be discovered by people who have never even been to a record store. This expanded plane of opportunities for the musician also puts the listener at a tremendous advantage. Peer-to-peer file sharing has made almost any album imaginable accessible for free. There is a plethora of music available in the Internet’s tummy that will never be fully tapped by any individual. Sites like Last.fm and Pandora have made it easier to discover artists in the aforementioned massive pool, based on the listener’s music taste. Some of these sites even double as a social network, bringing the whole damn thing full circle as a network not only for musicians to spread their material, but for the people listening to that material to connect with each other. While some musicians may choose to distribute their music conventionally as a record label would, some individuals choose to go a step further and use the blog as a tool to connect further with their listeners. This relatively new advance in technology has pushed the connection between fans and artists closer and closer, as artists post demos of new songs and listeners can comment. Both groups can swing the pendulum with their own blogs and their own opinions—plenty of blogs are by listeners themselves. It’s a buzzing information-exchange freeway.y What does this all mean? We have arrived at a new kind of creative system. With the give-or-take, free-for-all nature that technology and the Internet have brought to music, the creator and the consumer have leveled almost to a point of equilibrium, with intellectual exchange—of music, of information, of opinion—at our fingertips. Everyone is now a name, a face, and an “about me” section. And although this vast world of opportunities can make it hard to distinguish between good and bad artists, it also brings an egalitarian attitude into the mix the likes of which our society has never had before.

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You Can Put A Price On Cool BY

MEGAN LU

One day, you’re watching TV. When a commercial comes on, you tune out. But you soon grow aware that something about the ad catches your attention, All of a sudden you realize that one of your favorite tracks is playing in the background. It’s not a pop track from the Top 100, it’s a release by an indie band you believe you exclusively enjoy. You sit there, taken off guard, and in the back of your mind, you hear a whisper: “sellout.” Bands that come from the indie rock world have, more than ever, taken advantage of a money-making outlet, and a glaringly obvious opportunity for crossover success: airplay during commercial breaks. As the fashionable “indie” tag becomes a marketable product, listening to Passion Pit becomes hip. Advertisers have relied more and more on indie artists like Passion Pit to soundtrack their commercials, and many acts have gladly obliged. This seems like a win-win in a time when it is hard for indie acts to rely on album sales, or even touring, for a living. The question is, are the artists surrendering their integrity for a little cash, and are crossover successes like Passion Pit based on “indie cool” as opposed to the music itself? The Dodos’ lead man, Meric Long, had been offered several ad placements before he accepted an offer last winter from Miller Brewing Company. Miller used one of the Dodos’ 2008 tracks during a commercial for a lime chelada-style lager, Miller Chill.

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The ad started playing last May, and, as is typical, the Dodos received a placement fee plus residual fees for each subsequent play.

Musicians are run‐ ning out of ways to make a living. ad li‐ censing is a sure shot. """ "" " """ "" "

I was a little late; it was fall of 2005 and I had just heard about the "Strokes."The Strokes brought something out in me, something I had never really felt, a passion for music. The songs were so simple, yet so perfect. I fell in love with Julian's honest and plain yet beautifully melodic voice and Albert's basic chord driven progressions. The whole band was well, simply put, awesome in every way; they were the coolest guys in the world. Is this It? liberated me, made me cool, and helped me take the next step towards young adulthood.

As an ever‐expanding tool, technology im‐ pacts the lives of mu‐ sicians with or with‐ out a budget . """ "" " """ "" "

Fishing for recognition in a music industry based on bureaucracy and major labels, the bands of the “golden age” of rock and roll had it pretty tough. In the past ten years, the industry has changed, and the paths to success have widened. Technology has democratized the music world. Specifically, our society has been shaped by the emergence of the Internet as a social monolith; we perform activities and go about our days differently because of its relentless rise to power. It has made us impatient, oversensitive, spineless machines, plagued by carpal tunnel syndrome and sore eyes. However, there is an

upside to this catastrophe. Oh, yes, a massive positive force emanating from the pointy fangs and swollen gums of the Internet. We can share things. In fact, unless people don’t subscribe to the Holy Internet’s regime, they have to share things. Between Facebook, MySpace, and Instant Messaging, it’s nearly impossible to hide even a small part of one’s personal life. For us creative types, it’s a blessing. We can spew up anything we hacked on a guitar and it will be accessible to billions of people. But what if it’s good, you ask? What if your material is good? Well then, that’s a whole ‘nuther story, friendo. To consider how technology has widened our opportunities, let’s head into the recording stu-

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User­Ge

“That’s where the money is these days,” explained Long. “I’ve talked to some of my friends in other bands, and they’re looking for placements.” More and more bands have successfully scored placements in TV ads for labels that want some of the indie world’s street cred. Phoenix’s music has given more of a hipster vibe to everything from Cadillac’s 2010 ads to trailers for New York, I Love You and Where the Wild Things Are. Ads for Playstation and BBC have been set to the electronic tunes of Passion Pit, a Cold Cave song played in the background of a commercial by Radioshack, and Santigold soundtracks ads for Bud Light Lime.

Some musicians are going even further than that by recording tracks specifically for commercial use. Petra Haden, a freelance violinist, a cappella singer, and selfdescribed “ struggling musician, a struggling artist, if you would,” has been in the Decemberists, the Rentals, and several other groups. She’s also collaborated on recordings with countless more musicians, including the Foo Fighters. (Her name is probably also familiar thanks to her marriage to Jack Black.) Haden’s manager was contacted by Toyota’s music supervisor to record a few demos and, later, full tracks, specifically for a Toyota ad campaign. Haden explained, “They sent me the commercial and I sang to it, kind of like scoring a movie.” Online consumer feedback indicates that the three commercials Haden did were positively received by Toyota buyers. In hindsight, it’s a logical development that follows a period of the worst record sales in history. Thanks to peer-to-peer sharing, musicians that gain public exposure still don’t make much money, and live music performances have been crippled since the recession hit. Musicians are running out of ways to make a living, and ad licensing is a sure shot. Purists will argue that putting any sort of price tag on music by selling it to for an ad is wrong; the deeper question is whether it is wrong to take advantage of their indie “cool,” selling their name, their scene and their sartorial choices as opposed to their musical worth, no matter how great it may be.

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Feature

Editors' Picks:

Feature Thoughts on the Decade

t Fail

Bigges Stick to Hollywood

Best Pop Hits Where Did They Go?

Best D

Worst Pop Hits

ance

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is not just an album. It is a journey, both physical and mental, that exhibits not only enormous cohesiveness, but also pure, unadulterated beauty. The story behind the record is well known (an homage to the small band fighting the will of corporatism), and the music is complex, and yet frighteningly accessible. The album, which was dropped by its label because it was too obtuse, was first streamed by the band on its website, certainly an interesting fact considering the downward spiral visited upon the music business during the latter years of the decade, and took almost six months to finally be released. It is built out of love and pain, however horrible and clichéd that is. “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” builds off its three chords into a churning ball of noise. This ball of noise, built around bits of poetry, fuels the entire album. There is a terrific video of Jay Bennett standing in a studio filled with drum machines, whistles and other arcane noisemakers blaring this incredible, terrifying noise. When the camera pans over to him you can barely hear him yell “We’re either gonna get an incredible sound, or were gonna kill ourselves”. That Bennett lost his place in the band after the record is a testament to this fact. He was a victim of the big, beautiful ball of sound he created. Jeff Tweedy’s lyricism, though, maintains the structural integrity needed to put that powerful, fragile, force to work. When, on “Ashes Of American Flags,” Jeff Tweedy whispers “I know I would die/ if I could come back new” and it breaks down into this inverted, empty whistling shell of a song, it’s like there’s a giant surreal force greater than perception that is slowly rewinding Tweedy’s life, backing up the needle, giving him the spooky reincarnation he wants. And then there’s a drum break and we’re swept into “Heavy Metal Drummer”. Not only is that an inexpressibly effective break between songs, it is perhaps the most beautiful minute of recorded sound made in the last ten years. -Hallam Tuck

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Op-ed Op-Ed

Op-ed

FAIRY DUST ON BROADWAY

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s we are thrown into a new year and a new decade, Broadway is at a crossroads. What was once a powerful form of American pop culture, seeping its way into almost every household, now seems to be a symbol of what once was. Unfortunately, we are living in an age in which going to see a Broadway show is not an option for most people, and is seen as “quaint”—an activity to be done with grandma—for those who can even afford a ticket. What with video games, television, and movies as competition, it seems Broadway has turned to Disney to be its fairy godmother. Beginning with the smash hit The Lion King in 1997, Disney musicals have flooded Broadway theaters. Today there are four Disney musicals playing, including The Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins, Shrek the Musical, and The Lion King – not to mention the $40 million “work-in-progress” that is Spiderman: The Musical. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not out to make Disney the big bad wolf here. You can hear me proudly belting out The Little Mermaid’s “Part of Your World” any day of the week. What’s more, big-budget musicals like this singlehandedly saved Broadway from economic ruin in the recession. But there is a point at which the gratitude runs out. Though Disney saved the theater industry from a looming death, it may have brought creativity down with it. Given the consistently tough economic times, producers flock to shows that will be sure-fire hits – the Little Mermaid’s and Shrek’s of Broadway. This phenomenon leaves little room to foster the creativity that has come to define the theatre. Now more than ever it is difficult for the low-budget musical or play to get started – let alone stay afloat. Even the ones that have made it to the grand Broadway stage rarely stay for long, with gems like Title of Show and Reasons to Be Pretty closing as quickly as they came. Indeed, there was a time when little projects were nurtured and encouraged to grow and evolve on Broadway – in fact such environments are linked to masterpieces like You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, Hair, and A Chrous Line. Such pieces have been living testaments to the fact that theatre can you make you laugh, cry, and, most importantly, think. Broadway shows once could explore the issues of the day and bring new ideas and movements to the forefront of American pop culture. This is what made Broadway special, and brought people back to the theaters again and again – eager for every note and every jazz step. The High School Musical franchise, and other kid- and teen-targeted TV programs and movies that set their roots in Broadway theater, are another step backward. While they bring the “theater” to the young masses, they reduce Broadway to an elementary level, disregarding the intellectual implications a great piece of theater needs and always carries. In essence, High School Musical succeeds in “dumbing down” Broadway. Together, we must say enough of the Disney fluff that crowds playbills! While Disney may have saved Broadway from extinction, it is threatening to change what theatre is and means in American culture, and the relevance it has in our lives.

-Katie Birenboim

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THE CHANGING INDUSTRY ///Ethan Karetsky

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peer-to-peer networks kept popping up like signed on to the iPod and iTunes agreements Whack-a-Mole. Yet executives could have because they were running out of options and been more open to changes in their business needed to join the Internet game. The post-iTunes years provided a frustrating paradox for record executives. Though digital sales were on the rise (up to 844.2 million in 2007 from 19.2 million in 2003) it was too little too late. CDs cost $15 to $18 dollars, while digital singles cost 99 cents. While piracy is certainly not looked upon favorably, it is not the main culprit in devaluing label’s stock prices; the problem is that they’re selling songs, not albums. Labels no longer profit from the high markup that CDs afforded. Two releases from S-Curve Records serve as the prime example of the single’s detrimental effect on the industry. In 2000, the label put out the Baha Men’s woof-woofing single “Who Let the Dogs Out?” Though Napster was on the rise, music fans were still accustomed to buying CDs, and paid for the whole album, model, instead of clutching tightly to the out- which sold 4 million copies. Three years later, dated CD. S-Curve was pushing “Stacy’s Mom,” a new The defining date of this decade in music single from their power-pop group Fountains may be October 23, 2001: the day the first of Wayne. The album sold only 400,000 units, generation iPod hit stores. The next biggest while the digital single sold 520,000 copies, development came in April of 2003, when the mostly via iTunes. It’s clear that more people iTunes Music Store was launched, quickly be- cherry-picked the single, whether legally via coming the dominant online music retailer. As iTunes or illegally on Kazaa or LimeWire, inApple stock rose from 8 million to 80 million, stead of buying the entire album. While this record labels revenues began a steep decline. was great for consumers (and for Apple), it Labels felt cheated by the new business model, was terrible news for labels, as their revenues but Apple had done nothing wrong; labels had sank. CD sales fell from 943 million in 2000 to

The defining date of this decade in music may be October 23, 2001: the day the first generation iPod hit.

500 in 2007. Not only were total sales down, but hit albums also proved more difficult to move: while Usher’s Confessions sold nearly 8 million copies in 2005 as the highest-selling CD of that year, Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III, the top-selling album of 2008, sold only 2.87 million units. The label’s marketing uses of the Internet have been severely downplayed. Syd Schwartz used free mp3s to build a fan base for Creed in ’97 on Wind-Up Records (an indie label), but when he moved to a similar job at EMI (a major label), executives explained that things like that simply weren’t part of their procedure. The industry’s promotional focus was (and sadly, still is) radio and big-box retail, as execs desperately hold onto a broken system. For artists, this was a decade of new forms of monetization. As CD sales slowed, artists became reliant on ticket and merchandise sales for the bulk of their income. For independent artists, the Internet offered both a more democratized playing field, and the opportunity to market themselves in unique ways. Performers such as Justin Bieber gained notoriety through YouTube covers of Usher and Chris Brown songs, which eventually led to a record deal with Island, the same label

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Ever since the end of the 90s, youths of America have found an outlet for their rebellion: music. In the past, the public did not have the opportunity to listen to much other than what the labels heavily promoted. However, due the rise of internet, we no longer have to scavenge for music that comes from overseas. New technology has encouraged a diverse range of music. The rise of Myspace in 2003, Youtube in 2005, and Internet radio such as Pandora and last.fm have formed an international music bridge, giving society a more accessible and larger selection of music. Although the U.S. and U.K separated over two hundred years ago, ties between the two English-speaking countries, even in music, have seemed to remain. Many attribute the success of bands such as the Arctic Monkeys to the popularity of the Internet and sites like Myspace – success that came without heavy marketing and advertising other bands have needed to become prominent. Hit singles like “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” raced to the top of the charts, with their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not entering the Billboard chart at #24. Lily Allen, another example of a foreign singer reaching American stardom, has become a household name in America since her debut album Alright Still (2006) reached #20 on the Billboard. Widely acclaimed for her original lyrics, it’s easy to see why she has achieved both commercial and critical success. Allen uses themes of drugs, love, depression, and revenge in a critical and hilarious template, with her vocal style bridging rap and rock. Her own introduction into the American pop stream has been part of an influx of other UK artists, such as Adele, Kate Nash, and Amy Winehouse, who won five Grammys for Back to Black in 2006. British bands and singers aren’t the only ones making it big in America. Icelandic musicians have also experienced success in the U.S, most famously Bjork. Known for her diverse musical style, she has been nominated for thirteen Grammys, two Golden Globes, and an Oscar. The Icelandic band Sigur Ros, a band known for their ethereal soft sounds, also found success in the U.S. with their second album, Agaetis Byrjun (A Good Beginning), released in 1999. They would only continue this rise with their third album entitled (), released in 2002, and their fourth album Takk… (Thanks), released in 2005, which became their best selling album to date. The band has a Myspace page where one can listen to many of their current songs, along with music videos posted on Youtube. The new ease with which one can access the Internet has brought the grime pop of Lily Allen, the Indie Rock of the Arctic Monkeys, and the Icelandic dream pop of Sigur Ros to the general public. Anyone can listen to whatever they want, whenever they want.

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The 00s have been a tempestuous time for the music industry, to say the least. Sales figures have plummeted, thousands have been fired, music has been pirated, and the CD has finally been shattered. For so long the industry was beholden to a shiny silver disc that now faces extinction, and before that, a larger black one. The business model that had kept the major labels rolling in dough through the 80s and 90s is now dead. And time and time again in the first part of the 21st century, industry executives failed to make the proper decisions with regards to technology. The industry’s first technological failure came with Napster. Though artists such as Radiohead and Dispatch gladly posted songs on the peer-to-peer service as a promotional tool, record label executives feared the unknown in Napster. They failed to recognize the potential in working alongside Napster; with a built in user base of 26.4 million, an efficient way of communicating and identifying consumers’ musical tastes, along with the flexibility to create various pricing models, Napster could have become a crucial part of music marketing. Fear of the Internet kept executives from cashing in on Napster. Interestingly, the thousands of RIAA lawsuits against peer-to-peer users did very little to stop piracy. Even when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the RIAA against Grokster, Kazaa, and Morpheus, no one stopped trading illegal music. It’s hard to blame the labels for feeling like victims, as

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HOPPING THE ATLANTIC

-Hannah Jun that signed Usher as a teen. Other artists released streams of songs as they were completed in lieu of boxing them together as an album. Radiohead let fans pay what they wished (anywhere from $0.00 and up) for their latest CD, In Rainbows. Granted, only an established act could pull off such a stunt, but many artists throughout the 00s found innovative ways to sell their music. For even the top-selling artists at major labels, revenues declined, as the labels themselves came to signify next to nothing. The best-selling albums each year of the decade sold fewer and fewer units as the years went on. One-hit wonders continued to be promoted by major labels just as they had been in the 90s, but to a lesser financial response from fans; 15 minutes of fame became even more fleeting. MySpace debuted in ’03, quickly becoming an Internet phenomenon. Major labels initially acted in their typical fashion; Universal Music sued the company in 2006. It took labels quite a while to warm up to the marketing possibilities of MySpace. As MTV moved away from music videos and began producing more and more reality content, old-school promotional methods were no longer viable; when Eliot

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Spitzer investigated payola (a common industry practice, whereby labels grease radio programming directors with money and gifts), radio programmers became paranoid and were hesitant to add new singles to the rotation; and as Tower Records and other music retailers closed their doors, labels could no longer rely on the promotional avenues they had utilized in previous years. With less and less physical product, the distribution and manufacturing process that had worked for several decades has become obsolete. As a consequence, labels laid off 5,000 employees from 2000 to 2007, even before the recession had begun. Darwinian evolution has taken hold of the music industry, and labels have been too slow in embracing digital. It turned out that the Internet, despite its unfortunate tendency to enable piracy, has been a pretty good marketing tool. YouTube and MySpace were instrumental in breaking artists such as Ok Go, the Arctic Monkeys, and Colbie Caillat. Every day, new tech startups strive to become the next online music platform. It is an uneasy time for the industry, but remain hopeful that young entrepreneurs can turn the business around in the coming decade by abandoning the old in favor of the new.

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Feature over the next two years, the band continued to spread the message through massive stadium shows around the world. The 2004 Vote for Change Tour, presented by liberal organization MoveOn.org, was an officially nonpartisan tour that went through swing states before what was to be Bush’s reelection. Prominent liberal musicians Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., and Pearl Jam, among others, encouraged people to vote for John Kerry and avoid another four years of Bush. Music also played an important role in the campaign, and ultimate election of, Barack Obama. Although the Obama campaign had nothing to do with the production of the many support songs and videos like “Yes We Can”, which featured artists such as Will.I.Am, Scarlett Johansson, Common, John Legend, and others, these songs played a significant role in spreading Obama’s message to the masses. While older liberal musicians such as Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel performed at rallies and fundraisers for Obama, the President’s main support came from the younger generation, who used music to express their ideas and hopes for the future. The “Yes We Can” song was created using the words from Obama’s speech in New Hampshire during the presidential primary. After the video received a lot of media attention, the Obama Campaign posted it to Obama’s Community Blog. They realized the influence this song could have on many vot-

MUSIC+POLITICS ///Chloe Albanese

Music has always been one of the most prominent creative outlets for artists’ ideas and opinions. In particular, over the past half century, rock music has grown to embody a tradition of political expression in music often associated with liberal views and youth culture. Along with the globalization of the Internet, music has evolved to accommodate an even greater political force—musicians complain, protest, support, and praise, and the Web only makes it easier for everyone else to latch on. As 18th century conventions of classical music—commissioned by royalty, heard by the elite—died away, political expression emerged in composers’ work. Grieving the loss of a hero and the arrival of a tyrant, Ludwig van Beethoven renamed his “Bonaparte” Symphony “Heroic Symphony Composed to Celebrate the Memory of a Great Man” when Napoleon became French Emperor, and thirty years later, Frédéric Chopin glorified Poland with his “Military” Polonaise (1838). In 20th century Soviet Russia, music was both Stalinist propaganda and under-the-radar protest. The 60s folk rock movement, epitomized at Woodstock, a music festival consisting of “3 Days of Peace and Music,” (pick a random band who performed there, and you’ll find someone among the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, The Who - the list goes on) was a beacon of the idealistic, “Flower Power” psychedelia-filled movement of the period. John Lennon wrote “Imagine” soon after, a plea for a world detached from violence. Early in the Bush administration, 9/11 was not only

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cause for outrage, but mourning and reflection. Many artists portrayed their feelings on the 9/11 attacks, most notably Bruce Springsteen, who released The Rising in 2002. Countless other albums and songs were inspired by 9/11, such as Bon Jovi’s “Undivided” and Bloc Party’s “Hunting for Witches.” Jay-Z is another artist who responded to 9/11 and transformed it into something that could benefit the community. Just this year, his concert on September 11th raised thousands of dollars to go to the memorial to be built at Ground Zero. This concert also featured appearances from Rihanna, Alicia Keys, John Mayer, Kanye West, and other prominent artists. Multiple songs and bands have also criticized Bush specifically. For example, Ben Harper’s song “Both Sides of the Gun” calls Bush a “one dimensional fool in a three dimensional world.” In Sheryl Crow’s song “God Bless This Mess,” she says “The president spoke words of comfort with tears in his eyes, / Then he led us as a nation into a war based on lies.” In the last ten years, the music world went full force against what was possibly the worst presidency in history. The (unofficial) Rock Against Bush movement was encapsulated by the eponymous project, which released two volumes of angry, anti-Bush punk songs. In 2003, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks declared onstage that she was embarrassed her president was from Texas; criticism and censorship ensued, but her repudiation of Bush and his politics served as a flashpoint for other musicians to speak up. In 2004, Green Day’s American Idiot attacked an ignorant nation and its embarrassing commander-in-chief;

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ers, in hopes that all of his supporters, even the ones who were not up to date with pop culture, could view the video. After Obama won the election, Will.I.Am produced and preformed another song celebrating Obama’s triumph entitled “It’s A New Day.” This song praises Obama, looks hopefully into the future with a new president, and cherishes a step forward for the black race. Will.I.Am sings, “No, Martin wasn’t dreaming for nothing. / And Lincoln didn’t change it for nothing. / And children weren’t crying for nothing.” In his lyrics, he shows that all of the struggles that African-Americans have endured throughout American history had a purpose. Music was used to rally votes, supporters, and spread Obama’s message. The support of many influential artists has also gotten more kids and teenagers to play a more active role in politics. One organization, Rock the Vote, founded in 1990 by Jeff Ayeroff, encourages young citizens to make a difference and cast their votes through incorporating the entertainment industry into its activities. Another organization called Citizen Change, founded by P. Diddy, also encourages young people to take a more active position in the election of important political figures. Throughout history, music has always played a crucial part in politics, both influencing and responding to progressive changes in culture, and transforming the way young, culture-connected citizens view their government.

MUSIC TAKES ON A MESSAGE Bruce Springsteen performs at an Obama rally, Obama speaks with Wilco

I’m a random person. My iPod is always on shuffle. I’m a classical violinist, but I like to jam with my cousins’ band. I have friends who think I’m hilarious, and others who I piss off constantly. I wear the first thing I find in my closet every morning, whether it’s a t-shirt and jeans or boots and a dress. I’m obsessed with NYC. Where am I going to find music just like me? After one of my friends introduced me to VW last year—I was a latecomer—I fell in love. How more random could the lyrics be? VW’s self-titled album is entertaining, unpredictable, and fresh. The album is insanely energetic and matches up with my personality, always changing by the day, but still staying positive, with a clean, Africa-inspired sound. A love for VW is just one thing many of my friends and I have in common, whether we talk about how many “plaid shirts paired with skinny jeans” outfits we saw at VW’s last sold out New York concert, or our mutual crush on Ezra Koenig. -Roya Moussapour

April 2010

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VINTAGE GUITARS

o t e n l ’ g s n i P S i c n ks Ia

/// Spencer Cohen

In my grandparents’ basement, I found a beautiful 1965 Guild Aragon F-30 in pristine condition, made in Hoboken, New Jersey. It was quite a cheap guitar when it was originally bought back in 1965. It is a sweet sounding guitar and has now gained serious value. This has sparked a personal interest in vintage guitars, and helped me see the true tonal possibilities they have to offer. Vintage guitars, guitars produced post WWII up to 1980, are the Ferraris and Porsches of the guitar world. They have risen to this prestigious status primarily due to their superior sound quality relative to other non-vintage guitars. Their distinct tone has attracted players and dealers to pay top dollar for the most beloved models. At the beginning of the new millennium, prices began rising rapidly up until the recession hit. In the earlier part of the decade, wealthy investors became attracted to the market, driving prices way up and out of the reach of most guitar players. For example, a ‘59 Les Paul was priced at $275 when originally sold in 1959. Then in 2000 it was valued at $38,000. In May 2009, it was valued at a staggering $420,000. When the recession hit, however, many investors stopped purchasing these expensive guitars. Prices have decreased 30% within the past two years. These lower prices have stripped vintage guitars from the homes of doctors, lawyers, and businessmen, and put them back into the hands of players. In the earlier part of the decade, one would rarely see a musician go out and purchase a vintage guitar, yet recently, many musicians have been seen on stage with vintage guitars. Two notables include Chuck Berry and Slash. The vintage guitar market is constantly changing. Some predict it’s leveling out. Dave Rogers told Premier Guitar, “We’ve still got guitars out at prices from a year ago that aren’t selling, so I think we’re going to reduce prices on our vintage stuff to make it happen.” In 2010, it seems that the player might once again be able to afford these beautiful guitars.

Crystal Castles delves further into the complex dynamic sonic range of the Canadian duo’s EP, yet a few pop could-be singles emerge at the same time. Alice Glass’ edgy, glossy, and dehumanized vocals lure the listener into a full body experience that infectiously causes one’s body to tingle and one’s pulse to quicken. The group emerges with a greater sense of clarity, which is contrasted at times with dark epic clashes. Colliding synths, loud waves of distortion, and dream-like melodies elevate the listener to an unknown state as complex rhythmic combinations of drum, synth, and bass keep the listener alive and moving. The outstanding hit of the album arrives in Celestica, a mesmerizing tale of Glass’s indecisiveness over a lover as she voices, “When it’s cold outside hold me/ Don’t hold me.”

The charming Swedish pop star Robyn reveals a deeper, more intimate side with Dancing on My Own. Robyn’s heartbroken response to the lonely neglect she suffers from a male companion in a nightclub “all messed up, so outta line” delivers a great party anthem and every day listen. Robyn pleads to her male desire “I’m in the corner watchin’ you kiss her/ I’m right over here, why can’t you see me?” as her tempestuous night of “stilettos and broken bottles” keeps her dancing on her own. The tune will surely keep you dancing on your own with captivating lyrics and an infectious beat.

La Roux will arouse your senses with its sexy synthpop beats and wildly exotic vocals and undoubtedly send you home with a desperate need for a shower. Lead singer Elly Jackson’s flamed hair coincides with the passionate and eccentric music of the English duo. Elly Jackson believes that her early folk background sanctioned her development of an extensive vocal range, a powerful command over falsetto, and an ability to write distinct melodies. Not to be forgotten is synth player, Ben Langmaid, to whom the bubbly keyboard lines of In For the Kill, Quicksand, Bulletproof, and Tigerlilly are attributed. Overall expect a party-atmosphere and a vivacious hipster crowd, more than willing to grind up against you to the blaring dance tunes in their sweaty bliss.

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Amplified - Volume 1 Issue 2 - The Decade in Music  

This issue, released in early 2010, is focused on assessing the 00's in music by assessing the music industry, how technology has affected m...

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