If CAMI can fail, is anyone safe?

Tonight’s shocking news that the world’s largest classical agency has gone out of business will be greeted with alarm throughout the musical world.

The agency, which once had up to 400 artists on its books, was the first port of call for many US music organisations and a trusted partner for countless artists. Its collapse is truly shocking and the consequences will take time to kick in.

But are they all as bad as they seem?

Many, starting with my own warning in The Maestro Myth in 1991, argued that CAMI was too big for the good of  music, but not too big to fail.

Since the death of Ronald Wilford it has lost important revenue earners and failed to nail important new talent.

In the past six months, it caried heavy overheads without a penny coming through the door. A reckoning was inevitable.

So what next?

The first to feel the chill will be IMG Artists, which suffers all the same symptoms.

Smaller, boutique agencies are less exposed, though still vulnerable.

Artists who have lost their management agency will have tough choices ahead.

But CAMI veteran Doug Sheldon is returning to business next month and he will throw open his doors to the cream of the agency’s artists. Other agents, now unemployed will set up from their bedrooms.

This is not the end of the story.

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  • That’s capitalism. No one is supposed to be safe. They are supposed to be well run and efficient to compete in a free market. If they aren’t they go out of business and better run organizations will take their place.

    • Even the most well run and efficient companies are suffering under this pandemic, especially in the classical music realm. Classical artists are basically blocked from doing their job. That means about a YEAR of NO income. This is not a question of capitalism but a problem with this specific pandemic. So please don’t bring this capitalist bullshit into the fray. It is not helpful and it is not true about CAMI. (btw – I am not a CAMI artist. Even my boutique agency is struggling, and our head has taken another job just to keep her business afloat and not have to pay herself.)

      • Are you a communist? I took 5 economics classes in college and I learned that businesses don’t live forever. The business cycle is inevitable, like death and taxes. Even huge companies like Eastern Air Lines went out of business eventually. Pandemics are inevitable too. In the future there will be other pandemics and they could be much worse than this one. Plan accordingly.

    • It’s no longer a “free market” enjoyed by many US cities and states due to their ruling party’s type of subversive dictatorship.

      Communist policies explicitly either forbid re-openings or allow for only a percentage of occupancy based on capacity to operate. No or restricted ticket sales can’t financially support a business.

      Not sure why folks are so upset by this clearly predictable result or why those involved in the arts don’t realize they are indeed capitalists. Where did they think their former paychecks came from as they grow poor and unable to afford say their NYC lifestyle as they flee along with their neighbors?? Odd.

      As we watch the aftermath of over regulation play out with the next announcements of business failures, it’s quite a simple solution if folks want it. Stay closed and die or open back up if you want anything you depend on to survive.

      • You have it backwards. The incompetent orange wannabe-strongman enemy of the people let this pandemic run rampant across the U.S. Now he is reaping what he sowed. So are we, alas.

        He is a failure. We could have had an impaired economy and a low infection and death rate. Instead, we have a devastated economy *and* a high infection and death rate.

        He has the reverse Midas touch: everything he touches turns into excrement.

        The blood of almost 200,000 dead are on his hands.

        How many people you know are now dead from the pandemic? I’m currently at three. I hope it stops there.

        • I’m at zero. Several people I know think they got it early in the pandemic but, since it’s no worse than the flu in the overwhelming majority of cases, they never got tested. I know many people who have died from cancer and suicide though.

          • I’m sure that families of the almost 200,000 dead in the U.S. would take issue with your opinion that it’s no worse than the flu in the overwhelming majority of cases.

            More people have now died from COVID-19 in the U.S. since March, than have been murdered in the last decade.

            In addition, it is becoming increasingly clear that the long term effects of COVID-19 can be far worse than the flu.

            Your cavalier attitude towards all this death and illness is a microcosm of so much of what is wrong in the U.S. right now.

          • 100,000 can die from flu in a bad year. 480,000 people die from tobacco use in the US every year. We don’t mandate flu vaccines or masks during flu season and we don’t ban tobacco. It’s not a cavalier attitude, it’s freedom.

          • We did not have to have this high a death rate in the U.S. The response at the Federal level was completely mismanaged and mishandled by the administration of the orange enemy of the people.

            You have you statistics wrong, or you are mixing and matching.

            In the U.S., the typical death rate from flu is somewhere around 30,000/year. That is bad enough.

            For COVID-19, we are approaching 200,000 deaths in the U.S. this year, and it’s just September.

            Are you trying to argue that death by flu is a good thing?

            A good piece of trivia: the rate of flu infections has plummeted this year, due to the actions taken against COVID-19. Hurrah for at least some good news!

            You bring in non sequiturs.

            If you smoke tobacco, you make a choice to put your own health at risk. (I am glad that I am now mostly insulated from second-hand smoke, by appropriate anti-smoking-in-public regulations.)

            If you have COVID-19 and are near me, especially if you are not wearing a mask and are too close to me, you put my health and well being at risk.

            I want the freedom from being infected by someone like you.

        • You nail it well, William. The U.S. has 4% of the world’s population and yet represents 26% of worldwide COVID-19 deaths. Why? Why in the case of (allegedly) the world’s greatest superpower, the most developed nation on the planet, blah blah blah? Precisely as you note. Because we ALSO have the most inept, corrupt and belligerently partisan “president” in this nation’s history. Had he listened to his actual epidemiologists instead of dismissing and insulting them, had he NOT dismantled the entire agency and plans left him by the Obama Administration for dealing with PRECISELY a pandemic such as this, had he not preened and strutted and uttered a series of totally ridiculous Ubu Roi pronouncements – inane statements which continue to this very day: perhaps THIS country would be recovering and safely reopening most avenues of art and commerce. But – nope. And it’s already been noted by reliable economic forecasters than in excess of 40% of businesses in the US which have had to close temporarily – will in fact NOT reopen, ever. Including, apparently: CAMI.

          What an embarrassment America has become since November 8, 2016 – Election Day – and what an absolute disaster since January 20, 2017 – Inauguration Day – when the worst threat to face this nation – EVER – became Putin’s greatest dream fulfilled.

          • As usual, jealous people like yourself have again failed to mention what Hillary would have DONE.

            You people with your endless violence, hate, criticism and truculent nature are ensuring Trump his second term.

            To that I say BLESS YOU!

          • You’re just a bitter Hillary supporter who dumped her when she lost in a fair election like the rubbish she is!

            If there was any alleged “Russian Collusion” the Obama administration would have caught it and immediately investigated it if not stopped it using their educated experts.

            Obama did NOTHING!!!!!
            (the end)

        • You need to check your enmity as it doesn’t serve you or anybody else since 2016. Ask Hillary about that if you can get past her armed security.

          All this time we’re not hearing ANYTHING from Hillary, the Obamas, Bidens, Kamala, Cuomo, DiBlasio, Schumer, Pelosi, AOC, etc about what THEY’RE DOING to solve this and get people back to work and open the rest of the USA back up. Plus, your reps evaded their responsibilities to the entire American citizenry by failing to pass Stimulus II known as the HEALS act.

          You people clearly have NOTHING to offer Bill.

          September 1 is going to mark more than COVID-19 casualties. You need to be more concerned with the plethora of overdoses and SUICIDES that far outweigh illness. Liberal media is to terrified to run all of those stories and graphs from one month to the next.

          You just keep up your petty animus and make our victory in November easier as singers and musicians suffer..

          • I’m calling out the orange enemy of the people, based on facts and informed opinion.

            You are regurgitating a false narrative, concocted by those talking heads at Faux News and other dark corners of the paranoid right wing propaganda sites.

            Overdoses and suicides? Republicans lost the War on Drugs, because it was a racist endeavor from the beginning. Republicans repeatedly cut the funding for mental health programs, and warehouse those with mental health in prisons.

            What was that you were saying about who is culpable for all of this? Hmmmm….

          • I’m calling out the Democrats “based on facts and informed opinion” as they STILL don’t know how to solve problems and haven’t lifted a finger to ameliorate anything important themselves!!

            Mr. Safford, you are too engrossed in negativity and are unable to highlight ANYTHING positive that Hillary, the Obamas, Pelosi, Schumer, etc have DONE. Your ilk will loose again this November due to your lack of decency, humanity and ingenuity. The left’s inability to control their violent nature has flipped those of you to independents at the very least out of morality.

            All you’ve got now is a rich, white, senile old man USING an Indian/Asian woman who appears black just like in the days of slavery when Africa BEGAN the practice which occurs today in Niger.

          • How racist and misogynist of you, to characterize the VP candidate that way. I see that you are a true supporter of the orange enemy of the people.

            Moving along…

            I am calling out the authoritarian kakistocracy that is the administration of the orange enemy of the people.

            I use facts and informed opinions to call out the negativity that emanates from the White House. You may mistake this for negativity on my part.

            I use facts and informed opinions, whereas they work with lies, obfuscations, and deflections.

            Juxtapose all the bad that has happened in this administration, with all the good that happened under the Obama administration.

            Was Obama perfect? No. He made mistakes, and I disagree with certain policies and actions of his and his administration.

            But he and his administration, with a Democratic Congress, did accomplish everything from the successful passage and implementation of Obamacare (itself originally a plan by the right-wing Heritage Foundation), to keep us safe from ebola and helped fight ebola elsewhere in the world.

            I can list all sorts of good things that the Obama Administration has done, beyond the two abovementioned ones.

            Here’s something that did not happen with the Obama Administration or Obama’s Presidential campaigns: they are not convicted felons.

            Just look at all the current and former associates of the orange enemy of the people who are now under criminal investigation, being tried, convicted, and jailed.

            This administration stocked the swamp with swamp creatures. We have barely skimmed the swampy surface of their official corruption.

            After Biden is elected, there needs to be a complete disinfection of our government. The corruption has penetrated deep in the last three and a half years.

            People in this Administration need to be investigated, and, where appropriate, indicted, tried, convicted and jailed.

            Anti-corruption laws need to be passed and strengthened, to codify what had previously been norms of behavior, and to give teeth to laws that are currently being flouted.

            The fish rots from the head down. The stench emanating from the White House is overwhelming.

          • I agree. The supporters of the orange enemy of the people sure do come across as unhinged.

            In this, they are just like their delusional authoritarian leader.

      • Your final line, like just about the entirety of your post: has it precisely backwards. The reality is this: “Stay open and die or close up if you want to survive.” I’ve lost friends to the pandemic. If you’re so gung-ho to keep things open and risk the lives of other human beings, why don’t YOU be the first to step up and sacrifice yourself – instead of insisting that others do so just for the sake of: YOUR fiscal income.

        And though you wish to hide behind “The Messenger” – don’t presume that people will refrain from shooting the messenger when said person is also the CREATOR of disagreeable content.

    • Classical Music is Art, not capitalism. Nor is it a free market when you have mega agencies dominating boutique agencies. And what agencies can take on artists who don’t have money to pay them retainers to do nothing?

      • I work for a small agency, none of our artists has ever paid a retainer. We work hard to get young artists started and wouldn’t survive ‚doing nothing‘. Your comment is clueless and offensive.

      • There isn’t a reputable agency in the business that charges a retainer. And employees work very hard on behalf of their clients and take their responsibilities seriously. Learn about the business before you spout off your offensive opinions. (I’m not an agent, btw.)

  • Norman, you might be getting your wish as more of these agencies disappear. You have spread so much vitriol towards them from your blog that the question is what will you gossip about when they are gone!

  • You didn’t just suggest CAMI was too big; you pretty much characterized Ron Wilford as the anti-Christ.

    If demand for conductors and soloists returns post-COVID, some agency or other will presumably emerge to meet the demand. Or maybe you’ll have musicians serving as their own managers.

    • Yes, but the problem is that artists are not necessarily good agents. Yet ONE more thing non-artistic that artists are going to be asked to do, and have to dedicate our time to that, as well. It’s only going to make the art suffer. 🙁 We already have to deal with technique, artistry, health, travel, and now social media, publicity, booking, direct networking, and knocking on doors to get jobs, as well. Great.

      • 98 percent are already doing that, because I’d guess only 2% ever have agents, unless they hire someone they know, or get a volunteer. Many say that a publicist is more important. But the conservatories believe in this, as they now train students to be entrepreneurs. Forget about art. We’re just going to see crossover from now on.

        • In the United States, we have only one form of 100% state-sponsored classical music employment: military ensembles.

          Then there is everything else.

          • Individual States in America could have sponsored their own artists at any time. Blue states like California and New York just don’t. Why? It doesn’t pay.

            It’s infinitely more lucrative for them to get into much bigger projects that they can involve their donor friends in along with getting expensive federal contracts for. Predictably most of them conspire to defraud taxpayers and they get arrested due to tax evasion and mismanagement.

            Like NY Governor Andrew Cuomo just whined about: “New York is BROKE! We have no MONEEEEEEEEEE”! Then went on his knees to suck off Donald for big Fed $$$. Schumer and Pelosi did the same since their policies and actions wreak of failure and folks are moving out in droves.

            The NYT tries to SPIN the exodus mainly from the pandemic but the commenters paint the violent protests and crime as FACTS as seen in the UWS which is becoming a DIVERSE TOILET college educated democrats are fleeing from. You know white flight but Lib Flight. Comical!
            https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/31/nyregion/suburbs-nyc-pandemic.html

          • Your comment is fascinating.

            It proceeds, paragraph by paragraph, from a very reasonable opinion about arts funding at the state level, through a comment about two NY politicians that I happen not to disagree with entirely, to a quick change of voice to obscene imagery, to a deep dive into the right wing propaganda swamp.

            Wow.

            And no mention of military bands–which is a practically textbook example of socialism in action….

          • Why haven’t you moved out of the USA after Trump became your president if you believe by your numerous posts America is so horrible???

            Which country is superior in your view?

          • Who says that America is so horrible, you ask?

            I’ll tell you: the orange enemy of the people and his supporters do!

            They hate what this country is becoming:

            – racially diverse
            – ethnically diverse
            – religiously diverse
            – a land of immigrants whom they don’t like
            – a land where more languages than English are spoken
            – a land of greater tolerance for their fellow LGBTQ citizens and neighbors
            – a land of greater tolerance for almost anything other than intolerance
            – a land that it coming to terms with certain evils in its past, including slavery, white supremacy, traitors, and the iconography that glorify the same
            – a place governed by the rule of law, not the rule of a man
            – a land where Whites will no longer be in the majority.

            Deep down in their white supremacist authoritarian hearts, they fear and loathe this. They want this country to go back to an idyllic (in their eyes) antebellum time that truly never existed. They fear losing power to the new majority. They fear becoming the new minority.

            Their clarion call was the election of the first Black President. It so stirred their revanchist white supremacist fears, that they voted in great enough numbers to tip the Electoral College to the single most unqualified and corrupt President in our history.

            This was exacerbated by their misogyny. They loathed the idea of a woman having a position of power over them. They chose the incompetence of the orange enemy of the people, over one of the most prepared Presidential candidates of the last fifty years or more. They chose mediocrity over preparedness. They chose a bankrupt — both morally and literally — man over a brilliant and accomplished woman.

            Read carefully quite a few of the comments on this blog. These particular posters are a microcosm of these white supremacist fearmongers. Just as the orange enemy of the people throws toddleresque temper tantrums on Twitter, so too do they rail against Biden in order to support the man who is, in their eyes, the Great White Hope.

            The good news: most Americans, especially young ones, are comfortable with these demographic changes. They reject white supremacy. They reject authoritarianism. They reject corruption. They support the Black Lives Matter movement. They support immigration and immigrants. They support police reform. They support universal health care. And more.

            They reject the impending continuation of the last four years of kakistocracy.

            Note that many conservatives are coming out of the woodwork to support Biden. They may disagree with him on many substantiative issues, but they reject the faux-conservative populist white nationalism of the orange enemy of the people. They support Biden because he supports the Constitution and the rule of law. They support Biden because he is moral, levelheaded, and competent. They feel they can work with him.

            That is why I love this country: it may take a long time and there may be many missteps, but it can overcome its evils and improve as a nation and a people.

            Oh, and I look forward to going back to bringing classical music to all people, composed by people from a diversity of backgrounds, to be performed for people of many backgrounds.

          • So, unfortunately you’re too dim and poor to manage renouncing your citizenship, move out of the States which is why you refuse to name a better country than the USA besides your clear mental problems. You’re clearly mentally disabled. Okay.

            You need to flee to England, claim political asylum as an oppressed US refugee, get your benefits and try to get your brain straightened out through NHS.

            There are always other countries in the Middle East where you would be tolerated and loved with your particular attitude. Saudi Arabia may welcome your feelings and provide you with the strict structure you clearly need.

            It will be easy for you after 3 November, 2020 when President Trump is re-elected according to the sad, redundant vitriol within you and your ilk.

            I and all Trump supporters are praying for your salvation.

          • You call yourself being on the right side with Jesus.

            Under the presidency of the orange enemy of the people, guess what would happen if the Second Coming were to happen, here in the U.S.?

            ICE would deport Him. And they would separate his wife and children from Him, and put them in cages.

        • no academy or conservatory, or for that matter ANY young artist program is capable of training young artists to be entrepreneurs. Nor are young artists capable of being entrepreneurs on top of everything else they’re required to do just to stay in the game.

          • I disagree in part, unless I am misunderstanding your post.

            A conservatory, university, etc. cannot necessarily train someone to be an entrepreneur, but can teach a student many of the tools that can help him or her become an entrepreneur: business, marketing, etc.

  • CAMI did well for its artists but ill for art. When we come through the pandemic, there will be a resorting and – if enough dedicated people do their work well enough – a chance for renewal.

  • Not surprising at all. Due to 3 factors:
    1. Demonopolization of arts business, starting with movie studios in the late ’50s, to TV, radio, & music due to proliferation of suppliers & distribution channels, and digital technology. The age of individual brand mgmt. & personalized taste consumption/targeting is upon us.
    2. Music performance & mgmt. service is all cash business. There is no retained earnings to draw from. So zero in, much out, it’s just a matter of time.
    3. Covid shows in the end we all live in a triage economy. Grocery stores, Proctor & Gamble et al are doing record business, while classical music–specifically live performances– is exposed as the least important discretionary item for everyone, perhaps cruelly above only ballet. Plus, there’s unlimited digital supply that’s good enough for most people.
    The laws of economics have no mercy.

    • You’re partly wrong. The artist all pay monthly retainers to keep the managers in business, whether they are productive or not. That’s how they build a roster. They pretend to only engage the best when it’s really about who can pay them steady checks. I don’t know any artist who didn’t complain about paying do-nothing managers. I’m willing to bet CAMI does not need to shut down, they’re just choosing to, rather than ride out the current mess.

      • No agent or manager should be paid a fee upfront or retainer for their services. In fact, in California, that is illegal.

      • Once again, artists do not pay retainers – they do for publicists but not for managers. I’m sorry that you only know bitter artists who complain about their managers – Most artists I know have a very strong, positive relationship with their managers.

  • Saddened by this news about CAMI that we have known since 1960. But “we are not giving Up on you CAMI“. You shall regain the strength that You have been known for In many decades. Thank you for your great work for now!!! See you next time❤️

  • Sol Hurok who back in the 50s,60s was the most important US Agent went down and other took his place. Certainly the lost of CAMI (COLOMBIA ARTISTS) is a great lost, but also important Agencies, such as Robert Lombardo still active.

    • Carlos, Sol Hurok was an impresario who brought great people like Rubinstein, Heifetz, Richter, Gilels, Rostropovich and the Kirov Ballet among so many others to the US between the 1930s and early 60s.
      Columbia (CAMI) controlled musical America with Arthur Judson (Ronald Winford’s predecessor) as the almighty boss.
      Hurok and Judson represented the very difference between an impresario and an agent.
      Judson and his imitators were brokers and artists were considered capital stock.
      As it says above, it did well for its artists but less well for the arts.

      • “Hurok and Judson represented the very difference between an impresario and an agent.
        Judson and his imitators were brokers and artists were considered capital stock.”

        One of the most perceptive comments I have read on this site. Ever.
        Also, as I had to learn at some slight personal cost to myself, but considerably more to the artists I worked with during Mr. Winford’s tenure, one of the truest.

      • Hurok was succeeded by Harold Shaw, among other proteges, who has had his own protege, successful or not. There is some lineage. But perhaps too few of the good managers made sure their success could continue without them.

  • It is not the end of the story, and as with any storm that rattles things, it can also yield positive effects in the long run. But for now my empathy goes to those, who are facing existential difficulties for their immediate future.
    Let’s hope this cataclysmic event to the performance industry is over soon. It practically is in many countries, we just have not the means to assess those changing realities yet, it takes some time, and not every business with overhead costs can endure the temporary drought.
    (the deaths per day – in Germany for instance – are statistical noise by now, single digits, barely above zero. It is a legitimate question to ask, why there is anything closed anymore. Compared to normal flu seasons in particular)

    • “the deaths per day – in Germany for instance – are statistical noise by now, single digits, barely above zero”

      Noise in statistical data consists either of errors or residuals.
      Residuals can be due to processes not accounted for by the model, or by extraneous interference with the measured signal.

      By definition, then, the low mortality rate of Covid-19 currently observed in Germany is neither noise nor a statistical artefact.
      It is due to 3 factors :
      1. Infection has massively spread to younger cohorts (almost half of them in the age group up to 30 years). These cohorts have a lower mortality rate. Unfortunately, their social behaviour makes the more likely carriers and spreaders. This will affect the dynamic of the infection in coming months.
      2. Medical care has improved, especially in countering inflammatory response and opportunistic infections.
      3. Lag: present growth rate in Germany is still at the inflection point, whereas France has already reached the exponential portion of the logistic curve.

      A final note: even if deaths from Covid-19 are for now still in single digits per diem, the incidence, should it befall you, would still be 100%. Would you like your demise to be counted as ‘statistical noise’?
      Oh, and don’t count on mortality to fall below zero any time soon.

      • I would be happy to be called ‘statistical noise’, regarding the greater economical impacts and decision to shut down a whole society and strangle it, economically, culturally. I would not want to be among a handful of people, that are saved at a very high price, namely killing a society, many other people through secondary effects of shutdowns etc.
        On a personal level I would wish for the best possible medical treatment and responsible fellow humans.

  • Teachers are expected to organise their own lives along with most other professionals. Why hasn’t this assumption that musicians must have agents been challenged long before now? In the 1990s Lorin Maazel was his own agent and negotiated his fabulous contract guaranteeing an income of 6 million marks a year in charge of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. What he did can be emulated by others. Is it too much to expect conductors, instrumentalists and singers to plan their future schedules and book flights and hotels all on their own? This is the age of multi-tasking after all!

    • For an artist in demand, an agent/assistant is a necessity for all kind of mundane tasks and to allow focus on the art and craft.
      A multi-year contract for a chief conductor position is an anecdotal event. Agents do all kinds of small mundane things, book tickets, send dressing room riders for which kind of drinks and food has to be provided etc.
      Age of multitasking? Empty words meaning what?
      Yes it’s easier now to book flights and hotels than in the pre-Internet age. But if your time is limited, and in demand, doing what you do best (perform on stage and/or in the studio), why should you waste your time with random tasks anyone else can do?

      Then on the other hand, opera houses and concert houses do prefer to call an agency, it’s one call. If in need of a singer for instance. Rather than calling a whole rolodex of individual singers, which is time consuming.

    • Well dear mister Hall, Maazel and Barenboim are/were the only artists who could represent themselves exclusively without and agent throughout an entire 70 year long career. Not easy to emulate, to tell you the truth.

    • Teachers – Most schools are actually opening to some extent since cities and states rely on their own property tax dollars (which fund schools) as well as the all mighty federal support they constantly beg for and will loose income if they don’t reopen. They’d have to lower taxes for less service by taxpayer demand which terrifies them.

      Artists – Most performance venues hopelessly remain closed. No box office sales, no money. The ecosystem chain has been eviscerated as they’re not essential to government income using tax money. Donor money only keeps the building’s bills paid and executives fat..for a few more months perhaps and then it’s all over like CAMI.

    • How many teachers do you know need to travel around the world, apply for visas, figure out repertoire balances and think about their career in five-year blocks?? Managers do much more than answer the phone and write engagements into a calendar. And by the way, I assure you that one didn’t sit and haggle about money directly with Maazel. He didn’t have a formal agent but you’re naive if you think he didn’t have “people.”

  • I’m not sorry at all, for a long time they had a sort of monopoly and only their artists got engagements, as the so called ‘casting directors’ had no idea about singing and talent, they just asked cami. no tears from this one

  • How did CAMI last as long as it did? Ronald Wilford’s “Apres moi Le deluge” approach to business guaranteed its demise. So many talented agents left CAMI because of the poor pay and lack of appreciation from the top. Trickle-down narcissism was its undoing.

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