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Tune Up: Home Studio Accessories

So you’ve got your studio equipment: that shiny new audio interface, your rack processing units, your monitors, mixers, guitars—everything. Your home studio is complete. Well, almost. This week I’ll talk briefly about some of the accessories I recommend to help you keep your studio or rehearsal space as high-quality as possible. They may seem small and unimportant, but they will all improve your music and productivity.

Microphone Accessories:

There are a couple of things I always recommend having around to make sure your mic’s sound awesome while recording. While many mic’s come with cables and clips, they often don’t come with some of the less-obvious accessories. I always have a couple of pop filters so I can make sure my microphones don’t pick up any of those “P” pops. In addition, I usually have some windscreens designed for dynamic microphones so that there isn’t any wind noise when I capture those great sounds. These may seem minuscule, but they make a big difference. Your condenser mic’s will thank you.

If you read my post about cables, you know how important it is to shop at the right place and to get the right cables. In this article, I would recommend simply making sure you have a lot of cables around—specifically several XLR and short patch cables. You never know how many microphones you need set up simultaneously and how many different types of patching you’ll need to do. The bottom line is you don’t want a lack of cables to stop you from achieving a certain studio setup or configuration.

Sound Proofing:

Sound proofing is the single easiest way to get the clearest sound out of your mic/audio interface. When you’ve taken the time to buy decent equipment that’s been well researched, the number one cause of poor results is almost always room noise. For this reason, I always have a bunch of different soundproofing materials handy. First on the list obviously soundproofing foam as a permanent fixture in your studio. This foam absorbs vibrations and eliminates a lot of inherent room echo and reverberation. It allows you to get a completely dry sound. Positioning this foam on each wall in occasional areas as well as in corners and grooves will help to make sure that you have complete control over the reverb you assign to your raw audio.

Additionally, it’s important that you have foam, boards and barriers for further “middle-of-the-room” isolation. The most important studio sounds to isolate are very often drums and vocals; you need to form a makeshift “isolation chamber” around these performers. You can purchase small, specially designed barriers to be placed behind your condenser mic so that it isolates the sound, not allowing any reverberation to escape behind the microphone. You can also purchase larger versions of these barriers designed to create a similar isolation for drum sets.

While you can buy any of these soundproofing materials at a music store or online retailer, I recommend a little ingenuity to save some money. You can purchase eggcrate or flat-cut foam at any local hardware store and cut it yourself. A friend of mine even created some very effective drum isolation barriers out of plastic palettes and standard insulation. While they weren’t very pretty, they did the trick.

Microphone accessories and sound proofing are very basic studio accessories that you might not have thought of. There are many other accessories that deal specifically with instruments and live performances, and I’ll talk about those in a later post. This post, however, was meant to encourage you to make sure you are stocked with the basic tools to make you home studio sound as good as possible.

Judges Needed For Ernie Ball In September!

If indie pop is your kind of rock ‘n’ roll, your judging expertise is needed right now! Since May, Ernie Ball has been hooking artists up on OurStage with a year’s supply of free strings. This month, they are aiming to award this killer prize to a top artist in the Indie Pop Channel. They’ve already awarded strings to OurStage winners the likes of Andrew Varner, Amy Kuney and The Worsties. Here’s your chance to help them zero in on September’s best and brightest.  The competition closes at the end of the month, so hurry over to the Indie Pop Channel to ensure that your favorite artist gets a shot at the prize. For official rules and information, head to the Ernie Ball competition page.

Behind the Mic: Band Photos Done Right

If you want to be perceived as a professional musician, it’s crucial to present a corresponding image through your band’s photos. One of the fastest ways for record labels, booking agents and potential fans to tell if a band is serious about their career is to look at their Web sites. If a band’s primary photo looks like it was taken by a friend or if the band doesn’t appear put together, some people reviewing your page may quickly go elsewhere.

To avoid driving people away from your band’s page before they even hear your music, here are some tips for getting band photos done right.

Weezer keep it simple, classy...and, as always, endearingly dorky.

Find a professional photographer. Keyword: professional. Though it will cost more than having your friend take the pictures, in the long run, it will be well worth the money. Remember, your pictures will be associated with your name all over the web, so you want the best image possible. Photographer Dan Gonyea of FutureBreed.com recommends viewing portfolios before you send an e-mail or make a phone call. “Always check out a portfolio of their work with portraiture or live shots,” says Gonyea. “If the portfolio is all stills or just one or two bands, they don’t have a diversity of work to show off. Also look to see if they are photoshopped badly. Keep an eye out for bad filters and coloring, blurring that ends in the middle of an object, etc.”

Do your research. Look at other bands’ photos and see what you like and don’t like. Do you want your photos to be artsy or simple? Black and white or color? Outdoors or indoors?

Plan ahead. Work out the details with your band and the photographer. Make sure the photographer knows when and where you would like the pictures done and what they will be used for. Is the shoot for promotional photos? Album artwork? Live shots? Discuss ideas and pricing with your band BEFORE talking to the photographer to avoid any confusion.

Here's a perfect example of what you DON'T want in a band photo.

Keep it simple. Try to plan a shoot that will be creative without being overly complicated. You don’t want to look like everyone else, so think of a theme that will make you stand out from the crowd. “Promos against brick walls or on staircases are very overdone,” warns Gonyea. “Live shots involving your band and the crowd are more marketable because they show you can draw as a band. ”

Consistency. You should also make sure your band has a consistent image. You don’t need to match your outfits perfectly, but be clear on whether they should be wearing blazers or jeans and a t-shirt. Talk about color as well, so that you don’t show up wearing clashing clothes. You should do this for a live show as well.

My Chemical Romance in a "Clockwork Orange"-themed photo.

Chances are your band members are not all models on the side. Make sure you encourage your photographer to give directions on where to stand or sit or lie down, where to look, what to do with your hands, etc. These may seem like minute details, but they can make a world of difference in a photo.

When the shoot is done, gather together and pick out the best shots with the photographer. Be sure to get both a headshot of each member and a few full band portraits. “Have the photographer send you shots through email,” says Gonyea. “Flickr, MySpace, and Facebook all compress shots and screw up the sharpness, color balance, and quality of the shots.” When the pictures are posted, always include the photographer’s name and Web site in the caption of the photo.

Remember, first impressions are cheap auditions. Follow these tips and plan ahead to make a professional and lasting impression on your audience.

Smoke Siren

Kristen Cothron

There are singers, and then there are singers. Kristen Cothron is the kind of vocalist blessed with a natural ability that all the training in the world can’t replicate. At first pass you may think jazz chanteuse, but this Nashville native won’t be pigeonholed so easily. Listen to the moody, dramatic “Anthem” and you’ll hear someone just as influenced by Fiona Apple and My Brightest Diamond as she is Sarah Vaughan. Cothron’s voice can drift up like ash or smolder in the embers. On “Anthem” she coats each lyric in veiled suggestion: “A hint of contentment / An offer of violence / A glimpse of my descendants / And a shower of silence.” Who knows what it means, but it sounds wonderful. “Maybe It’s You” is bright and fulsome, with organs, guitars and horns rounding out the groove, while “High On Blues” is a slow burning ballad, where guitar fuzz and organ bellows kindle the flame. It’s rare to find a voice like Cothron’s, even rarer to find a performer so effortlessly chameleonic. Keep an eye, and an ear, on this ingénue.

GuacaMusic: Beyond Samba

“Brazil, la la la la la la la la, la la la la la la la la…”

We all know a thing or two about Brazil: Ronaldinho, Carnaval, Feijoada, Caipirinha. The list goes on and on. But what do we know about the music of this incredible country?

Probably not enough. Sure, we are familiar with samba and maybe even with bossa nova. But the truth is, the music of Brazil encompasses many other music styles influenced by African, European and Amerindian forms.

As true fans of the música brasileira, we went on a mission to uncover the three best  Brazilian-influenced artists on OurStage. This is what we found:

  • Bat Makumba. This World/Brazilian band is based in San Francisco and has been electrifying audiences on the west coast for almost ten years. Bat Makumba is the creation of Brazilian natives Alex Koberle and Emiliano Benevides and American bassist Carl Remde. Its members define their band as the crossroads between the traditional music of their equatorial homeland and the punk, rock and funk influences of the US and UK. On their Web site, they write: “Bat Makumba’s show is a hip renegade carnival party full of tropicalia tinged ska, punk influenced forro, and rock infused samba.” Go to Bat Makumba’s OurStage profile and play any of their songs to get an eclectic taste of Brazilian music. We recommend the out-of-the-ordinary song “Cantiga“, or the catchy baião hit “Trabalha“.
  • Sambajazz Trio. With Kiko Continentino at the piano, Luiz Alves playing the bass, and Clauton“Neguinho” mastering the drums and the trumpet, this superb Brazilian trio has been in our Top 10 charts several times, winning the first prize in the Jazz Channel three times this year alone. Play their mind-blowing first prize winning pieces “Agora Sim! ” and “Deus Brasileiro“.
  • Pedro Eça e os Franco Atiradores. Incredible musician Pedro Eça was born in Angola only few months before the Portuguese revolution in 1974, and relocated to Brazil shortly after that. He started playing the guitar at the young age of 14 and soon began to make his own music. As a young artist, Eça gained experience playing rock, pop, reggae, ska and bossa nova covers, while also working on his own compositions. Later on, he met his musical soul mates and formed the band Pedro Eça e os Franco Atiradores, which has won the OurStage Latin Channel prize two times and has been in the Top 10 charts in several occasions. Play their winning hit “Numa so nota“, a song that Pedro wrote as a tribute for the musicians in his band.

These are just a few examples of the rich musical diversity of Brazil, and the vast array of artists that exist on OurStage. We encourage you to keep surfing our channels until you find your own favorite Brazilian-flavored songs. Next time, when someone mentions Kaká or Ronaldinho, you will be able to enlighten them with a new absolute truth: Brazilian music is awesome, even better than soccer or sweeter than caipirinhas.

Bom Apetite!

John Carter Cash Offers Up “The Family Secret”

John Carter Cash may be the son of two of the most legendary performers in music history, but he doesn’t feel the need to always walk the line toward that format.

As the head of Cabin Cash Studio in Hendersonville, Tenn., the son of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash has worked with an array of artists that have recorded at the studio his father built in 1978. Carter Cash’s first major US release The Family Secret, reflects those different influences.

“It’s a mixed bag of music all around,” said Carter Cash of the September 21 release. “I have been writing music for years and years. These songs are a mix of country and pop and rock.”

And then some, as Carter Cash showed when he opened his showcase at The Rutledge in Nashville, part of the recent Americana Music Festival, with a rocking rendition of “The Swimming Hole,” written by Loudon Wainwright III and often played by legendary British folk rockers Fairport Convention.

“That song, for me, defines a sense of freedom of spirit, good times and laughter,” said Carter Cash. That, said Carter Cash, is something he experienced often throughout his childhood.

“The image of my father is someone very foreboding and dark,” said Carter Cash. “He never was as dark a figure as he seemed. He was always full of laughter and joy. He struggled with his demons, certainly, but he never lost his faith.”

Perhaps that’s why the next song in his set, “No One Gets Out of Here Alive,” that Carter Cash wrote and which he calls a “personal prayer” is so moving with its lyrics that include: “The last thing my father ever said to me/as he laid down his weary head/was son this is all over in the wink of an eye/no one ever gets out of here alive.

Although Carter Cash is justifiably proud of his family heritage and gives nods to it his wife, fiddler Laura Cash, recorded with both his parents and joined him onstage for a rendition of the Carter Family classic “Diamond in the Rough”he proves on the album and in his rare concert appearances that he follows his own musical path.

Consider his verging-on-rowdy concert rendition of “Family Secret,” or the equally rocking “Uncle Sam is Dead,” that arguably sounds more like Lynyrd Skynyrd than Johnny Cash.

“To me, music has no boundaries,” Carter Cash told the audience. “Apply the trade, claim the spirit, and move forward.”

By Nancy Dunham

Nancy Dunham writes about music for Country Weekly, AOL Music’s site The Boot, The Washington Post, Relix and other publications.

Q&A With Thrice

When you think of a band’s career, it’s important to consider the evolution of their sound. Thrice is a great example of a band that effectively experiments and evolves with each new release. They’ve put out punk records, pop/rock records, records with hardcore influences and even concept albums. Their latest release Beggars is their most mature effort yet. Despite being leaked before being released, the album has been a success, particularly in the eyes of their fans. Drummer Riley Breckenridge was able to give us the inside scoop on their writing process, how the felt about this summer’s touring cycle, and their upcoming plans. Check it out:

OS: What has made the band stick to charitable donations with every album release?

RB: I think we just feel really fortunate to be able to do what we do for a living. I think we want to share some of that good fortune with people that need it. Hopefully, by us doing it, we can raise awareness amongst the people who listen to our music and appreciate what we do. We want to show them that making charitable donations, whether monetary or sharing your skills, doesn’t require you to be a movie star, a huge band like U2 or Oprah Winfrey. Hopefully it will encourage people to get involved. As a result, a lot of small donations can build up to something big and life-changing for people that need it.

In terms of choosing the charity, we get a few ideas together and decide what feels right. On this last record, Beggars, instead of having a percentage of the sales go to a charity, we decided to work with Invisible Children. They’re such a dedicated group of people, and they’re working really hard for change. On some of our tours, we had them come out and set up a table, just so they can educate people  and it’s there. People can then get involved and make a human contact, instead of just buying a record where x amount of dollars go to a cause. By having Invisible Children out with a  table on tour, with literature and t-shirts and DVDs, people can talk to them, learn about the situation and find out ways they can get involved beyond buying something.

OS: The Alchemy Index was a really interesting concept. How did you come up with this?

RB: It was actually an idea that Dustin had. He presented it as a way that we could experiment more than we had in the past. We could take ideas and push them in a certain direction. All the EP’s in this release were themed to an element, and we assigned certain sonic qualities to each element. On a normal record, we’d try to push the songs into sounding more like “Thrice”. For The Alchemy Index, we’d just let, say, an acoustic song be an acoustic song. For the Water disc, if somebody had something they had written on synth, Rhodes or with a lot of delay, we’d just let it stay like that. It was a huge challenge, and a huge learning experience, but I think it’s something that helped us grow as musicians and songwriters.

OS: You recorded your most recent release Beggars on your own. Why did you guys choose to move in a DIY direction?

RB: We took some of the recording budget for Vheissu back in 2005 and decided to turn the detached garage at Teppei’s house into a little studio/rehearsal space. It’s like a room built within a room in a two-car garage. It’s really cramped, but that became a place where we could rehearse for tour. We then bought studio equipment and we were able to do demo’s. When it came time to do The Alchemy Index and Beggars, because we felt comfortable with Teppei’s engineering skills and our decision-making, we figured from a cost standpoint it would be a lot wiser for us to record for ourselves. Even though it’s cramped, it’s nice to have something we can call our own, rather than buying studio time and feeling like “renting” a place. It’s ours for however long we need it.

OS: Why did the band opt for a more energetic record this time around?

RB: I think part of it was because of what we had done on The Alchemy Index, because we were pushing all these ideas in different directions, and because the writing/recording process kind of felt fractured. When it came to Beggars, we were really excited to just get back to having the four of us being in the same room together, jamming ideas out and letting things happen.

OS: Other than that, you did the festival circuit in Europe this past summer. Do these festivals differ from your US shows?

RB: I think so. The festivals are kind of overwhelming in a sense because there are so many people, so many bands, and the people there are fans of so many types of music. If you look at a festival like Leads/Reading, we’re playing with Blink, Paramore, Limp Bizkit, The Drums, Local Natives and Holy Fuck. There are all these bands from a bunch of genres, so you have a chance to play for people that wouldn’t come to see you normally.

The club shows over there have a level of enthusiasm that is sometimes lacking in the States, because we don’t make it over there that much. People are really excited and they know that this is going to be the last time that we’ll be in the UK/Europe for a while. So they’ll be excited to come out to the shows. It’s really cool, and I’m glad we’re finishing up this touring cycle by heading over there again. We’ll get a chance to play for a ton of people.

OS: You did a date with Blink 182 while you were over there. What’s your relationship with these guys?

RB: Yeah, we did main support in an open-air arena in Germany. We met Mark in Australia when we were playing a festival. He was over there with Plus 44, so we met him real briefly. MacBeth has been super supportive of us, and we know Tom through that. For me, Blink is one of the reasons that I’m in a band. Back in ’92 or ’93, I remember going to The Whiskey in LA, or San Diego, or Ventura. That was before I was into music or anything. Seeing them up there playing music, inspired me top pick up an instrument and play. To have a chance to play with them now is awesome. I’d mentioned it to my friends, but 1994 “me” is absolutely shitting his pants right now.

OS: When can we expect the next release?

RB: We’re hoping to get something out for next summer. We were kind of holding out to see what was going to happen in the fall. We were thinking about trying to do some kind of support tour, like last time supporting Rise Against. It would be a cool way to end the cycle. Nothing came up though, so I think we’re all in the headspace of kind of being ready to start writing and work on a new record. There’s been a little bit of a discussion of doing something a little bit heavier than Beggars. How we’re going to make that happen hasn’t been decided. We’re going to try and get into stuff that’s a little more riff-based or heavier. We always talk about direction, but when we start putting songs together, they kind of take on their own life. So we’ll see what happens.

After deciding to opt out of a fall/winter tour, the band is currently working on their next studio effort. Keep an eye out for it’s release down the pipes.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Call: Man On Earth

Melodic and eclectic, New York City’s Man On Earth are combining their indie pop sensibility with experimental instrumentation to create memorable and radio-ready rock tunes.

Man on Earth draw from a wide array of influences, including U2, Pink Floyd and Radiohead. With guitar parts belonging to prog bands and technical, syncopated drum beats, the band keeps things fresh from track to track. The vocals are raw and not overproduced, a welcome change from many of the band’s pop peers. There are moments on their last album (2008′s The Time Spent Wondering) where the band could pass for The Gay Blades, Joshua Radin or The Kooks, but ultimately, the band never settles into one groove long enough to be compared to anyone else.

Man On Earth’s talents don’t stop at writing great music. In fact, they are just as talented at promoting themselves to masses of potential fans. Their hard work has paid off, earning them music video rotation on MuchMusic and impressive TV and film placements, including having their music featured in the 2010 Winter Olympics broadcast on NBC. They have also been featured in TIME magazine and even opened for Creed.

With two full lengths already under their belts (Time and 2004′s Disposable Sounds for the Fickle Mind), the band is about to return to the studio to record their next LP. Check out two of their older tracks below and some new demos on their MySpace page!

OurStage Hip Hop Habit: J

The life of a music journalist often walks a fine line between the excitement of a baited chase for great new musicians and the mental drain that occurs when that wild hunt returns stillborn results. When that seesaw teeters towards the latter, it takes a rare gem of an artist to resuscitate any sense of invigoration back into a writer. J is that kind of artist. From her scant profile and its two obscuring images, little on the surface tells that this petite southern wordsmith is an adept poet. But, one listen will leave you finding faith for a generation of urban artists and begging for more.

J manages to tell the world who she is without ever inserting a concrete autobiographical factoid in what is arguably her best song, the pondering “My Story.” The dense lyrics in this track, if nothing else, teach us that J is an observeran astute observer at thatwho’s realized she’s cut from a different cloth. Her poetic background steps forth in this piece around the halfway point, where her immaculately consistent rapping rhythm morphs into unbridled spoken word, wisdom overwhelming with each and every linefrom shunning materialistic nonsense in“time moves fast/ so hold on to the things you really want to last/ because after all your Js fitted and true religions pass/ you’re gonna want something you can hold on to to questioning the meaning of this thing we call life in “I’m wonderin’ if some of us have to lose/ life just don’t seem fair sometimes and I know it don’t have to be/ and I ain’t even writin’ this cause I want you to be sad for me.” If J’s content paints her as a youth trying to make sense of everything around her, then the beat is sonic cultivation to match. The curtains open with a puffing woodwind ensemble that blends into a cool lavender beat more fit for an R&B song than a hip hop beat, but it works, especially as autotuned vocals find that common ground. As layered voices tenderly suggest taking life in stride over a sweeping piano and whistling synth run, any question as to whether the aforementioned rhetorical questions are tinted with anxiety can be put to rest. She’s just trying to tell her story.

JT MusicThe innocent questioning depicted in “My Story” is swallowed in the sheer blackness of “This Life,” a haunting story profiling two teens falling in love with the streets and losing their lives because of it. As a panicked angelic voice conjuring images of urgent prayers swirls above the blizzard of fatal content, it seems as though the memories of “My Story” were only smoke and mirrors and that J believes “this is real life/ no camera no actors.” Simply put, the track is irreversibly opaque, from murderous gang violence to a colorful portrayal of lethal crack addiction that would be camouflage in James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces. Dire, hopeless and chronicling depressingly anonymous subjects, “This Life” is everything you could ever ask for in a dramatic narrative detailing ghetto tragedies. Now more than ever, the clever connections J makes and splices into her gripping storytelling come across as insight belonging to a mystic four times her age, most notable in lines like “ predestined lessons of a young boy in love with the streets/ wouldn’t let the block rest so they put him under sheets” and “there’s no turning back now/ just gotta react now/ fendin’ like a slave/ the addiction got a chain on her/ the streets took her put their name on her/ stake their claim on her” that leave a lasting impression long after heard.

Taking life in stride becomes difficult when the life lead resembles that in “This Life,” but no one ever said it would be easy, especially not J. For all her talent, this young rapping dame has been polite enough to lyrically profile her progress to the top humbly acknowledging that if she fails, at least she can say she tried. But, rest assured, the day she achieves her dream of “rockin’ mics in front of sold out crowds,” she promises to “scream from the top” so do yourself a favor and keep your ears on. It shouldn’t be too long.

Metal Monday: Metalcore, Grindcore, Deathcore – What’s the Difference?

Metal as a community—made up of bands and their fans— is a tight-knit population, but that does not mean this happy family is without its schisms. With the somewhat recent rise of deathcore into the mainstream, many death metal and grindcore acts have drawn a line in the sand to separate themselves from this sub genre of metal. The same can be said for metalcore, which at one point in the early 2000s had a major surge within mainstream music and was ostracized by many metal sub genres. You see, if someone isn’t raised in the metal scene, then they may not be able to tell the minor differences between these sub genres. Add to this the large number of bands  spilling over and changing sides between sub genres, and you’ve got a recipe for a giant mess.

Grindcore, metalcore, deathcore—they all came from very distinct roots: death metal and hardcore (scenes ultimately born from punk). Death metal is known for its heavy and constant nature, taken to an extreme level. Lots of bands fit this bill and have had the “death metal” label slapped onto them, but the essence of death metal lies in bands like Death, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Suffocation and Decapitated. Change anything the classic death metal  formula and you’ve probably found yourself wandering into sub genre land—bands like Necrophagist are known as “technical death metal” but to the inexperienced listener are really not much different. For a good example of death metal, you can check out this video for Cannibal Corpse’s “Death Walking Terror”:

Early in the death metal days, grindcore was born—taking the heaviness of death metal bands of the time along with the avant-garde nature of post-rock, the frenetic rhythms and breakdowns of hardcore punk and an extra splash of craziness to create a totally new sub genre of music. The more famous grindcore acts include Napalm Death, Pig Destroyer, Brutal Truth and Agoraphobic Nosebleed. Check out this music video for Brutal Truth’s “Sugar Daddy” to hear a good example of  grindcore:

The late 1990s witnessed the next offshoot: metalcore. Though its beginngs lie in early 90s bands like Converge and Zao, its current style was brought about by bands such as Unearth, God Forbid and Shadows Fall. Taking a lot of influence from trash, the metalcore tag may be a bit misleading, as the only real element taken from hardcore is the style of breakdown used. Most of the stylistic choices lie in heavy thrash, and the vocals often feature big melodic lines evident in heavy metal bands like Armored Saint. The most famous example of more modern metalcore is All That Remains‘ “This Calling”:

Soon after metalcore’s rise, deathcore began to brew. Take out the melodic vocals, make the sound a bit heavier and use more extreme breakdowns and you’ve transformed regular metalcore into deathcore. Bands such as The Acacia Strain, Caliban, The Red Chord, Animosity and Job For a Cowboy are known as some of the first true deathcore bands. To get a taste of an archetypal deathcore song, check out The Acacia Strain’s “Angry Mob Justice”:

Nowadays, though, bands are breaking these boundaries. Act such as The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, Cephalic Carnage, Job For a Cowboy and Brain Drill have completely shattered the mold for these genres. This has been a much needed change for the metal scene since many separate sub-genres began drawing lines in the sand because, really, many of these bands aren’t that different at their core—they’re all just looking to have a good time by making extreme music people want to move to.

 


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