Even though Beavis was mad that Fang Zhao had hung up on him, he was more intrigued by Fang Zhao's comment before he hung up.
"Why don't you ask him who the actual composer of his first three songs was?"
Which three songs? The actual composer? So Fang Sheng hadn't written them after all?
Beavis wasn't in charge of newcomers. He wasn't on top of the inner workings of the newcomers department. He merely scanned the list of newcomers Neon Culture had recruited this year. If his bosses didn't want to poach people from Silver Wing, he wouldn't have bothered studying the list.
But even though he wasn't familiar with the workings of the newcomers department, he could deduce from Fang Zhao's parting comment.
A gloomy Beavis sat in his office pondering the matter for some time. Then he got in touch with newcomers department and requested Fang Sheng's personnel records. He gave them a careful look. The more he read, the angrier he got.
If he was 70 percent skeptical of Fang Zhao's allegations, then after reading the personnel files, that figure dropped by 20 or 30 percentage points.
Fang Zhao had graduated from the Qi'an Academy of Music, probably the best music school in Yanzhou, while Fang Sheng had graduated from a so-so school. That didn't necessarily make a difference. During the recruitment process, graduating from a top school wasn't a prerequisite. Even if you attended a low-ranked university and flunked all your classes, as long as you had musical talent of some kind, if you shined in some way, you would be considered.
In other words, setting aside your educational background and connections, the key was real skill and talent.
The reason Fang Sheng had caught the eye of Neon Culture's newcomers department and was signed was because of the three songs he'd submitted.
Nothing stood out in Fang Sheng's files. He wasn't a stellar student and he'd never won any prizes. But the three songs still won over the newcomers department. The songs weren't top-notch, but they were slightly better than what the average newcomer produced. One of the three also placed well on the newcomers' chart. The label actually wanted to promote Fang Sheng, but he hadn't submitted any new songs since.
Beavis summoned Fang Sheng and his agent. He scanned both of them with a vicious gaze. Beavis usually smiled, but he looked scary when he got serious.
Fang Sheng's agent was still a bit pissed and disgruntled about being summoned by Beavis. Even though he managed newcomers, he had managed B-level stars before. He had also spent more time at Neon Culture than Beavis. Beavis's tone was downright rude, hardly befitting the respect he deserved as a senior employee. But now that he saw Beavis's expression, he could tell something was wrong.
"Is something wrong?" Fang Shang's agent asked. He knew Beavis had looked over Fang Sheng's files, but he still didn't know why Beavis had asked to see them.
Beavis ignored Fang Sheng's agent and stared at Fang Sheng hard, as if launching a flurry of daggers. "What I want to know is: who actually wrote the three songs you submitted when you joined the label?"
Already a bit fidgety at the outset, Fang Sheng's heart leaped when he heard the question, and he broke into a cold sweat. The muscles by his mouth twitched, but he didn't know what to say. He remained silent but clasped his hands nervously. When his agent cast him a questioning look as well, he knew there was nowhere to hide. He tried hard to mask his guilt, somehow managing to eke out a smile. "Did someone say something? Don't believe them. I wrote those three songs myself."
"Oh?" Beavis didn't press on, looking at Fang Sheng's agent instead. His gaze seemed to say: "You signed the guy. It's your move."
The agent stared at Fang Sheng with piercing eyes. He had managed dozens of artists. Even though he might not be as competent as Beavis, he could still spot a liar. The subtle changes in expression on Fang Sheng's face hadn't escaped his notice.
Panic. Guilt. Fear. Lack of confidence.
Once Fang Sheng's agent became suspicious, everything made sense. The arranger of the three songs had told him in private that Fang Sheng had a poor grasp on the three pieces. His understanding was hazy and incomplete. Initially, the arranger had chalked it up to the usual inexperience of a newcomer and thought a bit of training and guidance would do. But Fang Sheng hadn't produced any new songs since the three he'd entered in the new talent competition. Again, he'd thought Fang Sheng had simply been running low on inspiration. But it had been so long that it was becoming a problem.
The three songs may very well have been stolen.
He didn't want to believe that he'd signed someone like this. He had heard of similar cases of theft or plagiarism. Some were exposed and some were kept secret. The final outcome depended on company policy and individual finesse. Of course, the safest practice was to avoid folks like this. The bigger the label, the more it cared about its reputation. So he had the manpower and resources necessary at his disposal for a cover-up. But he'd never thought something like this would happen to him.
Even if he had made the mistake of signing the man, the mistake couldn't be made public. To do so would be slapping himself in the face. It might also create unnecessary hassle for the label at this critical juncture.
He had to get rid of Fang Sheng as soon as possible.
Even if Fang Sheng's theft was exposed, they could prepare in advance and take the backlash in stride.
Fang Sheng was signed to a three-year contract. His contract stipulated that if he was fired without cause, he was entitled to severance totaling three times his income during his employment.
This wasn't an unjustified firing, but the label couldn't reveal the real reason behind the dismissal. They also had no proof that Fang Sheng had stolen the three songs. Fang Sheng would never admit to it.
Based on the number of downloads the three songs had generated, Fang Sheng's severance would amount to more than 10 million dollars. That was an expense the label didn't want to incur. Even though the amount was nothing to Neon Culture, they didn't want it spent that way.
So after "amicable" negotiations that were stick-and-carrot in reality, Neon Culture agreed to a severance pay of 1.5 million. Fang Sheng was terminated effective immediately.
Fang Sheng's agent conducted the negotiations on his behalf. Beavis stayed mum, giving his tacit approval to the deal. So Fang Sheng stole someone else's songs, most likely Fang Zhao's. Even if they confirmed the theft, if Fang Zhao was a nobody and Fang Sheng had potential, they wouldn't have fired Fang Sheng. They might even have helped cover up the theft. They were businessmen, after all. Their financial interests came first.
But Fang Zhao was a rising star with the full backing of his label, while Fang Sheng wasn't an asset worth protecting. His firing was a no-brainer, and it had to be done fast. They had to get rid of him before the scandal broke and the finger-pointing began.
If people asked, they would just say that Fang Sheng had poor character.
"Poor character" was a catch-all term in the industry. It could refer to personality issues—an inability to get along with colleagues or a foul temper that affected morale. It could also refer to specific behavior, like theft or plagiarism. The former wasn't a big deal. As long as the person in question was talented, personality wasn't an issue. But the latter was a problem.
There were no secrets in the industry. If they pried enough, prospective employers would find out about the "poor character" assessment in Fang Sheng's personnel files at Neon Culture even if he tried to hide it. That was enough to make him off-limits for most record labels in the industry.
Fang Sheng was kicked out of Neon Culture's headquarters half an hour later.
He struggled to maintain his composure as he got all sorts of looks from the people around him. He didn't linger.
He ran to an empty corner and quietly cursed to himself. His eyes were bloodshot. Lord knew how long it had been since he had rested properly. His face was paler than Zu Wen's after two straight days of gaming.
As for the 1.5 million in severance pay, the old Fang Sheng would have counted his blessings. But after enjoying the adoration and the easy money the three songs had generated, the 1.5 million was a pittance. But he didn't want to lock horns with Neon Culture.
If he'd stayed at Neon Culture, he would have earned much more.
He was entitled to much more.
After taking a few deliberate breaths, Fang Sheng turned his attention to his bracelet and looked up Fang Zhao's number.
It was just a matter of time before he could buy another song from a music student desperate for cash. But Beavis had to tear into him now and interrupt his plans.
How had Beavis found out he stole the three songs?
The raw hatred gushed like a raging current when the call went through. "Fang Zhao, you son of a b*tch! You said you considered me a brother, but you had your bases covered all along, right? You've got quite a few songs up your sleeve besides those three songs, right? Nicely done. Slick move." He was so agitated the veins on his neck were bulging.
He rambled on for nearly three minutes until his voice went hoarse. But no response came from Fang Zhao.
"You're mute now?" Fang Sheng screamed at the top of his voice.
Two second later.
The other end answered with a series of barks. They were real barks, not simulated ones. The barks were followed by clear sound of panting.
Fang Sheng: "..."
He had just delivered a three-minute tirade to a dog.
Fang Sheng was so pissed his body shook. He felt like spitting blood.
Such... such a bully!