Silver Wing Media signed 10 interns this year, three of whom were classmates of the body’s original owner. They were all very competent. Competition was fierce.
Fang Zhao didn’t bother studying the chart further, contemplating his next move instead.
He had fewer than 10 days left. What could he do?
Reeling from consecutive blows, at his wit’s end with the new talent contest around the corner, and his record company on his case, the original owner was out of moves.
Should he scrape together a rough cut and turn it in? He would be rejected for sure.
But if that was what he did, not only would it be beneath the pride of the body’s original owner, Silver Wing Media would show no mercy and kick him out. His internship would be over.
Being kicked out by Silver Wing Media early on would tarnish his résumé forever. It would make his career all the more difficult.
"The new talent competition…"
Fang Zhao searched his new memory for information about the new talent competition. Record labels from before the near-apocalypse operated very differently. He had to adjust. Before putting pen to paper, he had to figure out what people listened to.
Pop culture shifted from generation to generation. Having endured the apocalypse and then evolved for another hundreds of years to this point, popular tastes had changed vastly. The sheer variety of new instruments and synthetic sounds was dizzying. The masses thought differently. The styles they preferred were a far cry from what passed as hip in Fang Zhao’s old world.
Even though Fang Zhao wanted to say screw it and compose by instinct and prior habit, he was not in a position to fail, or he would become homeless.
Artists were also practical human beings. They had to fulfill their basic needs first.
"A sharpened blade is no impediment to chopping wood," so the saying went. Fang Zhao sat in the corner where he worked, closed his eyes, and started meditating.
He had an idea. He pulled opened the drawer next to him and took out a notebook.
In an age when people preferred to take notes with their bracelets, the original owner of his body liked to jot down important thoughts on paper.
These were the original owner’s notes from the past six months. The first half were notes from his internship at Silver Wing. The second half contained his songs for the new talent contest. The dates indicated that he started preparing for the new talent contest early.
The three completed songs were crossed out with heavy strokes. Several pages were perforated, a sign of the tremendous force he applied. That was him venting his extreme disappointment, anger, and desperation when he realized the three songs had been stolen. But the original owner didn’t tear up the entire notebook. He kept it in his drawer, because he couldn’t bear destroying the fruits of his labor.
Fang Zhao studied the three songs. Only one of them had lyrics; the remaining two did not. He was probably planning on asking lyricists at the record label to help out.
The notes also contained an unfinished song written when the original owner broke up with his girlfriend. There was also a diary entry. He probably wanted to use it as the lyrics for the song.
The melody had been finalized. The original owner of the body probably planned on leveraging company resources to complete a proper recording after performing well in the new talent contest. After all, the song had special significance. Little did he know his songs would be stolen and that his breakup song would never see the light of day, something the original owner mourned before committing suicide.
Fang Zhao studied the incomplete song carefully and circled it with his finger. "This is it."
A fixture resembling a folding fan was attached to the shelf in the corner. Tugging it revealed a piano keyboard. It felt functional. This was what the original owner used to compose. It wasn’t top-notch, but it wasn’t shabby either.
It was Fang Zhao’s first time using a keyboard after his rebirth. He was a bit rusty at first, but the more his memory kicked in, the smoother his performance became.
Fang Zhao played a few of his old pieces, but they were fragments of incomplete songs. Fang Zhao memorized them, hoping to polish them after the new talent contest. These were treasures tucked away in his memory, gems that pulled Fang Zhao through countless rough days during the apocalypse. One day, Fang Zhao would present them to the world.
After acquainting himself with the keyboard and integrating his memory, Fang Zhao started channeling his emotions.
He wanted to experience what the original owner of his body was feeling when he composed the song. He could only finish the song when he was in the same headspace.
Over the next few days, Fang Zhao didn’t leave his apartment except for his noon tan and getting food from Yue Qing’s shop. The windows couldn’t block out the bustling nights of any black street, but the noise didn’t interfere with Fang Zhao’s process.
The noise bothered Fang Zhao the first two nights. His excessive vigilance affected the quality of his sleep. But on the third night, Fang Zhao figured out how to lower his guard. Adapting quickly was a skill he developed during the apocalypse, a quality found in many survivors.
One day, Yue Qing was dragging his chair back into the shop after his noon tan. Even though the weather was getting hotter—some sunbathers had started putting on sunblock—the black street residents still treasured this brief window. Before he entered the store, he scanned the lobby of the building and spotted Fang Zhao walking his furless dog.
"That kid’s been busy," Yue Qing mumbled to himself.
By June, the battle for the top spots on the New Pioneers Chart had reached its climax. The music industry was abuzz with discussion over who would make the top 10 and which companies they were signed to.
The higher ups at Silver Wing were also paying close attention. Du Ang was under a lot of stress. On the one hand, he had to field questions from his superiors. On the other, he had to keep an eye on his interns. He couldn’t afford to relax even with three assistants at his beck and call.
Du Ang could very well follow the standard procedure from years past: getting on the case of composers, lining up producers, recording the songs, releasing them, and then promoting them. All he had to do was give the order and his team would execute it. But this year, the bosses had a different agenda—you could tell from the fact that they recruited 10 interns. They usually only took three or four, but this year, they had expanded the program to 10 interns out of the blue.
Du Ang had also heard through the grapevine that the bosses had decided that, if all 10 did well, if they could all make the top 50, every one of them would be signed as full-time employees. No one could dissuade him from the impression that the company was betting big.
That was why the pressure from up top was greater. Du Ang was exhausted from attending to every detail. But agents like him in charge of newcomers had it easy by comparison—the agents assigned to veteran singers were worried sick.
But to think of his 10 interns and to remember the only one who hadn’t turned in a song was Fang Zhao pained Du Ang.
Du Ang sighed. "It’s tough leading a platoon."
Despite the pressure from above, he had lobbied for 10 more days for the kid. And that was because the higher ups had pinned huge hopes on this year’s interns. However, only time could tell if the kid would come through. If he couldn’t turn in something presentable in 10 days, Du Ang would have no choice but to fire him.
Du Ang refreshed the New Pioneers Chart and glared at the top two. His eyes were about to spit fire.
He was genuinely pissed.
The first place where newcomers could showcase of their talent was the New Pioneers Chart. The top two hadn’t changed hands in a week. They held on and even increased their lead on the others. If the opposition wasn’t too stiff, Du Ang would consider making another push for one of his newcomers. But once these two showed up, Du Ang gave up.
On the New Pioneers Chart,
In first place:
"Believe in Me," performed by Xue Huai, composer Xue Huai, a Tongshan True Entertainment release.
In second place:
"Rainbow Candy," performed by Fei Lisi, composer Fei Lisi, a Neon Culture release.
Both songs were both composed and performed by the same person. They had to be quite talented, no?
The musicians behind the two songs were indeed very talented, but the songs were fronted by virtual idols.
When they debuted, real idols had to overcome countless hurdles. The newcomers left no stone unturned in their chart campaigns. They were worried all the time, terrified their debut single would tank, which would reflect poorly on their record company.
But virtual idols were different, especially the tailor-made ones. They were launched only after internal vetting, after elaborate planning and a major mobilization of resources. Their record labels also lavished huge budgets on them. It was the kind of treatment that real newcomers would never receive.
Behind every virtual idol was a crack team and unlimited capital.
Was it f*cking fair to even consider them newcomers?
The kind of manpower and financing big record labels threw at virtual idols—other newcomers could only dream of. Plus there wasn’t a real newcomer who could rival the two top virtual idols, and Silver Wing couldn’t possibly focus all its ammunition on taking them down. The record label wanted to save resources for their established stars, so the higher ups had already given up on the top two spots.
The virtual idols on the New Pioneers Chart were like computer bugs that grew more permanent with every passing year. Every time a virtual idol showed up in the new talent contest, the other newcomers were left biting dust.
A senior executive at Silver Wing once lobbied the global trade association for record companies to ban virtual idols from new talent contests, but he was turned down. Reminded of the rebuffed proposal, Silver Wing staff always wanted to spit blood.
Of course, the uninformed masses would wonder: "If the top two of the Big Three record companies launched virtual newcomers this year, what’s stopping Silver Wing?"
But anyone with a basic understanding of the music industry would know that virtual idols were the Achilles heel of Silver Wing. Whoever they promoted failed, one after another. None had made it. They were all flops.
The company dedicated a team to virtual idols last year. The producer in charge was mocked mercilessly by the staff at Tongshan True Entertainment and Neon Culture after his virtual idol failed to make an impression. He was still hospitalized. He was also too ashamed to face senior management and the rank-and-file staff. After all, he had promised a triumph, but now he wished he hadn’t.
The senior executives at Silver Wing also wished they had acted differently. If they knew such a dismal failure was in the works, they wouldn’t have bothered with virtual idols. Now they were the laughing stock of the industry. The money they splurged on their virtual idol project was enough to launch several real newcomers.
The project generated nearly zero returns. The senior executives at Silver Wing thought that Tongshan True Entertainment and Neon Culture launched virtual idols this year deliberately to rub salt in their wounds as they made a major push for their real newcomers.
Now that the company had banished any thought of launching virtual idols and focused their attention on real idols, the pressure shifted to the newcomers. Taking down the top two was unrealistic, but the higher ups were hoping to land a few songs in the top 10. If they could land three top 10 hits, Du Ang’s salary would double. If he could manage four, he could get promoted.
Be it a raise or a promotion, Du Ang had major incentive to do well.
How many top 10 spots could they claim?
Just as he was pondering the matter, a reminder sounded on Du Ang’s bracelet. He tapped the message.
It was a demo from Fang Zhao.
"Wow, that was quick." Du Ang felt reinvigorated.
Regardless of quality, whether Fang Zhao composed the song himself or had outside help, receiving the demo meant that all 10 of his newcomers had submitted songs. Du Ang’s work was almost done.