To prevent theft, every demo sample submitted was encrypted using internal software. Du Ang had to decrypt them before he could listen to them.
As he was listening, Du Ang also read the document that Fang Zhao had submitted along with his demo. His furrowed brows relaxed, surprise shone in his eyes, and he flashed a rare smile. "He’s quite crafty."
After mentoring so many newcomers, even though Du Ang didn’t have much talent in the way of composition, he could still determine the potential of a song. Even though demos were often incomplete and crudely made, he could extrapolate much from such a short sample.
When this song is completed, it should do OK. At the very least, it won’t fail miserably.
Du Ang was happy with the song Fang Zhao had submitted. It vindicated his decision to lobby for 10 extra days for the kid, despite the pressure from above.
After listening to the sample, Du Ang sent Fang Zhao a text message. "Stop by the office this afternoon and get cranking on recording the full song."
Even though advancements in technology cut down on production time dramatically, Du Ang would feel more secure if the song was completed early. Not to mention that this season’s new talent competition was almost over. If they didn’t get cranking, they’d be left eating dust somewhere.
After sending the text message, Du Ang contacted operations. "I’m releasing a new single in three days. Appreciate if you can save me a spot."
After touching base with the producer, operations, and so on, Du Ang asked his assistant, "How many of our newly signed singers are free?"
"Singer-wise, we’ve signed four fresh graduates. We’ve already lined up work for three of them. There’s still one left, but he doesn’t seem to be in good shape of late," the assistant responded, neck hunched.
"Not in good shape?" Du Ang furrowed his brows once again. He hated hearing that phrase. "Not in good shape" was too general a term.
"I think… he may have broken… broken up with his girlfriend." The assistant’s voice faded as he noticed Du Ang’s mood swing.
Of course Du Ang was in a foul mood.Who the hell did they sign this year? They’re too young to know the ups and downs in life. He was hired to mentor industry newcomers, not babysit. Who had time for heart-to-hearts?
"They’re all so much hassle!"
This industry was so competitive, and the new talent competition was utterly cutthroat this season. Who had time to monitor your mood? You think you’re a superstar? You want someone to comfort you? Go to mommy and daddy!
As a nobody newcomer, you had to suck it up. Who didn’t come up the ranks that way? No matter what was going on, when presented a golden opportunity, you had to claw through even if it meant tasting blood. If you couldn't deal with that kind of pressure then get lost!
"Drag his ass over here!" Du Ang said in a fiery tone.
"Yes sir!" The assistant scampered. He sure as hell didn’t want to stay and face an upset Du Ang.
Du Ang’s mouth was a flamethrower these days, lighting up one after another. His underlings were on high alert, attentive to the smallest detail, lest they catch fire themselves.
Once Fang Zhao got Du Ang’s message, he rushed over by car. It was a half-hour ride from the mass housing district to downtown, thanks to a massive improvement in transportation infrastructure. Before the end of days, you couldn’t even imagine getting close to downtown in less than an hour. If there was traffic, it was a different story—a two- or three-hour journey was nothing.
Silver Wing Media had built a 150-story building downtown. It was tower-shaped, nearly 800 meters tall. The top was graced with a giant pair of silver wings. Height-wise, the building wasn’t a standout in the neighborhood. There were plenty of buildings taller than Silver Wing Tower, but as one of Yanzhou’s three top entertainment giants, Silver Wing was no bit player.
People came and went. No one noticed a nobody like Fang Zhao. The VIPs enjoyed private passage. Fang Zhao could only ride the regular elevator along with the rank-and-file employees.
Du Ang’s office was on the 20th floor. When Fang Zhao arrived, he was tearing someone apart, spitting saliva and all.
Before Du Ang sat a young man of about 20, taking his beating submissively. He didn’t even dare wipe the saliva off his face, repeatedly assuring Du Ang, "There won’t be a next time. Definitely not! I’ve been meditating for three days now. I can perform right away. Really! Let me show you."
Du Ang halted the singer’s overeager apology and shifted his attention to Fang Zhao, who had just entered his office. Fang Zhao looked like he was in good spirits, not as disheveled as he expected, which improved Du’s mood.
"Alright, stop bullshitting me. Get ready for your recording session soon. The chart rankings for the new talent competition are pretty much settled. If you don’t enter now, don't think about making the top 100, let alone the top 50."
As a matter of protocol, Fang Zhao had to submit his song to Silver Wing Media, which then picked a singer. He was signed to Silver Wing as a composer. His contract dictated that, unless otherwise specified, his songs had to be performed by singers signed to Silver Wing.
"Fang Zhao, all you’ve got is one song?" Du Ang asked.
"Yeah, just one for now." Fang Zhao responded.
"For the same amount of time, other composers produce two or three. Never mind, just finish this one. Are you going to arrange it yourself?"
"OK, it’s up to you. Even if you need one of our arrangers, you’re not gonna be able to find a good one right now," Du Ang mumbled.
All the best arrangers had been assigned to the top stars. Newcomers weren’t so lucky. Instead of prying a few mediocre arrangers from the demons that ran the arrangement department, he might as well let Fang Zhao do the job. He couldn’t stand the sight of those demons. Every visit left a bitter taste in his mouth.
After tearing into the newcomer, Du Ang couldn't rest just yet. After a quick glass of water, he led Fang Zhao and the newcomer, Bei Zhi, who was also on probation, to the recording studio. He had no expectations now—all he wanted was to get this last person out there. That was mission accomplished. As for how well he placed, whether he could seize the day, that was up to the trainee himself. All he could do as an agent was to lay the groundwork.
Fang Zhao took in the production process with eager eyes and finally understood the saying that it was easier to catch a shade beneath a giant tree.
That was why so many people wanted to sign with a big company at a time when the industry was blooming. More often than not, talent alone wasn’t enough. There were so many composers out there and thousands of songs were being submitted every day. What the public fixated on and what the major companies got behind were seasoned veterans.
As for the nobodies who weren’t connected or didn't hail from prominent families, the only hope was the new talent competition, maybe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If they missed out, getting the record label to promote them was a tall order.
That was why the original owner of Fang Zhao’s body took the new talent competition so seriously, why he was so desperate as to commit suicide when his work was stolen. He felt that his dreams had died along with those three stolen songs.
After the three-day process of recording a song, the final product was subject to an internal audit, to see if the piece closely resembled any previous releases. If there was a high-percentage match, then it was flagged. If there was too much of a resemblance, or piracy, or any other problems, the company wouldn’t release the song.
The entertainment industry had evolved rapidly. The rules were different from those during Fang Zhao’s times before the end of days, but you could say it was more orderly. And even though a completely level playing field was impossible, relatively speaking, under the new rules, more aspiring talents had a shot at stardom.
"The official launch is tomorrow morning at 8 a.m.!"
The moment when Du Ang confirmed the launch date was when Fang Zhao officially qualified for the new talent competition chart. Even though the season was almost over, at least he had entered in the nick of time.
It was June 10. Ten days had passed since the last month featuring the new talent charts started. Although the rankings were still changing, there wasn’t a major reshuffle. All eyes were on the battle for top 10. The top two finishers were all but confirmed—the two virtual idols were a shoo-in for first and second. As for third to tenth place, let the games begin.
The artists and staff of Silver Wing Media were glued to the charts. After all, placing well in the new talent competition meant happy bosses, which made life easier for the small potatoes. Maybe a raise was in the horizon.
"We have three artists in the top 10 this season so far."
"Not bad at all. We only used to place one or two. Our newcomers worked their hearts out this year."
What a rare occurrence—three artists from the same company placing in the top 10. The staff of Silver Wing were quite happy with this result. No wonder Silver Wing was one of the Big Three, even though it was on the decline in recent years and failed to place well in the new talent competition. At least they broke through this year.
Companies smaller in scale than Silver Wing were also gossiping.
"The Big Three account for the entire top 10 in this season’s new talent competition."
The so-called Big Three referred to Yanzhou’s three biggest entertainment companies: Silver Wing Media, Neon Culture, and Tongshan True Entertainment.
"Silver Wing did well this year. They’ve got three in the top 10. I heard they’re making some major moves."
"That’s what I heard too. I heard Silver Wing signed 10 new composers this year alone. They went all out."
"Wow! Ten newcomers at once! That’s a huge investment."
"Ten? How come I only see nine?"
"There are nine Silver Wing artists in the top 50. Maybe the 10th wasn’t that good and placed lower."
"No, I checked the top 200."
"Then the 10th artist must not have entered the competition. Even though Silver Wing has been in decline, they’re still a force to be reckoned with. They’re not so weak as to not even be able to make the top 100. The Big Three can’t afford to lose face."
"Boss, the top 10 are gaining distance from the rest. Should we make a push?" the employee of one entertainment company asked. Their outfit had also entered a few newcomers, one of whom placed in the top 20.
With the top 10 pulling ahead by greater margins, after canvassing the charts, the boss set his sights on the final spot in the top 10 and pointed to the entry, commanding. "He’s our target. Let’s make a push and take his spot!"
At No. 10 was "Flight," performed by Kong Xie, composed by Fang Sheng, a Neon Culture release, with a total of 1,502,461 downloads.
There was no other way. The rest of the top 10 had already surpassed 2 million downloads, only No. 10 had just hit 1.5 million. Even though No. 11 and lower were drawing 1.3 million or fewer downloads, a considerable gap from No. 10, competitive juices were stirred. Everyone had their eyes on the plumb spot.
Even though there was only one place’s difference between No. 10 and No. 11, the gap in prestige was huge. There were 20 days left in the competition. With the right push, it wasn’t impossible to overtake the current No. 10.
The bosses of other smaller companies shared similar sentiments. Seeing that the chart rankings had more or less settled and a bigger cushion developed between the top 10 and the rest, some had already thrown in the towel, but a few companies with deep talent set their sights on No. 10.
Like a group of cats greedily eyeing a fat mouse darting about.