Music students were also paying attention to the chart movements.
At Qi’an Academy of Music in particular.
In the post-apocalypse era, university education had been expanded to six years. Rising Year Six students, whether they majored in composition or performance, were paying close attention to the chart. They also determined the strength of each entertainment company based on the chart.
Out of the Big Three, Silver Wing Media was considered the weakest. Its glory days were in the past. The top students preferred Neon Culture and Tongshan True Entertainment, especially the latter, which had made a major push in recent years. Their virtual idols were flourishing and generated a huge demand for composers and arrangers, a perfect fit for the students.
"Silver Wing did OK this year. They account for three of the top 10," one student said.
"The top 10 are all from the Big Three."
"That’s the kind of dominance the Big Three should project!" As far as the students were concerned, given they were the three biggest entertainment companies in Yanzhou, the Big Three should rightfully rule the charts.
"Hey, out of the top 10, five of the composers are graduates of our school. Three are signed to Silver Wing, one to Tongshan True Entertainment, and one to Neon Culture," one student said excitedly.
"Oh, there are three at Silver Wing? What happened to the fourth? I heard that Silver Wing signed four of our final-year composition majors. Three of them are in the top 10. Where did the fourth go? He’s not in the top 10. I checked the entire top 100 and couldn’t find him."
"Really? Let me see who the last person is. The composition majors they signed are Rong Zheng, Chu Guang and Sha Andu—no, Sha Andu signed with Tongshan True Entertainment. Is it Prius?"
"Prius signed with Neon Culture. He’s in the top 10."
"Oh, then it’s not him. Who else is there? That’s right – Fang Zhao. We haven’t spotted Fang Zhao yet."
"Yeah, he hasn’t shown up yet."
"Wasn’t Fang Zhao the first one to sign? Our adviser was quite bullish about Fang Zhao, saying that Fang Zhao had the potential to make the top 10 in this season’s new talent contest."
The students sifted through the chart again but still couldn’t find Fang’s name.
What had happened?
It was nearly the end of the season. How come he hadn't entered the contest yet?
It wasn’t only the students at his alma mater—his childhood buddies, Zeng Huang and company, were also freaking out and pissed off. They felt so repressed seeing Fang Sheng sitting triumphantly in the top 10. What they would have given to announce to the world that Fang Sheng’s song was stolen, stolen from Fang Zhao.
They had no proof, so if they rabble-roused, they would be sued for defamation. The punishment for defamation was heavy and Neon Culture would no doubt defend Fang Sheng. Getting on the wrong side of Neon Culture would do no good for these nobodies.
"What is Big Zhao thinking? Is he really going to enter the competition now? It’s already the 10th. " Zeng Huang’s fiancée Fang Yue, also Fang Zhao’s childhood friend, was also keeping tabs on Fang Zhao, but there still wasn't any news, even after days of waiting.
As they were talking, Zeng Huang heard a "ding"—the crisp sound of a reminder on her bracelet.
They saw the sender of the text message and their eyes brightened. "There he is!"
Even though Fang Zhao was riding a high tide, he hadn’t slept well since entering the new talent competition. Initially it was nerves and anxiety about his ranking, and then it was excitement.
As he monitored the number of downloads on his wristband screen, he could picture his coffers filling with cash.
Every download cost a dollar. Unless specified, revenue was split three ways: the composer earned 30 percent, the singer 20 percent, and the record label 50 percent. The rise of virtual idols boosted the value of composers and devalued singers. Status-wise, B-list singers weren’t as important as composers, so naturally, they received a smaller cut.
For the current season, Fang Sheng entered all three songs that he stole from Fang Zhao as insurance. He bet everything on the current season, a strategy his company signed off on. If revenue was split according to his contract, given that the three songs had already combined for 3 million downloads, Fang Sheng’s cut was 1 million. If his career took off even more and he signed a better contract, his cut would increase and he would earn even more.
He had risen from poverty because of these three songs. It’d been only how long?
Seeing how the three songs charted, not only was Fang Sheng free of guilt and remorse, he was glad he had gone down this path. What a great f*cking deal it was, stealing these three songs!
When he first joined the company, the staff members who dealt with newcomers were quite cold. Now they smiled every time they saw him. The shift in attitude meant he was growing in stature. From now on, he'd be entitled to more resources at Neon Light and would work with better singers. The two words "infinite wealth" flashed in his head.
As for Fang Zhao?
Fang Sheng chuckled in a low voice, unlocked the screen to his bracelet, and skimmed the chart rankings again. There hadn't been much movement.
"Fang Zhao has no hope."
At that very moment…
A reminder sounded.
Fang Sheng had set up many reminders. The "ding" may have indicated a text message or an update in a newsfeed he followed, but somehow, Fang Sheng’s chest tightened when he heard the sound.
He looked at the clock on his wristband. It was 8 a.m. sharp.
Eight in the morning was when new songs were uploaded and released after being vetted.
Suddenly, Fang Sheng had second thoughts about tapping the reminder.
Still, he took a few deep breaths and tapped. Maybe it was something else, Fang Sheng thought.
After he tapped the reminder and read the message, his face turned pale.
His screen showed a reminder announcing the new release of a composer he followed. "Hehe, My Dear," performed by Bei Zhi and composed by Fang Zhao, a Silver Wing Media release.
Composer, Fang Zhao.
He glossed over the title of the song. The two words "Fang Zhao" were the eyesore. Yet he masochistically stared at the name for a minute before moving his stiff fingers, tapping the play button. When he was done, Fang Sheng stayed in his room. It was dead silent.
When he was summoned to Neon Light in the afternoon, people wanted to approach and say hi but noticed that he was pale as a ghost and wearing a terrifying look.
"What got to him?" the staffers wondered in private.
"I don’t know. He’s doing well in the new talent contest. All three of his songs are in the top 100, one is in the top 10."
"I was afraid he had dropped out of the top 10. So isn’t he in good shape?" a Neon Light staffer said after reading the latest chart.
No one could imagine how Fang Sheng felt at the time. Even though he wasn’t a talented composer, he could tell a good song from a bad one. He could figure out which songs would succeed and which couldn’t—his tastes were in synch with the masses. That’s how he knew what repercussions Fang Zhao’s song would bring. Now, if Fang Zhao had released his song independently, it wouldn't have been a problem. He posed no threat that way. But Fang Zhao had the backing of Silver Wing Media, one of the Big Three.
As long as Silver Wing applied the full weight of their promotional machine for newcomers, Fang Zhao was bound to soar in the rankings.
Twenty days was neither a short time nor an extended period.
How was it possible?
How on earth was it possible?
How did Fang Zhao produce a new song in a matter of days?
He must have composed it ahead of time. That was definitely it.
So Fang Zhao was on guard.
Fang Sheng recalled the look that Fang Zhao gave him when he returned to his black street to move. The look harbored a deeply buried sense of hatred. Now revenge had emerged, dangled in front of him.
By June, the weather in Yanzhou was quite warm, but Fang Sheng felt a coldness travel through his body, as if he had just been dragged out of a freezer.
Even though Silver Wing Media had been in decline in recent years, as one of the Big Three, its marketing prowess was still no match for many of the smaller companies. Any new release would be promoted within channels dedicated to newcomers.
The intranet at Qi’an Academy of Music, for example.
"There it is. Silver Wing has uploaded a new song. The composer is Fang Zhao!"
"Let’s download it right now. He’s an old boy. We gotta support him."
"Brothers and sisters from the composition department, let’s support our alumnus Fang Zhao!"
"Even though I’m an instrumental major, I’m going to help out too."
Many of the students didn’t listen to the song but joined the outpouring of support for these fresh graduates. It wasn’t a privilege that only Fang Zhao was entitled to. All the top graduates received this kind of treatment.
Thankfully, none of these students were intent on supporting Fang Zhao. They didn’t know Fang Zhao and might be fans of other newcomers, but they were still curious about Fang Zhao. What kind of product would this latecomer who showed up at the end of the season deliver?
For Silver Wing to have the gumption to enter Fang Zhao now, it wouldn’t be a crappy piece of work. Even if Fang Zhao wanted to enter a shit song, Silver Wing couldn’t afford to lose face.
Inside the dorm of a certain higher education institute in Qi’an, a Year Three student had the morning off. He woke up late and got online with a yawn, planning to catch up on the news.
In line with habit, he launched a music app called Intimately You Music that he used frequently and played the recommended playlist for the day.
These recommendations were all drawn and whittled down from his past preferences. If he heard something he liked, he would bookmark it, only splurging on a download when it was a song he really liked.
He wore his headsets and browsed the day’s flurry of entertainment headlines as he listened to music.
Nothing interesting was going on and the music traveling to his ears didn’t impress him much. It wasn’t bad, but there were no surprises. Maybe there were one or two songs that were OK, but he wouldn’t think much of them after a first listen. If you asked him what he thought after he went through his playlist, he wouldn’t be able to say much.
This was a common routine. Music industry outsiders like himself often just played songs they had already downloaded on a whim, maybe occasionally listening to recommended new or previous releases.
Just as he was yawning and reading the news distractedly, a spooky laughter sounded in his years, turning his partial yawn into a sneeze. His body woke up, cleared of any lingering sleepiness, and he sat up in shock.
After maintaining that posture for about 20 seconds, the student finally moved his fingers, scrolling through his screen as he switched from the news to his music app to find out the name of the song he was listening to.
When he saw the title, the student blanked for a second.
"‘Hehe, My Dear’—what kind of title is that?"
The student stared at the title that stood out from the others on the chart as he complained out loud. Yet his fingers kept moving, hitting play once again after the first listen.
"You have hit your sampling quota for the day," said the reminder that popped up on the screen.
I’ve hit my quota already?
I’ve listened to the song five times already?
Wow, that was fast.
It suddenly dawned on him that he had devoted his complete attention to listening to the song five times. He had actually focused on one song and listened to it five times.
Gotta download it!
It was only 1 dollar. He was thinking he could loop the song the entire afternoon, a perfect fit for those two particularly boring classes. Maybe he would be awoken by the sound of "hehe" in his headsets when he about to fall asleep.
After the download, he posted the song on his school’s intranet.
Handsome’s Cool Song: "I was blown away by a song today. Below’s the link to the sample."