Is it realistically possible for me to go for a career in music?

July 31, 2017, 4:32 PM · I am 15 years old and still an Ameture violinist but I have 2 years of experience in choir. So I know how to read music and have relative pitch but I am wondering if it is a realistic goal to go to a university for music by time I am 22 or should I try focusing for another career and do music for fun on the side. I get I'll have to work hard and I practice seven hours a day. I want to go to school for performance or music history. Please let me know if you think it's realistic or crush my dreams!
P. S. Sorry if this was long I'm still new to violinist.

Replies (52)

July 31, 2017, 4:45 PM · It is possible, but very hard to happen. And perhaps too risky. Keep music for fun.
July 31, 2017, 5:54 PM · If you really practice 7 hours a day I think it's very achievable, although life as a working musician is a hard one, so you might question whether or not it's worth it to you.
July 31, 2017, 5:54 PM · Are you crazy???!!
Edited: July 31, 2017, 7:20 PM · The real question is what do you mean by a career in music.

If you want to go to school for music - yes, easy. Lots of schools, lots of options. If you want to go to a top end conservatory it gets a little less likely and a lot harder and more competitive.

Same for after school. You can have a career as a performer, but it will be hard going. Unless you are in the 99th percentile it's not really worth the investment. If by a career you mean earning a portion of your income from music, then it is highly possible.

The important thing is that anyone, even those who start from childhood, have trouble earning a career solely based on music. If you go into it with the acceptance that you will need to work at the least part time in another field, then you will be successful and happy with a music career.

The more compromises you are willing to make (teaching, small gigs, orchestral work, chamber music, more hours in a different field) the higher your chances for success and happiness are.

As long as you walk into this with the understanding that it might not be your sole livelihood and plan for that, go for it. Have an exit plan and be willing and know you are going to use it. On the off chance you don't, still smart to have.

P.S/Edit: 7 hours a day is really excessive for all but the smallest percentage of the population. Your brain reaches saturation long before then and you're just inviting injury, especially as a new player. Research suggests that with practice quality is significantly better than quantity. Learn how to practice first, then practice until progress stops. Never force yourself to practice for hours on end if you're not getting any progress from it.

July 31, 2017, 8:12 PM · Practicing 7 hours a day (or saying that you will) doesn't guarantee anything. You still have to have natural gifts or the practice is just wasting time and courting injury.

No one can predict your future until they see you play or have spent time teaching you to see how quickly you can learn. Any other predictions given are just blah, blah, blah.

Edited: July 31, 2017, 9:23 PM · I do not expect to make all income off of music and I am going to regular college just to be on the safe side but I am looking for a career in music education and performance. Thank you all for your responses it was very much helpful they were very helpful!
Edited: July 31, 2017, 9:44 PM · I practice so much because I go to continuation school for an hour three days a week so I have a lot of spare time I split it up into two practices one in morning and afternoon. Yeah I get it's a lot but I just get caught up and one hour practices turn into three hours and it just became a routine.
P. S. If your wondering about the seventh hour I spend 30 minutes doing warm ups.
Edited: July 31, 2017, 9:47 PM · Siana,

This is just from my experience, and is completely anecdotal and I am not quoting sources or higher authorities, YMMV.

It is easier and more likely to teach music in a public school or university, but to teach performance or to be a performer is perhaps the hardest path and you will have a lot of catching up to do. Teaching in a school system, unless you are specifically teaching violin performance, will require strong theory and at least upper intermediate piano skills.

It also depends on where you want to teach - a university will require different credentials than public school, and a private studio will require the ability to self market and deliver the product (e/g having your own technical chops)

Public school depends on location:
Here in Canada, you require a bachelors degree in education. If you want to teach music you will require a strong musical background, usually some form of degree (Bmus, BA w/ Music, conservatory, etc). In the United states some jurisdictions require a masters degree to teach. I am not familiar with the rest of the worlds education systems.

To teach at a university you require at the very least a masters in the subject you are teaching, and that will only land you a job as an assistant professor or adjutant (essentially 'part time'). To gain a tenured or tenure track position you will very likely need a phd in the field you are teaching in. You have an interest in music history, so this could be an option for you. You should also consider theory and musicology as well.

To teach in a private studio means to teach private technical and theory lessons. You don't really need a formal education for this, but your reputation will be directly based on a few things:

1. Your own ability to perform
2. Your ability to teach and pass on knowledge
3. The performance of your students

So if you are a weak performer, you will have trouble establishing a reputation as a good teacher. Not all great teachers are great players, and not all great players are great teachers, but you do need to be able to play what you are teaching and play it well.


As you can see, music education is a very broad category. There are also many other music related trades, including such as music therapy. You really need a concrete plan if you want to go into any of them, and part of that is deciding what exactly you want to do.

Do you want to be a violinist? What kind of violinist. You've just started - how long have you been practicing violin? Do you want to be a teacher? What will you teach - theory? History? Performance?

The problem is you've given us a very open ended question. Is it realistically possible for you to go into a music career? Sure is. I recommend exploring your options and deciding what kind of career you want to go into. If you want to make your money as a performer, it's pretty unlikely to find much success. As a teacher you have better prospects, but it will still be difficult.

I recommend starting here:

July 31, 2017, 9:47 PM · Thank you mr. McGrath this is helpful and I know a lot about music theory already
Edited: July 31, 2017, 10:24 PM · No worries Siana.

It's just important to remember that with only 2 years of experience, you are a very long way from a career in music. It's possible, but it is a long road. You have a few years to get your skills up, but in reality getting into a 'real' music school will be incredibly difficult at this point in your life. That makes becoming a performer difficult.

I don't like crushing dreams, but I do like being honest. This is an incredibly difficult journey to go on. You are competing with people who have been playing instruments since they were 3-12, savants, people with the money to hire the best teachers, etc.

People will tell you no - even here. They're not wrong. It's worth taking that advice at face value because the odds of success as a performer are very low. The most likely place to end up 'for pay' will be as a section musician in a lower end orchestra, or as a session or gigging musician, and that is if you work very hard over the next 10 years.

The fact that you want to go to college for something else is great - you'll need to. I'd recommend picking a school with a no-audition music program that you can use to get a double major or a minor in music through while you study whatever it is your degree is going to be in. Many schools offer minors in music or can be coaxed into offering a major to go concurrent with your regular academics. It likely will not be a performance degree, but it will keep the door open for you for when you've been at it for awhile and not cause you to spend a fortune on a degree you ultimately may not end up being able to use.

Be smart about it, don't let it be your only plan, and practice hard under the best teacher you can find/afford. Challenge yourself at theory - take some practice entrance exams. You might be surprised at how much you don't know - two years in a choir, or even two years of intense self study, will only scratch the surface of theory. Try doing a full analysis of the exposition of a symphony. You may find it rather humbling.

July 31, 2017, 10:31 PM · "It is easier and more likely to teach music in a public school or university"

University teaching jobs are very difficult to come by. Probably fewer openings than in a full-time symphony.

Edited: July 31, 2017, 10:39 PM · That's true Scott, I was just grouping the two together. I also included all forms of professor - theory, history, performance, composition, etc, in my statement.

I'm not sure I've ever seen a publicly advertised job for a music professor, but I'm not in a high population area and not looking either.

If there is anything else you would disagree with please feel free to - I'm basing this off my experience in an attempt to help but my experience is somewhat limited and just want them to get the best answers they can. You have a vast amount of experience!

August 1, 2017, 6:59 AM · "I'm not sure I've ever seen a publicly advertised job for a music professor"

Just so you (and anyone else) is wondering: university music jobs are mainly advertised in the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Music Vacancy List.

August 1, 2017, 7:18 AM · Siana,

What is your passion other than music? Pursue that goal and enjoy music making as a side. Instead of pouring seven hours a day on practice, it would be much more efficient to devote the effort to your school studies. Good luck.

Edited: August 1, 2017, 8:37 AM · "The most likely place to end up 'for pay' will be as a section musician in a lower end orchestra, or as a session or gigging musician, and that is if you work very hard over the next 10 years."

Just to clarify, in the US these jobs are also very hard to get. I am on the audition committee for a lower mid range orchestra, and you would not believe how well you must play in order to get a job with us.

August 1, 2017, 9:28 AM · If you don't expect to take all your income from music, don't even bother.

You will be up against some people that have no other choice but to be VERY good at music, because they depend 100% on it to survive.

So, if your goal is to have a career outside arts as well, get a job that pays and do music for fun/ small gigs.

Edited: August 1, 2017, 12:48 PM · Even if you don't expect to make your living from music (which you are extremely unlikely to do), there is still value in spending your spare time becoming the best musician you can, especially while you are young. It is often more difficult to improve as fast when you are older and have responsibilities that claim more of your mental bandwidth. Make sure you have a very good teacher and pay close attention to their instructions. Later when you come to enjoy music as a hobby you will be glad that you built good fundamental skills, because more opportunities will be open to you such as community orchestra or small ensembles such as you might arrange with like-minded and like-skilled others. If that's what you want, the important thing will be to stay with it.

These days public universities post all of their regular job listings on public forums (for example, and advertise those positions in trade-appropriate publications. You can look up the current violin faculty at various schools to examine their background.

August 1, 2017, 2:32 PM · It depends of what you want to do. A "career is music" is vary vague by itself.

I'm sure you can still play the kind of music Lindsey Stirling does and still make good money - probably more you would do if you get a job in an orchestra.

August 1, 2017, 4:33 PM · Consider doing a music minor, at a school that offers private violin lessons for non-music majors. Then major in something deliberately practical, where the supply of workers is actually less than the job openings. It's better to be a high-end amateur than an under-employed, second-tier pro. Seven hours a day sounds excessive, inefficient, possibly dangerous. Leopold Auer recommended 3-4 hours, and he taught the very best students of his time.
August 1, 2017, 6:44 PM · 7 hours a day doesn't necessarily mean straight playing, guys. That could include stretching, warming up, listening, studying, and so forth.
August 1, 2017, 6:51 PM · I'll throw in my usual two cents here, too, which is that just because something is a lot of fun when you're not doing it for money, doesn't mean that it's going to be fun when you have to earn a living that way.

Edited: August 1, 2017, 10:34 PM · Thanks everyone! I'll try cutting my practice to four hours. Is that safe? I kinda over do it sometimes. I believe I'll just wait to see at where I'm at in the future and go from there. It doesn't matter really as long as I can play and take care of my family. I'll be fine with whatever!
August 2, 2017, 3:29 AM · What ever time interval you choose, you must learn to recognize the onset of tension and strain so that you can avoid them assiduously. 15 minutes of reckless practice can be damaging. I was taught that mild fatigue is okay but pain never is.
August 2, 2017, 3:40 AM · Wow, not a single musician recommending music as a full time career. I should show this thread to my little girl :-).
August 2, 2017, 3:47 AM · Stan, we just don't reccomend performance on violin.

It is a hard world. Some instruments have better prospects than others, different genres, etc.

There is always hope, it just depends on where you look for it.

Edited: August 2, 2017, 7:48 AM · Good descriptions on how to do something that can't realistically be done by many unfortunately.

Kind of like going into business. You need lots of money and you won't make any money for at least the first few years. The reason most small businesses never make it, yet we are told that we can do anything. All we need is will power and a strong belief in ourselves.

I appreciate the candor here.First you need exceptional determination, ability and progress. I'm convinced that some things just fall into place better for some people. They happen to be in the right circumstances at the right time with the right support. Much like pop handing over the business to the son.Some of those people realize the great breaks they had. Some of them look down on others and crow about it.It really doesn't change the outcome.

I'm not really envious. I agree with Lydia's comment. It wouldn't really be fun anymore if it was a job. I feel a sense of stability in having a decent income and total control of when I play,who I play with, how I play and what I play. There's something to be said for that.

When you're 15 the possibilities are endless. When you're 50 you just want the truth.

August 2, 2017, 8:18 AM · I've never had a pro musician tell me that it was an easy life -- not even people in top 5 orchestras, or who have secure tenured university positions. Some musicians can't envision themselves doing anything else with their life, and all the sacrifices they make are worth it. Some musicians think that they could have done something else, and perhaps been happier.

You'll see very different reactions in this forum to the kids who seem to have a realistic shot at a viable music career. The OP doesn't appear to be one of those kids.

August 2, 2017, 9:04 AM · Stan wrote, "Wow, not a single musician recommending music as a full time career." Not exactly. We're just not recommending a classical performance career to someone who is starting the violin at age 15. Were she 9 years old with four years of study completed and a youtube video showing herself playing Mozart G Major Violin Concerto nicely, that might be different. But then she wouldn't be asking us, either.
August 2, 2017, 9:56 AM · "It is a hard world. Some instruments have better prospects than others, different genres, etc."

This is true. If someone wants to live as a musician I would recommend studying piano. You can fit a pianist almost everywhere, but as a violinist it would be hard to find a job outside orchestras, except possibly the many symphonic popular bands that we have seen lately.

August 2, 2017, 10:58 AM · Stan Yates: very few are recommending it because of the specific situation. Would you show your daughter this to discourage her from a career in music, or to use it as fuel?
Edited: August 2, 2017, 3:02 PM · I will be the one and only. Go for it! Life is too short not to try. Get financial aid; get a scholarship. Attend a public university for music school! But hey, if you have the money, try for Juilliard! If you're accepted, work your tail off! If you're not accepted, that's ok; at least you tried. If anything, playing for auditions will make you further hone your skills and teach you the lesson of rejection. But hey, life doesn't end at 22. I know several people who just entered music performance degrees after age 40. Message me and I'll give you names. Once again, life is too short not to try. What I suggest:

1) Go to University for music therapy, music education or music performance with a 2nd degree in business or some other field. Always good to have back ups! Also, don't knock small music programs. We all wish we could have gone to Curtis Institute, but there's nothing wrong with studying music at a public institution for only $5,000 or a little more a year.

2) Study more than just one genre. I will agree that the path to classical music performance is difficult, so just to be safe, learn multiple genres. Maybe you'll play film music, folk music, play back up for Lady Gaga! Who knows?

3) If music doesn't work out for the time being, never stop practicing and trying to get better. You never know when your big break will come.

4) Be open minded. There are many independent musicians now, selling tons of CDs without the aid of a big music corporation. Even some classical musicians such as Zoe Keating. There are also people who get jobs near music or within the music field such as working for orchestral administration, writing for a music magazine, selling or making instruments, etc... Keep an open mind, and you'll probably land somewhere in the music world you could have never imagined.

That's my 2 cents. Life is too short to not give it a try and to listen to other people telling you what you are and aren't capable of. But keep your mind open, be smart and know when to have back ups in other fields and a flexible view of all the paths you can take in life. Never get stuck on one mode of travel.

Edited: August 2, 2017, 3:14 PM · Also, I started violin at 14. I've taken my own unique path in life. I also can point you in the direction of several other extremely successful musicians who started after age 14. If you're truly serious, message me and I'll give you names. It's always great to have mentors. Also, don't knock International travel for the right lessons and even eventual career search. Terje Moe Hansen in Norway is a prestigious professor of violin. He started at 19. I have always wanted to study with him and pick his brain on how he did it. Of course, if you can't afford International travel, there's Skype lessons. I think the big difference between someone who has a higher chance of success and someone who doesn't, the person who doesn't is always looking for excuses not to climb the mountain. The person who does, will always find a way up, around or even through the mountain. The opportunities are endless, and the journey is precious. But the most courageous person is the one who isn't afraid to turn back and find another route after giving it a serious try. Sometimes we just can't climb the mountain all the way to the top and it starts to become no fun once you reach the no oxygen level. It's ok to turn back and find the next new adventure.
August 2, 2017, 4:30 PM · Erik, I would show her to plant a seed that may lead to an informed decision rather than a romantic or easy/default decision. She's 11, has played for 6 years, is talented, and teachers already ask her if she will study music. The candid discussion is good.
August 2, 2017, 8:15 PM · PET PEEVE: Teachers who ask, subtly push, or not-so-subtly push a talented young student towards the expectation of pre-professional study of music at a conservatory followed by a career.


Don't plant ideas in children's heads. If they enjoy music and learning the violin, work with them on becoming the best violinist they can be. If music is the right life path for them, they'll figure that out on their own. If they're not drawn to it from an inner drive, then they should do something else.

I never, ever am the one to bring up the possibility of a career with my students, no matter how talented they are. If they ask me, I'll give them my best advice and a candid assessment of their chances. If they don't ask me, I don't even go there.

Edited: August 3, 2017, 8:19 AM · To be clear, her own teacher doesn't talk about this! :-) (Sorry to hijack the thread...) So often kids make significant life decisions about college and course of study without really understanding much about where it leads. So I like that Siana is asking and I really like seeing professional folks' perspective, because I know this will be coming for us not so long from now.
August 3, 2017, 6:28 AM · I think the very first thing is to look inside of yourself. There's something that you are already in the rough.

If you say to yourself, I'm going to see if I can become a violinist or try to become this or that, this is all wrong. This is because you already are something that only needs to be developed.

If you looked inside and seen a violinist, then you can confidently say, I AM a violinist. If you've only played a few years you might not be very good yet. This doesn't change the fact that you ARE a violinist. This is that inner affirmation that will guide you all the way.

This mentality will re enforce you and also project to other people. They won't see you as someone attempting something, they will see you as someone who IS something and who is moving along a path of progress.

Don't pursue that thing, be that thing and the rest will fall into place.

This might not result in the end you had envisioned, but it will be the best end for you personally.
Just my .000002 worth

August 3, 2017, 8:53 AM · I'm intrigued by your pet peeve, Mary Ellen. :-)

Students on a serious pre-conservatory path need relatively early support to maximize their talents, I would think. For instance, I wouldn't expect parents to necessarily know to pursue something like Juilliard Pre-College for a child, unless their teacher brought it up and encouraged it. Or travel -- even fly -- long distances to study with a teacher.

The teacher affects decisions like whether or not the kid has lessons once or twice a week, how much they practice, what competitions they enter, how their repertoire and technical work are structured to prioritize various goals (for instance, maximizing position in orchestra, vs. maximizing long-term advancement of playing skill), etc. A discussion of whether or not this is potentially pre-professional or just a hobby can begin to meaningfully happen well before high school.

My teachers raised this with my parents repeatedly, starting from a relatively early age. My parents were adamant that they did not want me to go into music as a career, but my teachers were also somewhat subversive, trying to ensure that I would get the necessary preparation anyway.

August 3, 2017, 9:56 AM · Realism is a wonderful thing, but lets give a little credit to people with a dream, dedication, and hard work. It wasn't realistic a small garage EBay store would become the global powerhouse that is Amazon, nor was it realistic that a kid with a little programming experience would write the program that 98% of computers in the world use. If everyone followed what was realistic, instead of following their desires, we would all be living in Africa with no computer, no Amazon, and no violins.

OP, if you really want something, and your work hard at it, you can do just about anything you want. You may not succeed, but you will get a lot closer trying, than you will by just giving up.

August 3, 2017, 10:33 AM · Just wanted to toss in a correction. Amazon was not a small garage eBay store, and in fact was founded almost a year before eBay. (I don't know what program you're referring to that's used by 98% of the world's computers, and I would bet you that anything you're thinking of wasn't written by a kid with no experience, either.)

Also, neither the founders of eBay nor Amazon were unrealistic dreamers. They're people who have ambitious but realistic visions of the future, along with concrete ideas of what they have to do in the here-and-now to achieve realistic near-future goals.

We do people a huge disservice when we just tell them to dream big and work hard.

August 3, 2017, 10:45 AM · Michael,

If you are referring to Bill Gates, his parents were very well connected in the first place. How an earth do you think he could buy DOS from some small company and get a licensing contract with IBM to install it in every PC that they sell?

August 3, 2017, 10:55 AM · I like to say that you can do anything if you want it enough, but the problem is most people don't want something long enough to actually follow through, so they end up with a half-completed dream. BUT a half-completed dream still teaches you something, and a dream that was never even attempted teaches you absolutely nothing.

Regarding how realistic a goal is: sometimes I wish the people around me hadn't been so practical while I grew up. I think there is a distinct value in trying something that you'll probably fail at, but discovering for yourself that it's unrealistic. My mom would always tell me the truth growing up about which careers were probably a good idea and which were not. For example, she told me that if I didn't start practicing 4 hours a day (up from my then 2 hours a day) then I wouldn't be able to become a professional musician. And the fact is: she was RIGHT. But as a result of facing this wall, I just gave up and started pursuing other career options. Of course, I eventually looped around and became a teacher (a nice backup option for when your professional career fails) so that's worked out nicely for me personally, and I feel that I do a lot of good in this line of work. But if I'd kept trying, perhaps I would have been happier, albeit less stable financially. Who knows what roads my initial failure would have led me down?

I guess my point is this: because I'm always thinking about how "realistic" any goal is, I tend to not even try. I don't even START because I map the whole sequence of events out and realize there's no way that it could end out in a financially productive outcome. This is also true of any hobbies I think about starting. I get excited initially, followed by a quick sinking feeling when I realize that there's no real
"point" to doing the hobby. So now, even though I have plenty of money, it's pretty hard to find joy in anything because I'm always thinking about how practical it is, and I realize that nothing is practical in this world, short of money, housing, food, and water.

Stop asking how realistic stuff is, and just follow your path. See where it leads. You'll be happier that way. It's pretty rare that I hear anyone say "man, if only I HADN'T followed that dang dream!"

August 3, 2017, 11:05 AM · Part of your issue, Erik, might be that you're thinking about hobbies in terms of their end goals, rather than the joy of the journey. If that's the case, it's actually probably good that you aren't sinking your time into that hobby.

Everything worth having tends to require doing some work, but if the work/reward curve isn't fairly attractive from the start, do something else with your life. :-)

August 3, 2017, 11:10 AM · I believe most people will be who they really are. If they don't continue an interest then they probably don't want to do it. If they have a strong motivation they will try for as long and as hard as they can.Not because they have anything to gain other than satisfaction.

If you truly like something, most likely there will be setbacks.Never endings. No stopping. Resting maybe.Maybe re evaluation. There doesn't need to be any rationalization or logical reason for continuing, so long as there is driving interest. An interest might be viewed by the world as a loss. That won't matter to someone with driving relentless passion.

For those with sheer passion in a thing it's more about the journey than the goal. They are fed along the way. It isn't as if they plod along for 20 years and finally get a treat.It isn't usually about the treat itself whatever you consider that to be.

This is who they are irregardless of anything else. The other things are only the results of that journey.

August 3, 2017, 11:18 AM · When I think of all my friends who are in a ton of college debt, I tend to agree with sticking to reality. I started working with $0 to my name, and richer than many of my contemporaries.
August 3, 2017, 12:57 PM · True, Timothy. This is also the nihilistic conclusion that I've come to as well. We can minorly influence the trajectories of others, but they're going to do what they're going to do, and they're going to be who they're going to be.

August 3, 2017, 1:02 PM · Mary Ellen: if your pet peave response is to Stan Yates' post; on the bright side, Stan himself doesn't seem to be pushing for the career/study option. And his daughter's teachers seem to only be asking, rather than planting seeds or pushing. I have a similar pet peave because most people have no idea how much effort is actually required to make money doing music, but I don't think that's the case here.
August 3, 2017, 3:02 PM · Lydia: I don't think you and I are talking about the same set of students. You're talking about future competition entrants. I'm talking about the "typical" talented kid who ranges from pretty good to very good but who was not playing Tchaikovsky at eight.
August 3, 2017, 3:51 PM · I'm more thinking about the kid that is playing Tchaikovsky in, say, their freshman or sophomore year of high school, and sounding pretty professional by then, as opposed to the wunderkind playing Tchaikovsky at 8. :-)

August 3, 2017, 4:09 PM · I'm talking about high school kids with a respectable Bruch.
August 3, 2017, 5:47 PM · "We do people a huge disservice when we just tell them to dream big and work hard."

We do people a disservice when we tell them to dream big, work hard, and then completely underestimate the amount of work they have to do, ie make it sound easy. Especially with violin, which I love but I do not think I'll ever find it easy. The problem is people do not know how much work getting to a conservatory level takes until they actually have to do the work. I wish my parents had forced me to practice when I was a beginner, and then maybe I would have understood.

At least, that is what I think.

August 3, 2017, 7:13 PM · I think the right approach is usually something in between, " the sky is the limit ", and "not even in a million years".
August 4, 2017, 1:18 PM · I completely understand Mary Ellen's pet peeve. What's that quote about universities not doing *enough* to discourage young writers again?

The thing is, almost nobody "makes it," and even those who "make it" usually have financial problems, and even those who don't have personal financial problems play in an orchestra with financial problems that is in constant danger of going under, and the one other person is Hilary Hahn. You (general) won't be Hilary Hahn. Seriously, you won't. If you were, you'd know that already. I totally agree that it is unnecessary to suggest music as a career. It's one of those situations where if you can be scared away, you should be, and if you can't, you still probably should be.

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