The entire composition department got online punctually after receiving word that Du Ang had called a videoconference, as did Fang Zhao. He was going to go for a stroll, but stayed home after learning about the meeting.
As soon as everyone got online, Du Ang threw a time bomb in their face.
Indeed, every single Silver Wing staffer knew that the label's virtual projects were a death pit that chewed up money and people. Anyone who landed there was doomed.
Plus this fell outside of their expertise. They only knew how to compose, not how to produce virtual idols. They were clueless outsiders who had no idea how to respond to Du Ang.
So after Du Ang dropped the bomb, everyone went silent. They drooped their heads, even breathing lightly lest a deep breath draw attention, just like students who avoided eye contact with their teacher. Once contact was made, they might be called on.
Fang Zhao also remained silent. He didn't know much about virtual technology, so it wasn't an assignment he would jump on.
The other three newcomers who were signed along with Fang Zhao were enticed by the promise of promotion, but once they saw how everyone else reacted, they knew what was going on. This project was kryptonite. There was no way they would jeopardize the great momentum they had built from the new talent contest, so they shut up and pretended they were rocks.
Du Ang was awfully frustrated when he saw his staff playing dumb. See, he had told the higher ups that they couldn't complete the project—even the promise of promotion didn't do the trick. But Du Ang couldn't refuse a command from above either.
The higher ups just wanted to muddle through. They didn't have high expectations, they just wanted the job done, so Du Ang pondered briefly and broke the silence.
"OK. We all know what's going on here. I'm not going to bullshit you. We're stuck with this project. We just need to put something together that's presentable—that's it. Our budget is only 2 million…"
"Two million?" someone exclaimed. It wasn't too generous a budget—it was peanuts.
Officially, the company spent 50 million on last year's virtual project, but insiders knew the real amount was probably no less than 100 million, and it was all for nothing. Otherwise, the company wouldn't have gutted the project team with firings and demotions. The department was practically unstaffed. The people who remained behaved like retirees.
Two million was nothing compared to 100 million. The amount of investment also reflected the label's level of confidence in the project. Getting involved was a career-killer.
Du Ang glared at the person who interjected. He was in charge. "I'm not done yet. What are you butting in for?"
After a brief pause, Du Ang continued. "Initially the budget was 2 million. However, I successfully lobbied for another 3 million, for a total of 5 million."
Five million was still a paltry amount, the group thought.
Take Xun Huai and Fei Lisi, for example; the initial investment those two virtual idols received was in the tens of millions. If they did well, another few hundred million was in the pipeline. The difference was that Tongshan True Entertainment and Neon Culture knew how to make money with their virtual idols. Even if they poured in hundreds of millions, the could recoup their investment. Fei Lisi's candy deal was a case in point.
But as for Silver Wing, so far none of their virtual idols had generated much revenue. Every single one had fallen flat on their face after their launch.
Seeing as no one spoke up, Du Ang cleared his throat. "Since no one is willing, let's draw lots."
Everyone started panicking, praying that they wouldn't be the one drawn.
Du Ang didn't care how his people prayed for luck. To preempt any talk of cheating, he didn't draw lots by computer. Instead, he made paper strips with everyone's names on them in full view of the entire group, and then he crumpled them and put them in a box. The old-fashioned way.
"As you can all see, it's a fair process. I didn't rig the lots. Just pray that you're not so unlucky." As he spoke, Du Ang stuck his hand into the box and pulled out a piece of crumpled paper. He flattened it in front of his computer screen.
Du Ang flattened the paper strip with it facing his camera, so everyone else could see the name on it, but not him.
The moment he flattened the piece of paper, he heard heavy sighs of relief. They sounded like the breathing of a drowning person taking gulps of fresh air after being rescued.
Du Ang flipped the paper strip over and saw the words "Fang Zhao."
His eyelids jolted. Du Ang was surprised. He didn't want to put Fang Zhao on the project. Given his performance in the new talent contest, he was bound to produce even better songs. There were 50-odd people in the composition department. Considering the odds of one in 50, Du Ang didn't think Fang Zhao would get drawn. Lo and behold, he was.
There was nothing he could do. He had drawn lots in front of everyone. If he reneged, his staff would go ballistic.
Du Ang tried to gauge Fang Zhao's response. All Fang Zhao did was furrow his brows slightly. He didn't respond dramatically. Du lamented that the newcomer had no idea what he was getting himself into.
Even though the outcome wasn't ideal, the decision had been made.
"Fang Zhao," Du Ang spoke toward his camera. "I'll leave this mission to you, then. Alright, everyone else can leave. Fang Zhao, stop by the office this afternoon. I'll take you to the virtual projects department for a quick look."
Not long after Du ended the videoconference, Ya Erlin, the head of the arrangement department, dropped by. "Old Du, I heard you outsourced that terrible burden."
As soon as the meeting was over, Ya Erlin had gotten the lowdown from several composers who attended, using his cunning ways.
"None of your bloody business." Du Ang found the demon an eyesore. He used to be Ya Erlin's junior and had to restrain himself. Now that they were the same rank, he could speak with more authority.
Not long after he saw off Ya Erlin, Julian from operations stopped to gossip as well. "Du Ang, I heard a composer under you took the project."
Julian was much more senior than Du Ang. Position-wise, both were department heads, but Du Ang didn't want to get on Julian's bad side, so he was more diplomatic.
After disposing of Julian, Bu Lai, the head of back office operations, showed up. He was 30 years older than Du.
"Du boy, I heard one of your composers took the project.
Du Ang: "…..." He was tired of explaining.
Within an hour, the entire company knew that the much-delayed virtual idol project had found a home, assigned to a newcomer in the composition department.
So when Fang Zhao arrived at Silver Wing in the afternoon, he was the center of attention.
"That's right, that's him, the newcomer the composition department signed this year, the guy who finished fifth in the new talent contest.
"No. 5 in the new talent competition, you know, the 'hehe' song?"
"It's him. Poor guy."
"What a stroke of bad luck."
"What can he do? A newcomer can't turn down an assignment. I feel sorry for him."
"Aren't newcomers meant to be used as scapegoats? You watch, he's gonna get torn into."
Everyone considered Fang Zhao unlucky. He had finished fifth in the new talent contest, and people in the know were clear on how much real talent backed up his ranking. As long as he did what his agent told him to, riches lay ahead. What a pity that he was stuck with a dead-end virtual idol project.
Fang Zhao didn't go to Du Ang's office, heading straight to the 50th floor instead, as his boss had requested.
The 50th floor was where the virtual idol project was based. They took up the entire floor. In the early days after the label was founded, the virtual projects department occupied the 45th to 50th floors, but with the passage of time, the department deteriorated and its floors were reallocated one by one. Now they were left with the 50th floor.
When Silver Wing splurged on the department last year, the entire floor was packed. But when Fang Zhao emerged from the elevator, all he could sense was emptiness.
A vast emptiness created by the diversion of hardware and personnel. A shout could generate a clear echo.
"This way." Du Ang was already waiting. He led Fang Zhao to an empty office. "This is where you'll work until the project is complete.
Fang Zhao looked it over. It was a tastefully furnished 200-odd square meter office, for him alone. Only a cash-rich company like Silver Wing could pull this off.
Since Du Ang took over the virtual idol department, he was the head of the department. Fang Zhao was his designated producer.
But Du Ang's focus going forward would still be the composition department. He would leave the virtual idol department to Fang Zhao.
"From now on, you're the producer for the virtual idol project. You're the most senior employee apart from me. You'll make all the key decisions. This has been signed off by the bosses. It's been logged in your personnel file. You've been cleared for access to this floor. All you need to do is flash your bracelet."
Fang Zhao nodded. "Where's everyone else?"
"Make a left and head to the end of the corridor, the office in the corner—I spotted someone sleeping in there. Probably pulled an all-nighter gaming," Du Ang responded.
Fang Zhao was baffled as to why, given Du Ang's temper, he didn't lash out at someone sleeping at work.
"How many people are there in the department?" Fang Zhao asked.
Fang Zhao: "…..."
He raised two fingers to confirm. "That's to say... the entire department comprises two people."
"Uhm, that's right." As thick-skinned as Du Ang could be, he felt ashamed. This was hazing, hazing a newcomer.
Fang Zhao didn't know what to say next. He had heard about the virtual projects department. He knew last year's failed project had ended in a bloodbath. He just hadn't realized the company had cleaned house so thoroughly. If Du Ang hadn't taken over, the label would probably have kept procrastinating.
"You can make new hires or loan from other departments." Du Ang couldn't bullshit any more. "You take your time to settle in. I'm off. I still have a lot of things to attend to in the composition department." Du Ang got ready to bolt.
"Wait." Fang Zhao put the brakes on Du Ang's escape.
"I need to attend my graduation ceremony tomorrow and take care of some paperwork. I can't start immediately."
"Take your time," Du Ang responded. Of course he wasn't in a hurry. He had outsourced his problem. He had nothing to worry about. As for what kind of virtual idol Fang Zhao came up with, he didn't care. As long as he completed the assignment.
He slapped Fang Zhao on the shoulder. "Work hard and do a good job."