Chapter 21 – The Laughing Kittens

“Mixerman!” Kanish wailed from below my bedroom window.

“What the fuck?” I mumbled from under my pillow.

“In the garage! Hurry, hurry, hurry!”

Something was wrong.

I threw on my bathrobe, ripped open my bedroom door, and flew down the stairs, out the front door, down the sidewalk, under the arboretum, and into the wide-open garage we now call Headquarters. Aardy was on the back couch casually eating breakfast. Kanish was facing the monitors, sporting an impossibly wide smile. He was listening to the Douchebag Song, of all things.

“What!” I exclaimed in full pant.

“Wait for it,” Aardy replied.

The final Sitar strum was followed by the exquisitely honeyed voice of DJ Dahling.

@DJDahling: “You gotta love that Sitar, sistah!”

“We are on the radio!” Kanish announced pridefully.

@DJDahling: “For anyone living under a frickin’ rock, that was the soundtrack to that adorable Kitten Video that’s trending on Facebook. It’s called the Douchebag Song by the impressive duo DJ Produsah Mixerman and MC Knish Knosh Too! And I just love the mystery surrounding these two. No one has ever heard of them. A very smart play.”

There is nothing quite like the first time you hear a song that you produced on the radio. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was absolutely horrified at how crappy my mix of The Brand New Heavies’ “Dream on Dreamer” sounded on the radio. It was excessively bright, ultra distorted, and sounded completely different from what I had delivered. Then I heard the same mix on another station. This time the track sounded dark and ultra distorted. As it turns out, there was no problem with the mix. It’s just the nature of radio.

Of course, Streaming MP3s is equally as atrocious. And as far as I’m concerned, satellite radio sounds the worst of all the mass-delivery mediums. Pick your poison. At the moment, that was terrestrial radio. Otherwise known as the goal.

@DJDahling: “Let’s take some calls.”

@GentCaller: “Hello?”

@DJDahling: “Talk to me, Sherman Oaks. You’re on the air.”

@GentCaller: “I am? Can you play the Douchebag Song again?”

@DJDahling: “Right? They remind me of the Pharcyde. How about you?”

@GentCaller: “The who?”

@DJDahling: “Oh wow. The Who is not the right answer, dudester. Let’s take another call. You’re on with DJ Dahling. Kiss me!”

@LadyCaller: “Hey, Dahling. Can you play that other Kitten Video?”

@DJDahling: “The other Kitten Video?”

@LadyCaller: “It had something to do with laughing?”

@DJDahling: “You don’t mean the one with the laughing Kittens, do you?”

@LadyCaller: “That’s the one!”

@DJDahling: “I’m not familiar with it.”

@LadyCaller: “Really?”

@DJDahling: “What am I, living under a rock? [Cue music] There are no laughing Kittens on radio, I’m afraid, but there are plenty of Sitars! [Beat enters] This is ‘Laugh! by DJ Produsah Rev and the Mukesh Machine. Laughing is such a great sentiment! We all need to laugh more. Kiss me!”

“They made a Kitten Video,” I lamented.

“On my way to YouTube now!” Aardy declared.

“It wasn’t enough to lift the Sitar? They had to steal our Kittens concept too?”

I was beginning to wonder whether we were listening to an instrumental track, since there didn’t seem to be anything much going on in the verse other than a tamboura drone and a looped Sitar part. Then came the chorus.

Take as much as you possibly can.
Waste what you do not need.
Laugh in the the faces of those who have none,
Ha ha ha ha—

You see?

“Is it just me?” I asked, “or is that lyric slightly disturbing?”

“Either that or absurdly hilarious,” Aardy said as he plugged his laptop into the Raven and killed the radio feed. “You need to see this video.”

There were Kittens, all right. Lots and lots of cute furry Kittens fighting over some yarn, which is always entertaining, but hardly revolutionary where Kitten clips are concerned. That is, until the chorus came in. This was the big payoff as the furballs lined up in a row, which was impressive in its own right. But the real miracle here was—and I realize this may sound crazy—the Kittens were laughing. Yes, the Rev’s clip featured laughing Kittens, and the three of us were in absolute stitches it was so fucking amusing. I mean, how does one get Kittens to laugh like that?

“How many Views?” I asked as I wiped away tears of laughter.

“That’s the thing,” Aardy replied. “There aren’t that many Views or Shares yet. Certainly not compared to what we have going on.”

“There would be a vehdy good reason for that,” Kanish replied. “Mukesh has not yet requested Code Shack intervention.”

“So, how the hell did they get on radio?” Aardy wondered aloud.

“Motherfucker!” I yelled. “Willy got a twofer.”

“A twofer?” Kanish questioned.

“Two-fer-one. Terrestrial radio has only so many slots on their playlist, and they tend to limit how many they’ll provide any given Major Label at a time. They try to spread the wealth so they can maximize kickbacks, but if a Label sends them a track that garners no reaction, they lose their slot. So Willy probably picked up an opening on the strength of our track.”

“I see,” Kanish said. “So Willy gets two for one? Which you call a twofer?”

“Exactly.”

The moment “Laugh!” ended the Skype began to ring. It was the Rev, and despite how annoyed I was at him for lifting our Kitten concept, I promptly accepted the incoming call. The Rev and Mukesh appeared on the Raven screen. Kanish and I took our places under the dartboard.

“Nice robe,” the Rev chided.

“Nice Kittens,” I parried. “You realize our tracks were played back to back on KIIS FM in Los Angeles just now?”

“No shit! That’s why we’re Skyping you! Waddya think of it? Did you catch the video yet?”

“Dude! That shit is hysterical. How the hell did you get those Kittens to laugh?”

“That’s the secret sauce right there, my friend. Those laughing Kittens are what locked in our Distribution deal with Willy Show!”

“Your what?”

“He couldn’t stop laughing when we showed it to him.”

“Specifically, how big a deal did Willy offer you?”

“The same as you.”

“That’s not even close to specific.”

“Why do I need to be specific? Don’t you know what your deal is with Willy?”

“You’re the one insisting we have the same deal,” I pointed out.

Mukesh grew impatient with our silly little dance.

“Why must you American Producers always compete against each other? Willy offered us a $10 million Distribution deal as a good-faith payment on a $90 million deal, just as he did for you. Do you not think that we Billionheirs talk? Do you forget that we are all working together now? Do you not recall that you have Corporate obligations to assist us in our quest to be Number One? What precisely is the point of withholding information from us?”

Kanish hissed at Mukesh in Hindi, which drew a rather heated response back from Mukesh.

“Speak American!” I insisted.

“It is time to implement the Code Shacks for ‘Laugh!’” Mukesh concluded. “I cannot say it more simply than that!”

On the one hand, Mukesh made a good point. The other Billionheirs helped us with their Code Shacks and Telemarketers, and we were obliged to provide the same service for them. On the other hand, his thirst for Number One seemed at odds with the whole Share-and-Share-alike concept. It was the very definition of competition.

“Forgive me,” Kanish replied. “We are indeed working together, and I have Shared with Mukesh the details of our deal, just as he has Shared with me. Moving forward, I believe that it would make vehdy much sense to engage the Coders and Telemarketers with Phase Two of our operation.”

“And what’s Phase Two?” I asked.

“Phase Two requires the calling of radio request lines.”

“You don’t think that thousands of Coders with Hindi accents calling up radio request lines is going to seem a bit suspicious?”

Aardy got up from the couch, walked toward the webcam, leaned in briefly to reveal himself, then held his laptop up, as if any of us could see what was on his screen.

“I have a solution to that!” Aardy announced.

“I’m not in my twenties anymore,” the Rev complained. “What the fuck are you showing us?”

“This is an online request form,” Aardy replied. “Most radio stations have them these days, so you don’t need to call in. Let’s just get the Coders to fill in request forms as they simultaneously generate Views. Some refer to this as multitasking.”

We could double the Coders’ workload without raising their pay. Bonus! We were really getting the hang of this Corporation thing.

“That’s a good idea,” I said. “But it’s going to seem suspicious if there aren’t call-ins, too.”

“Agreed,” Aardy replied. “Let’s have the American-born Telemarketers make the call-in requests. I assume Telemarketers still use phones?”

“Of course they do!” the Rev exclaimed. “That sounds like the plan to me. The Coders generate the Views and online radio Requests. The Telemarketers handle the Shares and the call-in Requests. You guys get the Coders going. Mukesh here will reach out to Lakshmi to schedule the Telemarketers, and we’ll be on our way to the promised land. We’ll talk soon, boys!” And with that, the Rev hung up the Skype.

As much as I wished to dissect the meaning of Rev’s identically high-valued Label Distribution deal, that would have to wait. Another Skype call had come in, this time from GQ and Kaisapaisa. GQ’s face was covered in tiny little splotches of what I can only assume was antibiotic gel. Kaisapaisa sat close beside him in a bright-purple velvet jacket with matching fez. He would have looked absolutely smashing were it not for his bright red swollen eyes. Kaisapaisa had obviously been crying.

“We’ve been dropped!” Kaisapaisa blurted the moment the two appeared on the Raven MTX.

“Dropped!” I barked. “But why?”

“Marv doesn’t think my GQ should be the face of us!”

“Well, Kaisa—”

“Oh, what! Don’t tell me you feel the same way!” Kaisa sobbed as he buried his face into a matching purple hanky.

This was a little awkward, because clearly it made no fucking sense whatsoever for GQ, a veritable poster child for poor lovable schlubs the world over, to be the front man of a pop duo. But then, how could I say that without insulting them? When in doubt, ask a question.

“Well, how do you feel about it, GQ?”

“I don’t think it makes a whole lotta sense for me to be front and center,” GQ stated bluntly.

“But I programmed the beat!” Kaisa protested. “Doesn’t that make me the DJ Produsah? And if I’m the DJ Produsah, doesn’t GQ have to be the MC?”

“Kaisapaisa, it’s your art,” I encouraged. “There is no formula.”

“But you can’t have two DJ Produsahs together. How would that work? You need a DJ Produsah and an MC in order to create a hit. And GQ is so manly. It just seemed so right. It seemed so smart to make the manly man the MC. And . . . and . . .”

Kaisapaisa dropped his hanky and leaned forward to give us a better view of his hysteria.

“AND IT WAS THE WRONG DECIS-UH-UH-UH-UN!”

GQ looked somewhat shell-shocked and did not avert his forward gaze even as Kaisa was falling apart on his shoulder. Kanish Kanish was equally astonished and clearly didn’t know how to handle this sort of meltdown. Of course, Kanish hadn’t spent the last two decades working with Artists. I mean, Produsahs.

“Okay, Kaisa, I need you to chill out for a little bit, and let me ask GQ some questions, okay? We might be able to help you.”

That statement triggered head snaps from both Aardy and Kanish. Kaisapaisa crossed his legs and bit down on his lip.

“All right. GQ, what happened?” I inquired.

“You know. It was like one minute we had a quarter million and no video; the next minute we didn’t have a quarter million and still had no video.”

“What! You lost all of that cash?”

“We recovered most of it. But Marv returned last night and took it all fucking back.”

“And you gave it to him? He can’t just take it back.”

“He can’t? Well, he did. And then he dropped us. Just like that,” GQ said with a snap.

“I don’t understand. Why not buy out your contract from Marv and put the record out yourselves?”

Kaisapaisa removed his hand from his mouth and put it on GQ’s leg.

“Am I allowed to speak now? Or am I still on a chill-out?”

GQ turned his head methodically toward Kaisapaisa and stared him down.

“I didn’t tell you not to speak,” GQ grumbled.

“Well, someone in a highly unfashionable robe did, and I didn’t hear you defending me.”

“Say whatever the hell you want, man. Holy fuck!”

“You don’t need to take that tone with me.”

Kanish gave Kaisapaisa a much-needed Hindi scolding, but it may have been a bit strong given Kaisapaisa’s state. The reprimand sparked a clear and present lower-lip tremble, followed by the rapid-fire gibberish of a Hindi confession, straight into uncontrollable sobs.

“What did he say?” I asked.

“He’s completely cut off at the moment, and his father will most certainly order him back to India without the Number One song.”

“Or a Grammy!” Kaisapaisa bawled. “That’s never going to happen without Distribution! I grew up in America! I can’t go back to India! I’d rather be . . . I’d rather be . . . I can’t even say it!”

“Poor,” GQ finished, launching Kaisapaisa into hysteria again.

“Hold on!” I yelled. “Just wait right there please, both of you. We’ll be right back.”

I stood up and made my way over to the laptop to put the Skype on hold. Aardy, who was camped out on the couch in the back of the garage, was so alarmed, he stood up himself.

“You’re not seriously thinking what I think you’re thinking, are you?” Aardy asked.

“That we should pick them up? Hell yeah, that’s what I’m thinking.”

“This is not a charity!”

“Charity!”

“The song’s a dog! Cash money? Gimme, gimme, gimme cash money? That’s just terrible. The song has no chance of ever being Number One.”

“I know! I know! But really, how much is it going to cost us to pick them up? I’ll bet you anything that Marv gave them the same advance that Willy gave us. That means we can probably buy their contract for $50K. I mean, the track is fucking done already. All we need to do is make Kaisapaisa the MC, slap the track onto another Kitten Video, and it’s ready for the Code Shack to generate Views.”

“None of which changes the fact that it’s a shit song,” Aardy lamented.

“No . . .” Kanish interjected in an almost pensive manner. “I mean, yes, it is most certainly a shit song as you say, but tell me, what does it matter? We are the ones who generate the Views and the Shares, which translate into the Spins. We should test the effectiveness of our formula with ‘Cash Money.’”

Ah, you got to love the ego. One hit song does not a formula make, and one Spin on the radio ain’t even a whiff of a hit. Still, I understood what Kanish was driving at. He was clearly convinced that we could turn any old song into a hit just by manufacturing enough initial energy to proliferate a reaction. There is an entire faction of teenagers that believes that pop hits are Manifested through marketing. That any song, given enough capital, can be a hit. Of course, those teenagers become adults, at which point that line of thought becomes obvious bullshit.

The point of the Coders and the Telemarketers is not to turn a shit song into a hit song. It’s to reach enough listeners for a great song to garner a reaction. Nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t matter how many Views or Shares we generate with Coders and Telemarketers. Ultimately, the Number One song would require an organic viral reaction. As much as we were gaming the system, we really weren’t. All we were doing was putting ourselves in a position to capitalize.

That said, Kanish’s little ego-driven theory seemed a worthwhile and relatively inexpensive experiment. I mean, if radio is going to jump on Rev’s “Laugh!” track just because of some Sitars and Kittens, then there was no reason to believe that it couldn’t happen with yet another track. Whether we thought “Cash Money” was “shit” or not was irrelevant. Once set to Kittens, “Cash Money” would carry all the markings of a hit.

Given the circumstances, $50K was a reasonably small gamble in the grand scheme of $90 million. And even if the total of our deal never cracked $10 million—a distinct possibility given the developments—the risk was minimal. Besides, we still had the Tiger’s Share of our $250,000 video budget available to us. We could buy out GQ’s contract immediately, given the option.

“I agree with you, Kanish,” I said. “We should pick them up, fix the problems, and run them through the Viewing and Sharing mill. Besides, we kind of have an obligation to help them at this point.”

“Yes, yes, yes. You are right, of course. Let us do this,” Kanish announced.

“Great. You present the deal, then.”

Kanish and I sat down in front of the camera. Aardy unpaused the Skype.

“I have a vehdy important question for you both,” Kanish began. “How much did Marv advance you?”

“Fifty K total, most of which we still have. It doesn’t cost me anything to program a track, you know?” GQ replied.

“Vehdy good. And how much cash did you happen to lose at the shoot?”

“About $20K.”

“This is what we shall propose,” Kanish began. “If Marv Ellis will allow you to purchase your way out of your contract, then C@taclysmic Group Inc. would be vehdy happy to Distribute you.”

“Yeah?” GQ said suspiciously. “What kind of percentage are we talking?”

“The same deal. Fifty-fifty on all revenue streams.”

“And the advance?”

“I would suggest that you keep your advance as it is, and we shall pay Marv the $70K it will cost to buy out your contract, but—”

“Deal!” Kaisapaisa screeched as he jumped out of his chair and skipped off the screen clapping in stiff hands.

“Oh, man!” GQ sighed in relief. “That’s awesome, guys. Thank you!”

Aardy stuck his face right in the camera.

“There was a ‘but’!” Aardy noted.

“A ‘but’?” GQ replied.

“A ‘but,’” Kanish parroted.

“What kind of a ‘but’?”

“As I was saying,” Kanish continued, “we shall pick up your Distribution, but you must agree to set your track to a Kitten Video, and Kaisapaisa shall be front and center as your MC. Does that sound good to you?”

“That sounds fucking great.” GQ sighed as Kaisapaisa pranced in and out of the frame like a beauty pageant contestant. “You know, I have a version of the track with Kaisapaisa’s demo vocals, which are actually pretty good. You want to hear that?”

“Most definitely!” Kanish replied. “Please send it presently.”

“Will do. I’m calling Marv to see if we can strike this deal. We’ll Skype you back.”

Technically speaking, Marv did not have to release GQ and Kaisapaisa from their contract even after dropping them. Marv owned the Master because he paid for it with a $50K advance. But most Labels, in most circumstances, will let a dropped Artist buy back their Masters. On the rare occasion when a Label does refuse, it’s usually personal. Should we as C@taclysmic approach Marv, he could very well attempt to charge us a premium, since he knows we should soon have at least $10 million in funding. If GQ and Kaisapaisa go to Marv directly, he would likely release them in exchange for his costs to date.

Kanish, Aardy, and I spent most of the afternoon discussing business, including our future Headquarters, which was a conversation I couldn’t wrap my head around at all. What was wrong with my garage? It’s comfortable, we can make and listen to music in it, we’re all set up for Skype conference calls, and we can play Beaver while we think. The room was airy when we wanted it, and Womblike when we didn’t. I could wear my pajamas all day. We were already in the ultimate office space, and Aardy wanted to trade it all for some fancy suite in a building full of fancy suites?

“Who runs a company worth a billion dollars out of their garage?” Aardy asked.

“How the fuck do you put us at a billion-dollar valuation? We have three employees.”

I’ve watched a great many episodes of the hit show Shark Tank, in which contestants are given the opportunity to pitch an investment opportunity to five super -successful entrepreneurs. My favorite investors are Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary, neither of whom ever mince their words. Kevin O’Leary, also known as Mr. Wonderful, would be having conniption fits at the idea that we were worth ten times our initial cash investment—even after picking up a new asset. Besides, from what I could tell, Willy was now handing out Label Distribution deals like Tic Tacs at a garlic festival, and I didn’t for a second believe he could fund two upstart Labels to the tune of $90 million each.

“Until we have the money in our account,” I started, “and an actual fucking contract, in writing, we have no idea what we’re worth. And speaking of money in our account . . . weren’t we supposed to get our $10 million today?”

“I’ve been checking the account all morning,” Aardy replied.

“We do not need to worry about any of that,” Kanish replied. “I’m certain that Willy will match his word and provide us with the initial good-faith investment. I’m also certain that this does not change the stakes for any of us Billionheirs.”

“And what stakes are those?” I asked.

“Kaisapaisa is not the only one who is in this country at the pleasure of his father. Failure is not an option for any of us,” Kanish finished with a glance toward his phone. “Ah! Another Douchebag Spin! Let us listen!”

Kanish and Lakshmi had been texting each other back and forth all afternoon, and she was giving him a heads-up on what stations were playing the Douchebag Song when. “Laugh!” was getting nearly equal Spins, and more often than not was played back to back with the Douchebag Song.

Kanish was also in constant communication with the Code Shack Foreman, who was now acting as the point man for all the Views and Requests. As per the plan, the Coders began to focus their attention on Rev’s track “Laugh!,” which was absolutely exploding on the Internet and had garnered more than three million Views in just a few hours time. Even with multiple Billionheir-owned Code Shacks at our disposal, we didn’t have enough Coders for those kinds of numbers. That was mostly an organic viral reaction.

GQ sent us a link to a much-improved version of “Cash Money” with Kaisapaisa performing. The song was still a dog, but they would be far easier to market with Kaisapaisa as the frontman. Kanish Kanish returned to monitoring terrestrial radio station Streams of the Douchebag Song, which I was kind of sick of hearing, although I didn’t dare stomp on the lad’s enthusiasm. Thankfully, Skype interrupted the madness. It was Kaisapaisa and GQ again.

Kaisapaisa was all smiles, GQ still deadpan as ever.

“You have a deal,” GQ said.

“And we have a Kitten Video ready to go-oh!” Kaisapaisa sang. “Shall we put it up?”

“You can put the clip up on our channel, if you like—Aardy will email you the credentials—but don’t expect any Views, Shares, or Requests just yet. It’s best if we have all the Code Shacks addressing one song at a time, and at the moment, they’re hard at work blowing up ‘Laugh!’”

Aardy, Kanish, and I had already discussed this possibility, and we all agreed that it would be best if we waited a day before pulling the Coders off of the Rev’s track, even if he really didn’t need the boost. GQ and Kaisapaisa understood the logistics, and both accepted the terms.

By the end of the day, the Douchebag Song was in full rotation in most US cities. The plan was working. Surely we would have the Number One song in the country before the end of the week.

It was late, and the three of us were gathered in the driveway to partake of our usual late-night Medicinal Fatty. Kanish was now Streaming a Philly station, which Spun the Douchebag Song, as per usual, back to back with “Laugh!” Cue the fade.

@TheSmoovDJ: “Kittens and Sitars are hot! Are they not?”

The late-night DJ known as Smoov had the kind of mellifluous voice radio loves.

@TheSmoovDJ: “Now, is it just me, or is that ‘Laugh!’ track just a little disturbing? You know what I’m sayin’? It reminds me of something my grandmother used to tell me. You can say the most outrageous things, so long as you do it with a smile and a ‘Laugh!’”

“DJs spinning lessons,” I mused.

“This is what DJs do best, don’t you know?” Kanish replied.

Mixerman

Chapter 22 – The Empress