Out of Patience, Give Us Chinese Democracy!- An Open Letter to Universal Music Regarding The New Guns N' Roses Album By Anthony Kuzminski: Over the last few months, the rumor machine has been working overtime as to why 'Chinese Democracy', the long awaited Guns N' Roses album, has yet to be released. Well, it's been one of the most talked about albums of all time, merely because of what it may or may not hold. Regardless, the rumor mill has kicked into high gear in recent months because it has been confirmed that Axl Rose has indeed turned the completed album into Universal Music. Something most people never thought would happen has happened. There should be shouts of jubilation inside Universal Music, alas, there isn't. To set the record straight, I don't know anyone in Guns N' Roses and I don't have a personal contact at Universal Music. However, the same rumors appear to be popping up continually and it evolves around how to market the album and since Universal has sunk a large amount of money into this project already, there are rumblings that they are unwilling to set aside large amounts for promotion since they have yet to recoup their initial investment.
The first Guns N' Roses album in fifteen-years is a story in itself and this alone should be enough to sell copies out of the box, however, Universal apparently is holding the album hostage until some kind of agreement can be made. One of the things I keep hearing is that the label has "reportedly" spent $14 million in expenses for this album. Now, granted, I believe the 'Greatest Hits '87-'94' was released specifically to recoup some of these costs and that particular album has been a consistent and constant seller ever since (selling over 3 million copies) but let's say hypothetically that Universal wants to find the easiest way to recoup this $14 million, while simultaneously getting this album into the marketplace. Here are three simple, effective and profitable ways to recoup your investment, while allowing Axl Rose to release 'Chinese Democracy'
Option #1-The Digital Release
My advice would be to go the Radiohead route and release the album digitally first. This is the easiest way to avoid having the album leak early from the pressing plant. Whether it happens two days before the album's release or two months, the key is to unleash it before it can be found everywhere for nothing. Now while Radiohead's model was admirable, it appears that many chose to not pay anything for the album. For the Guns record, why not institute a $3 charge for the album. But here is the kicker. Charge $3 for a mid level MP3 rip (192 or better) and do not release it until you have secured two million downloads. Some people are so fanatical about wanting to hear this album; they would potentially order multiple digital copies just so they could get their hands on the album sooner. For those of you in the music industry reading this, I am well aware of the irony of my idea since Universal Music appears to be doing everything in their power to not embrace the digital revolution. In some ways, I may as well be talking to a lifelong vegan about the nutritional value of a Superdawg Hot Dog and Al's Italian Beef (it's a Chicago thing). However, I believe this is the quickest road to profit.
My editor even thinks I've gone off my rocker and suggested a $5 price. However, as Trent Reznor recently found out with the Saul Williams produced record, $5 may be a bit too much. [No offense to Sal, but he is no Axl - ed] We have an entire generation of people who feel music should be free and even if they are wrong, you must play into what the market will allow and based on my observations, $3 is the magic number. My theory is that you want to get your customers in the habit of paying for music and pricing downloads too high, will frustrate them. Make it affordable so that you build trust and an ongoing relationship. I sincerely believe Universal could acquire 2 million downloads at $3 a pop in a very short period of time. Since they've cut out the middleman, processing packaging, etc this would largely be pure profit. Most importantly, there would be rampant anticipation since the album had not leaked.
Total Revenue: $6 million
Option #2 The Box Set
There will always be those who crave and will want the physical product. This is inevitable. The key is to provide them with the ultimate product. Think of being a car salesman and having a wide range of lines and vehicles. While I believe music in the future should be affordable, cheap and available in bulk, the key will be to market to the select die-hard fans. Radiohead did this with an $80 box set that included not just a physical CD, but a second CD of outtakes, a vinyl copy of the album and extensive packaging. For Guns N' Roses, the contents of this package could be exhaustive and maddening at the same time. Considering that it's taken years to bring 'Chinese Democracy' to fruition, I doubt Axl Rose would be willing to put alternate versions of songs out there. However, why not include a full concert DVD from the last tour? How about a short book written by Del James about the "Making of 'Chinese Democracy'"? Why not throw in a vintage Guns N' Roses concert on DVD to lure the fans to buying the more expensive set (although I believe this is highly unlikely).
The options are limitless; Include a concert ticket with every box purchase, offer an exclusive code that gives you access to a Pay Per View screening where Axl would give his first sit down interview, follow the interview with a live performance of the entire album. A Pay Per View could pull in a separate stream of income and it would allow Axl and the rest of the band to present the album they want. They wouldn't have to abide by the rules of MTV, NBC, of E!; they could write the book themselves. Promote it as a once in a lifetime event where Axl is interviewed by someone he knows, respects and is comfortable with. Allow him to dictate the proceedings as he needs to because he's the artist and the gestation of this album has been immense and he deserves a platform to showcase his art the way he wants. Not to mention, but the windfall from just 100,000 potential buying customers would add to the coffers.
The moral of my story is that if they deliver a stellar and unique package, aside from a potential Pay Per View, the fanatics will buy it. The revenue from a special box could reign in more money than a stand alone CD release. Include the CD, a DVD, a book, a reproduction of the original 'Appetite' album cover and a few other bonus items and a set like this could retail for approximately $65. Limit worldwide distribution of these boxes to 125,000. The total gross for this package would be $8,125,000.00 and if the $14 million budget for 'Chinese Democracy' is true, it immediately puts Universal in the black and this would potentially be before a Pay Per View or physical CD release or even a tour. Total Revenue Combined from Options #1 and #2: $14,125,000.00
#3-The Physical CD
Once you get the download out of the way, send the album to stores. Include a live DVD of the entire album from the Pay Per View show, exclusive web content and assorted contests of vintage Guns N' Roses items and access to potential future live shows. This will make even those who bought the pricey box set want to buy it again. Once again, don't inflate the cost, make it affordable. When the 'Greatest Hits '87-'94' was released in 2004, most retailers were selling it at $7.99 and I believe this was one of the prime reasons it has continued to sell well over time.
These three options combined should easily put Universal back in black, give Axl Rose the drive to bring these songs to the world, get back on the road and will eventually open up the chances for more music in the not too distant future (Sebastian Bach alludes to the potential of two more albums in under three-years).
'Chinese Democracy' has been a decade plus in the making and despite what the cynics say, there are millions who want no scratch that NEED to hear this album and the key to its success is to deliver it to the masses in an favorable manner which will appeal to not just the longing and patient fans, but to the casual listener as well. Promotion should be a no brainer as any news magazine on television or in print would kill for an exclusive interview. However, I believe the album will sell itself, Universal just needs to think outside of the box and unleash it on a world that is beyond ready for it. The reason that 'Appetite For Destruction' sold sixteen-million records is because of its unabashed honesty. It cemented the band into an entire generation's consciousness. There are millions of lost souls out there looking for that next record that will open new worlds to them and help them seek refuge from a world that is at times far too real for our own liking. But albums like 'Appetite For Destruction', 'Use Your Illusion' and hopefully 'Chinese Democracy' help you deal with your grief, provide a ray of light and reminds us that the fight that life can be is worth fighting.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and can be found at The Screen Door