Guns N' Roses, Chinese Democracy, And How Business Is Done

By Glen Boyd 2008-10-10 02:20:24
As many of you reading this have no doubt heard by now, Guns N' Roses have set an actual release date for the ten years plus in the making album Chinese Democracy.

Billboard Magazine is reporting that Chinese Democracy will finally see the light of day on November 23. As earlier reports had indicated, the album will also be released in one of those increasingly prevalent retail exclusives, with the rights of sale going to mega-retailer Best Buy this time around.

As a former music retailer myself, I’ve got my own opinions about these so-called exclusivity deals, and as you can probably also imagine, most of my feelings about them are not necessarily good ones. That said, I also think I understand them. In the currently depressed climate of not only the music industry, but of the economy in general, an artist has gotta' do what an artist has gotta’ do to get the music heard.

There really just aren’t that many options anymore. Radio formats have become so fragmented that it’s really hard to figure who fits where anymore – that is at least unless you are the Jonas Brothers or Miley anyway. Making a music video is pretty much pointless anymore, since MTV no longer plays them, and the remaining video music shows have a combined reach and appeal that comes nowhere near that of the once mighty moonman.

The internet? Hey, we all know it’s a great place to find new music – that is as long as you happen to like searching for needles in a haystack anyway.

So as distasteful as these retail exclusives may be to some folks (and particularly to the few remaining independent retailers out there, who once again take it right in the ass on these deals), the fact remains that to artists with ever-shrinking marketing avenues, they represent a win-win situation. Which is why everyone from The Eagles to the Police to AC/DC to now Guns N' Roses have lined up to sell their souls to the “man” (who in these instances goes by the name of WalMart or Best Buy).

With Chinese Democracy however, Guns N Roses -- or excuse me, make that Axl Rose -- have taken the concept of marketing an album to an entirely new level. First off, and let us make no mistake here, Chinese Democracy is not a Guns N' Roses album. Not anymore than a Mick Jagger record without Keith Richards is a Rolling Stones album.

This is in fact an Axl Rose solo album.

You won’t find Slash, Izzy, or Duff anywhere in sight on Chinese Democracy. What you will find is Axl playing with a bunch of other guys who in the decade long process of making Chinese Democracy has included Buckethead, Tommy Stinson, and others.

Through a series of what I believe to have been very well orchestrated media events, what I believe Axl Rose has done to market this album is pure genius. With Chinese Democracy, Rose has succeeded in making a record which otherwise might not have yielded barely a yawn, into a genuine media event.

From the guy getting busted earlier this year for leaking tracks to the internet, to the Dr. Pepper guys promising free soda pop to the world if this album actually got released this year, everybody is talking about Chinese Democracy. Everybody. Whether they ever gave a shit about Axl or Guns N' Roses or not.

Call me cynical, but personally I don’t believe this to be an accident. In fact, decade in the making as Chinese Democracy has been, I’ve increasingly come to believe it may just be the most brilliant marketing campaign for an album that I’ve ever witnessed.

With the various corporate tie-ins, from Best Buy to Rock Band II to the new DiCaprio movie, Chinese Democracy may also represent the final nail in the coffin on the idea of rock and roll having anything to do with rebellion.

I mean, lets face it. Ridiculous cornrows hairstyle and occasional loutish public behaviour aside, guys like Axl Rose do not represent today’s rock star anyway. Not anymore. Today’s rock stars are guys like Donald Trump. Guys like the CEOs who run companies like Walmart, Microsoft, Apple, and Comcast.

Guys like…Kiss.

In fact, Kiss may have had the right idea all along way back when they were busy plastering their likenesses on everything from lunchboxes to lingerie. Rock and Roll stopped being about changing the world and sticking it to “the man,” at least in the Beatles and Bob Dylan sort of sense, a very long time ago.

The fact is, today’s rock and roll has as much to with rebellion as the companies it increasingly chooses to do business with – companies where I am quite sure people still get fired if their suits and ties are not color-coordinated, and their business shoes are not polished to a spit-shine.

So Roll Over Beethoven, and tell Axl Rose the news.

Then again, as a wise man once sang, “what can a poor boy do?”
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