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If My Intentions Are Misunderstood...(Or, the Massive Failure)

It's been just over a week since the official release of Chinese Democracy. Since that time, it seems like every critic (save me, a couple newspaper reporters and David Fricke at Rolling Stone) has panned the album as a critical failure. To all those critics, I have one thing to say:

Give me a break.

Seriously, Chinese Democracy has sold between 300,000 and 500,000 copies in one week. In this age of massive file theft, I think that is pretty good. Motley Crue's most recent Saints of Los Angeles has sold around 250,000 copies - total - in the past six months or so since its release.

Does selling half a million records in one week with zero official publicity constitute a failure?

Hell no. 

Every so-called music fan in the rock world has said "...But Appetite for Destruction sold 28 million copies..." Yeah, 28 million copies in two freaking decades! And that album wasn't an overnight success, either. If it wasn't for MTV, Guns n' Roses might not still be a household name.

It's true.

For Axl Rose to literally seep back into 100% hiding just as Chinese Democracy hits stores shelves is unprecedented. In this day and age, every musician - no matter the genre - is paraded in front of the media like a massive Macy's float. The sad fact of the matter is that kids care about music less today than in years past. There are more distractions but also more responsibilities. I took lessons and belonged to clubs, but I sure as hell wasn't taxied between clarinet lessons, soccer practice, 4-H, dance class, bass instruction...the list goes on. After school and private lessons there just might be enough time for an hour in front of the television or with a video game. While Guitar Hero has introduced Glam to a new and very young audience, these are the songs we've all known and loved for years now. While it's always fun to discover a new band - it's harder to appeal to a kid that doesn't even know your massive hits. So, I love Chinese Democracy. I also know every other Guns n' Roses album like the back of my hand. You don't have to sell me on the brand. I'm the target market: die-hard rock fan, past history, has some disposable money.

If a 12 year is playing Guitar Hero and hears "Sweet Child O' Mine" she might think the song is awesome - and be inclined to pick up Appetite for Destruction. Will she pick up Chinese Democracy, too? I'm not sure.

Everyone on Metal Sludge is mocking Axl Rose, saying that he spent too much time on Chinese Democracy and, as a result, the music industry left him behind.

Again, give me a break.

For anyone to actually think Axl Rose doesn't realize that the music industry has changed since before Appetite is crazy. I mean, literally loony. Please believe, I am certain with all my being Axl Rose knows very well the current mismanaged state of the music industry. What no one has really considered is the fact that maybe Axl finally allowed the release of Chinese Democracy at this current time of economic collapse as a means of punishment to the very suits that would just as soon suck his blood dry than see him succeed. Music is a business and it is cut throat. It is no accident that musicians have to work night and day to make a living these days at their art. Record label executives ignored the initial threat of downloading and failed to find a way to make a true profit on file sharing - before it got way out of hand. Now, most wouldn't even dream of paying for new music. I'm in the minority that is 100% opposed to illegal downloading but even I can admit it's intoxicating to think of  building a massive music library - that didn't cost a damn dime.

Back to the punishment.

What if Axl seriously decided to release Chinese Democracy and intentionally went missing? He hasn't done a single interview in support of the release. There are no official announcements regarding a supporting tour. There are just the constant and tiresome rumors of an "original" GnR lineup reunion. From Axl's perspective, he knew the album would sell fairly decently out of the gate just on hype alone. I'm sure he also knows that if he went on David Letterman or MTV or even CNN - he could sell a few more copies. There wasn't even a massive online campaign for Chinese Democracy - pretty odd considering how bad the label wants to recoup some of the money that went into funding the epic work.

Axl isn't stupid. His lack of self-promotion is very calculated. I also think it's a big "Screw You" to Geffen Records - and everyone else in the music business.

Back to the naysayers and the constant "failure" refrain. Any band in this day and age would (should!) be excited with half a million sales out of the gate. Sure, it isn't 28 million. Then again, this isn't 1988, either. No one rushes the door of a music shop to grab the latest release at midnight. People don't cruise city blocks, speakers blaring. MTV doesn't air music videos. The golden age of recorded music is behind us - and Axl knows it, too. He's just waiting and watching -- and I'm fairly certain we haven't heard the last of him. Something big is coming - and it's probably going to blindside every last one of us.

Reader Comments (17)

sorry, allyson, i think you've gone overboard on this one. axl intentionally sabatoged his own record just to get back at label execs who have waited all this time for a cd to come out? how does that benefit him other than getting a healthy measure of supposed satisfaction about how they've mismanaged the music biz?

i do agree with you that there hasn't been much if any publicity generated. i went to best buy saturday and other than a billboard in the foyer there was no sign of the cd at all. i was looking for curiosity's sake. i couldn't even find the cd which means either it was sold out or they put it someplace other than where it should be. knowing best buy as i do i'd say it was the latter. i reviewed chinese democracy on my blog and i don't care for it personally but i do believe that it well sell decently for the first 2 weeks or so and then tail off. the numbers being bandied about will not surprise me if they are true.

they only other comment is about kids only having 1 hour of tv or video games after school and private lessons. that's a major exaggeration to support your point. i hate to break it to you but the majority of kids today do not receive private lessons (music or otherwise) and they spend a lot more than 1 hour a day on tv and video games.

you are right about this being a different time frame and things have to be judged differently. i don't think we'll ever see many more mega sellers, even after 20 years that top out at 28 millions copies sold. that era is long gone.
December 2, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdon
Axl could be doing all this on purpose but then again he could just be nuts and not be giving a crap about the fans - like he has done for a very long time - to be honest - i couldnt care about Axl roses anymore. Its been too long and the final product just isnt up to it in my opinion.
I still hope he does the right thing - and then i would pay attention.
December 2, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred6ixx
I hate to disagree, but who cares how many he sold ? As you said, 'From Axl's perspective, he knew the album would sell fairly decently out of the gate just on hype alone'. Exactly. That's why he's sold so many albums, everyone knows what ChiDem is, even if it's only b/c they know it got them a free Dr Pepper. The real test will be, is it still selling in a months time, or after the initial rush will it drop away as the hard core fans are satisfied ? I mean, I bought it day of release, and I think it's almost as terrible as I expected. People like me were always going to buy it.
December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristian
I agree 100% with your post !!
I dont think Chinese Democracy as the best album of the year, but I do think it is a very good album, with great songs, and I do enjoy it a lot listening to it, and if this is the door to more Guns n Roses things to come, even better.
Critics have always been a pain in the ass, even back in the Hey Day !!
Lets be real, selling that many copies, when we all know that some days before the release thousands of people had already downloaded from internet the entire final version album, common, thats selling a lot !!
December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterXavier
FINALLY someone who agrees with me!
I havent bought ChiDem yet, waiting for christmas, but in Sainsburys (british supermarket) its available to listen to, and I actually really liked it. As Xavier said, not the best album this year, but i still really like it. and im pretty sure right now that over here its number 1 in the albums... Its definitely nothing like any of the other albums, but then again, it wasnt going to be was it? I wasnt let down because i wasnt expecting it to be Appetite again.
December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLucifer
I agree with you all the way!
Axl is smart and the Crue selling 99,000 in their first week is great for them but they had much support behind it and G N R' selling 300,000 with no support is amazing and don't be like AC/DC sold 800,000 in one week but DUH they had so much support its not even funny! So There You Go The New CD Rocks olny sad part is that might not debut at Num. 1 :( behind Kanye West! (BALL SUCKER!)
December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMotleyCrue666
I Wanna add 2 things

1. Motley Crue - Has sold 300,000 since today not 250,000 (Sorry allyson have to support the crue lol)


2. I forgot that people need to understand there was prob. 1 mill of these albums downloaded illegaly!
December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMotleyCrue666
Allyson... I happen to agree with you on every aspect. You make some very good points. Christ, look at the promotion that goes with your average book deal. And this ? An album 16 years in the making ? Just comes out ? I dont think so. I agree its Axl's way of saying FU record execs.
December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDamnp78
Actually it is a complete & total failure because half a million records doesn't even come slightly close to breaking even. What people don't realize is this. Geffen records fronted Axl over the last 16 years over 15 million dollars just to make this record. Remember I said "fronted" That means that Axl Rose right off the top owes Geffen 15 million dollars plus their cut of whatever their percentage is of the record sales. The distributor of the Cd gets a % Best Buy gets a % by the time everybody gets their cut the artist might be left with about $1.00 per CD sold. If he hadn't have spent so long and so much money recording this CD he would have MADE money already. So in short Motley Crue + a few months in the studio + 250,000 sold = profit. Axl Rose + 16 yrs + 15 million dollars + 300,000 sold = Chapter 11 for Axl Rose
December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTimm Tantrum
Allyson, you make some good points. But honestly, I don't buy your argument about axl trying to say "screw you" to the record labels, either.Based on his past history, I seriously doubt he cares one iota about them, either way. Nor do I believe he is sitting around scheming about how to ruin them. Had Geffen wanted to, it could have hung up some posters and put on more commercials and web banners and whatever, they didn't need axl to do that, did they? it's their "failing", too. People bought black Ice. obviously there is a market still out there for the old guys playing rock n roll. Had Axl not happened to run away, everyone would be whining about how the record label screwed HIM over, right?

My opinion-strictly hypothetical-is that he might have some sort of mild personality disorder. I'm not a psychologist and I don't know him personally, so I don't really feel comfortable slapping a diagnosis on him, but really...he obviously doesn't care about social norms or doing things the way we think they should be done. He honestly doesn't care what you have to say about him, he'll do it anyway. It also fits that he probably doesn't give a damn what dave letterman is going to say to him, or the ladies on the view...or wherever people go for interviews these days...and he probably doesn't want to talk to them either. He isn't here to be a celebrity and sell 50million records and have the next Thriller. hes here to make music, and the music is strictly for himself and for the people who care enough to find it.

I like it this way and that is how I'm choosing to think about it. I like the idea of the musician being a musician and not always in the spotlight.

just my thoughts.
December 2, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterr0ck0n
of course, I don't really know how the music industry works, so I could be wrong about some of this...feel like adding that in. I just see no reason why Axl has to be reachable by telephone for them to take out an add in Classic Rock Mag or something.
December 2, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterr0ck0n
This album probably could have sold a million copies in the first week, and they would still call it a failure. So much money has been poured into ChiDem over the years,there is no way it could ever turn a profit. I think releasing this disc solely through Best Buy was a huge mistake for Guns N' Roses. They probably could have sold twice as much in the first week with a mass release to all retailers.

It cracks me up that the Lawyers are blaming Dr. Pepper for ruining the album's opening.
December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRob Rockitt
There is no way this album is a failure monetarily. 300,000 - 500,000 copies in a week is nothing to sneeze at. But for me personally, the album was a failure musically. I just don't like it, but that's just me.

And why on earth would any record exec expect Axl Rose to do press for the release of this album? That's just dumb on their part. After all his antics over the years, I certainly didn't expect him to make any appreances on talk shows or radio shows. That's just how he rolls, and they should come to expect it by now. And with all the hype surrounding this album, why would he need to do any press? Love it or hate it, the album stands on its own. You're going to listen to it regardless just to know what everyone is talking about.

And if Axl is trying to give the record company a big f*ck you, then he did a great job before and after the album was released. I was at the Studio at the Palms at the exact same time that Axl was recording Chinese Democracy. I sat around that studio for HOURS waiting for him to show his face...and he never showed up. He booked that studio for 2 weeks and only showed up 2-3 times, all while employees were getting paid to sit around and wait for him to show up. So if he was trying to piss the record company off with this album, start to finish, then he did a good job.
December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristine
Selling 500k copies and an album being a quality product are *not* the same thing. Look at all of the crap pop out there that the tweens buy!!

Also, I'm sorry A, but it's over for Axl Rose. It's like the RickRoll....once you've RickRolled millions of people all around the world at once and you *did it yourself*, there's nothing that'll top that.

And there's nothing that'll top the GnR those of us came to love, hate, and question at times. It died. It happens. Let it go gracefully.
December 2, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermissy
I think it's a great album and with Axl not promoting I'm sure he's doing it on purpose and will have the last laugh! I'd love to see a reunion but I won't hold my breath!
December 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlajustice77
First thing.....the album didn't sell 300,000 to 500,000 copies. That is an estimate of how many units Best Buy bought in order to sell the album as an exclusive. The actual Soundscan numbers that came out had Chinese Democracy come in 3rd on the U.S. Billboard 200 and even Soundscan isn't accurate because it is not each unit scanned it's a formula based on expected sales. Confused yet?

Second thing.....have you heard the album? I have been listening non-stop since the 11/23 release and all but four songs are trying to re-create the 'November Rain' epic style that worked for a few songs on USE YOU ILLUSION 1 & 2. How many mid-tempo/ballad, piano based epics do you need on an album? What Axl needed to do was come out with a Hard Rock album.

Now I realize that we weren't getting another Appetite but we didn't even get a Use Your Illusion. I think this album overall is good for what it is: an Axl solo album. It's definitely not a GnR record.

Heavy Metal Addiction
Ohh this is SOOOOO NOT Guns_N_Roses!

People need to Stop calling them Guns-N-Roses!

This is Axl SOLO! Period!

NO matter what HE calls it.

No disrespect to Axl, I love his music, But he really needs to reconcile with the Real Guns N Roses, get over himself, and do the right thing.

Just my 2 cents.
December 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterG-N-R-Lies

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