At the end of June, Universal Music Enterprises will be ready to ship its most elaborate box set ever: an 80-plus-item ode to Guns N’ Roses’ classic 1987 debut, Appetite for Destruction. The collection includes four CDs, 49 previously unreleased recordings, videos, vinyl, skull-face rings, a turntable mat, collectable coins, replicas of early concert flyers, temporary tattoos and a dozen lithographs visualizing each song, as well as a 96-page hardcover book filled with some personal photos supplied by frontman Axl Rose.
While the $1,000 package is not the most expensive box set to hit the market — Kiss’ Gene Simmons said in 2017 that he would personally deliver his latest $2,000 box set for an additional $50,000 fee — UMe president/CEO Bruce Resnikoff says that Appetite for Destruction — Locked N’ Loaded Edition is “the most expansive, and that’s the difference here — the amount of music memorabilia, photos, et cetera in the box is unparalleled.” He says the unprecedented quantity is aimed to both “satisfy the most ardent collector and introduce that music to a young fan of the future who hasn’t had the chance to hear it the way it was meant to be heard, and the way it should be heard.”
After three years in development, UMe has produced 10,000 units of the box sets, meaning it could rake in as much as $10 million in revenue, though UMe did not comment on what it expects to earn in profit. The company releases between three and five box sets priced above $500 per year, and issued 38 sets over $200 in 2017. Such collectors’ editions represent a growing slice of physical sales for record companies as regular CD sales decline.
The band, which reunited in April 2016, expects most sales to come from abroad as it tours Europe this summer.
Billboard spoke with Resnikoff, IGA vice-chairman Steve Berman and USM senior vice-president Andrew Daw for insight into how The Appetite For Destruction — Locked N’ Loaded Edition box set came together.
Who knew this stuff was there?
Daw: In the first instance when Steve called us about the band reforming to do the Coachella dates, we had a conversation about things we could do around the catalog. I had access to a whole load of recordings, many of which hadn’t been leaked. So that was really the initial basis for us to start having conversations about some of the things we like to do, and then we obviously took those elements and started to research whether the tapes for those recordings existed in our vaults etcetera.
Resnikoff: Effectively, there was a wish list of great unreleased material and that became the basis for a deeper dive into the vault to find out not only what was available, but what was available of the quality that would enable it to be made available to Guns N’ Roses fans.
Before Coachella, no one really ever brought it up?
Berman: I think that you have to look at the whole picture of what was going on with the band and the sensitivity. Axl was, is, continues to be, I believe, focused on moving forward creatively. There was not a desire at that point to look at the past. Once the opportunity came together, when [manager] Fernando [Lebeis] called and said, indeed, that they were going to do Coachella [April 2016], and we started the conversations about what can we do for the fans around this? I’m a fan of the band; I grew up on the band; what can we do that can celebrate? And, at that point, it was let’s now go back and organize all this incredible art that exists from that period of time and put it together. And that was the genesis. It was never ignored. It had to be about timing.
And because of the enormous reception and success of the Not in This Lifetime Tour, you knew that there is a demand for it?
Resnikoff: We’ve spoken about Guns N’ Roses constantly for years and years in the halls of this building. But we have a certain reverence for the band, the music and the fans, and while we spoke a bit and thought about it, until the timing was right where the music, the band, and the fans all got aligned, we left it on the back-burner, only because you only get one chance to do something special with bands like this and particularly albums like this, and it had to be done at the right time and the right way and create the right experience.
Berman: There was no question in our mind that there was going to be a great reception to the band, that the success of the tour, how excited everybody was at the opportunity for this to come to be, so this process, while it’s just coming into the marketplace now, it began with that phone call right when Coachella was announced and everything. It became clear that it was going to become a reality. That’s how much care and time went into curating this and working on it and getting it right.
I think people will be most excited about previously unreleased tracks — the Sound City session demos, the covers, the acoustic versions. For each of you, what were the coolest finds?
Daw: I still get goosebumps listening to the material that we found. I struggle to pick one highlight. When I heard the unheard version of “Shadow of Your Love.” That was a very special moment because it sounded so incredible. I love hearing the “November Rain” demos. It’s quite special the videos that we found in the vault that haven’t been finished with, another moment that was spectacular. The whole project was to me, sometimes with some re-issues you get a certain level of quality with the demo recordings but these are just spectacular all the way through.
Resnikoff: For me, I have been doing this a long time, and what I’ve never experienced before was such a wealth of unreleased and unheard material that was not necessarily demo quality or the quality that wouldn’t be released. It was amazing that so much was of a quality that was consistent with the sound, the image and how current the band remains. I think you saw that in most of the things we listened to and Andy mentioned the video “It’s So Easy,” seeing something like that that was a work in process but never really finished, that was as current today was it was then. We deal with a lot of history for a lot of bands, but it’s a unique opportunity when the history is as exciting, imaginative, and exceptional as what they’re doing currently.
Berman: I don’t know how to top either those two answers. Again, my first job out of the mailroom at Warner Bros. Records was working at WEA and I got to experience Guns N’ Roses when it first came out. What I’m so excited about it, I feel like as relevant as it was at that moment, it feels like I’m right back in that moment today. One of the big marketing pushes around this for us is going to be experiencing a whole new generation to what the process was and why this band became what this band became. And I think this project more than anything really helps tell that story. That to me is what I’m really excited about.
What were the band member’s reactions? I heard that Slash initially was against it because he had been listening to 7th generation bootleg recordings and didn’t realize you had the first-generation analogue versions.
Daw: Mixed I guess. We had a few reactions. I know that obviously we had the conversation with Slash early on about Manny Charlton’s specific recordings, and the fact that they were on bootleg and he hadn’t heard them as great quality as we were hearing. But then his reaction to the packages when we started putting them together, we just got a note back that just said, “Wow.” Duff [McKagan], we walked through the box and you could genuinely see he was quite emotional in regards to some of the pictures, forgetting about moments. You can see him almost become childlike a little bit and going back to that moment, that was quite interesting. You know, having Axl personally give us photos from his own archives of the band was a really special moment for us as well. All of the input we’ve had from the guys and the management team and Fernando has been really phenomenal. Everybody said to us that 90 percent of what we’d ask for we’d get “No” for and it’s actually been the other way around.
Resnikoff: What made it more palatable and easier, in a sense, to do this from the beginning is everybody working on this project started from the level of being a hardcore fan. It was not a corporate opportunity that was presented to a band. It was fans within a company who felt they want to do something special that would not only represent the band well, but that they would want to see in their own homes and listen to themselves. So from the team that worked on this, including Andy and Jeff Fura who are very active here in working with management, they are first and foremost fans before anything else, and that’s one of the things that made everything come together.
The $1,000 box, the top version. That’s a lot of money. Is that for the hardcore fan and then you have other versions with less stuff, for people that want to discover the band for the first time or just want to hear the unreleased tracks and don’t want the scarfs and patches and rings?
Daw: Part of our decision-making with the management team was that we would normally do from a super-deluxe down. When we got into this package, we just started to realize there was just so much great content, great elements — music elements and non-music elements — that we just felt, what could you leave out? So that was part of the aspect of, “Okay, if we’re not going to leave these things out, what do we put it in?” And then it became a case of, “Well, you can’t really put something that immersive into a cardboard box.” So then it was, “If someone’s going to purchase something at an expensive price, or a premium price, then let’s make sure it fills up and they’re getting high quality products that they’re really proud of, that’s really unique, quite aspirational and is something that can almost be like a mini trophy or ornament for you to have at home.” That’s really what we tried to create and what we promised the guys that we would deliver — something that was really high-end and what we felt was worthy of Guns N’ Roses.
Does anything compare to it? Is this the most expensive box set? Are you aware of any artists that have put out something with so many items in it?
Resnikoff: It’s not the most expensive, but it is the most expansive — and that’s the difference here. The amount of music memorabilia, photos, etcetera, in the box I think is unparalleled. What we tried to do was, when you have an opportunity to work on one of the most important works of art in the history of the music business, you have to present it in ways that you can satisfy the most ardent collector and introduce that music to a young fan of the future, who hasn’t had the chance to hear it the way it was meant to be heard and the way it should be heard. We tried to cover all those angles. I think it’s not about the quantity of what went in it, or the price, but the quality of everything and the thought that went into it. I have not yet seen in my career a box that was more inclusive, relating to a particular album, at all. There have been retrospectives on artists that have been very extensive, but this album is so significant, that we basically created a box set around one work of art from a band that has several great works of art.
What is the rollout plan globally and what percentage of sales do you expect to come from the U.S. versus everywhere else?
Daw: From an international, global perspective, the beauty with Guns N’ Roses is they are truly a global act. You can see that with the dates that they have in November where they’re going off to Indonesia and to the Philippines, Hong Kong. Now this band plays all around the world, has fans all around the world, so from that perspective, the big part of the market for us is to be really consistent with the messages, to really emphasize the size of the scale of the band and their music legacy. From a sales perspective, the U.S. sales will probably be 30 percent. We’re basically targeting a minimum goal in all of the territories. That’s the level of our expectation on everything.
Berman: I think it’s important, we are celebrating, as Bruce said, a great piece of art. This album, what it represented, what it moved, at that period of time, Guns N’ Roses moved culture with this album. The fact that they’re back together performing live again lets people have an opportunity to experience that and to continue that, which I think is really important to the band, and I think that this album, again, speaks globally to the power of what this band is and what they represent. So much is about the excitement around this box coming out for the fans, but it’s also to really continue to allow fans and, as Bruce said, new fans to experience this and to understand it. It’s so important for music, as we move forward into a world that is subscription, that there’s still a place — and an important place — for projects like this, where true fans can actually collect and have something that is a physical representation of that time and that period, but also for new people to be able to experience it and see it and how those worlds come together. That is what I love more than anything and that’s one of the real messages behind it.
You’ve release one single, “Shadow of Your Love.” Will there be other tracks going to radio and perhaps do videos for?
Daw: We have obviously just put out the “It’s So Easy” video. We have two more instant grab tracks that come as part of the package — a Manny Charlton demo of “Welcome to the Jungle” and the unreleased version of “Move To The City” that Mike Clink did with the guys. The track that we’ve put out, which I remember when I bought it and played it to Steve as soon as I got it, he immediately asked to hear it again and he has a massive smile on his face and he’s flying for us all over the world, so there is a case of “Do we really want to push another track or are we quite happy for people to enjoy that track?”
Are any of the packages being sold at the merch table at their shows?
Daw: We have given the guys a couple to display on the merch stands on tour. We have found that there’s a reaction to the animated video that we did to reveal the box, and then there’s this jaw-drop moment when people actually see it, so we felt it was important to be able to get some out to the guys to take on tour for the fans to see.
Will we ever hear from the band members talking not just the music, but all the cool, things within the box, for a DVD or TV special or interview?
Resnikoff: The answer is, it’s a great question.
Berman: I think that this is continuing to evolve, there is no black and white. This is continuing to evolve and the band is engaged. Nothing from our side moves without the band. We clearly want to be able to execute their vision, or execute the vision on their behalf, and I think that it’s all stuff that will continue to evolve. This is still Guns N’ Roses. We don’t know what’s around the corner. At a certain point, they may completely take over this project. That’s up to them. We’re going to continue to support that vision and we’re thrilled at the partnership we have with them.