Guitar Center contest offers a chance to record with Slash

Ace axeman Slash — he of the signature black hat and sunglasses, custom-designed Les Paul guitar and a resume that includes key roles in Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver — has become something of a tastemaker.

This month, in addition to mounting a tour to support “Slash,” his latest solo album, Slash has been playing the part of A&R guy, searching for fresh talent at a time when the big four can’t seem to do enough with the talent they have.

The contest “Your Next Record With Slash” calls on patrons of the 214-location retail instrument chain Guitar Center to submit their music to be heard and judged on their website. Via FameCast, an intricate scaling system, contestants each submit three songs, a photo, a bio and even video if they have it, to be voted on and rated by Internet listeners and the law of percentages.

And according to Dustin Hinz, Guitar Center manager of event marketing and promotions, “the cream will rise to the top.” Once there, Hinz says, Slash — acting as a kind of one-man “American Idol” judge panel — will listen to every single … single.

“The Hollywood that I know and have loved ever since I can remember has always been filled with people combing around, looking for the opportunity of a lifetime,” notes Slash.

And while kids no longer seem to be showing up on buses with their guitars, a suitcase and a dream, they’re still here. It’s the industry — with record labels struggling to formulate a new business model to counter falling record sales — that has changed.

“The thing is,” says Slash on Hollywood, “I don’t think there’s any real set movement or focus, which is what sets this decade apart from the other ones — that I’m familiar with, at least.”

So where is everyone going? “They’re online,” he says, “on their computers.”

The search, thus far, has unearthed rock-star hopefuls in the thousands. The opportunity to write, record and release a single with Slash (produced, no less, by Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue and Megadeth producer Mike Clink) and obtain a management development deal, has garnered close to 10,000 applicants since the contest launched in February, with the bulk of musicians, around 7,000, entering in the first two weeks.

This is a climb from 2008, when Guitar Center launched a similar contest in partnership with Motley Crue. Instead of the chance to write and record with the famed metal band, the prize was an opening slot on the bill for Motley’s entire North American tour. That search yielded roughly 8,000 contestants.

“Bands will receive points based on whether or not their songs are played,” Hinz says, “and if they are played, the amount of time before they are shut off. Songs not played in full will actually harm a contestant’s overall score.”

And once the electronic scoring is done, what is Slash listening for? “If Slash finds a Flamenco band and that’s the artist he likes, they could win.”

As “American Idol” has amply illustrated, contests substituting for A&R are not going away. In 2009, Susan Boyle appeared on “Britain’s Got Talent,” and later that year her debut album sold nearly 700,000 copies within its first week on the U.S. market. Once the brass ring for aspiring pop stars, this might be the ticket for rockers as well.

“If the contest is successful,” Slash says, “I think we should go international.”

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