Gene Simmons and the KISS Coffin

Update: Download a free copy of my ebook KISS School of Marketing: 11 Lessons I Learned While Working with KISS.

I am a KISS fan, going back to 1976 when my mom first bought me Rock N’ Roll Over. I remember taking heat in the late 70s at school for liking the band, I heard the phrase “KISS sucks” more than a few times. It also took a lot of courage to wear a KISS t-shirt to school at the time… you became a instant target. I grew up with KISS and their marketing has clearly been a influence on me and business growth. I often tell people I went to the Gene Simmons School of Marketing.

In 1998 I landed a dream job for a KISS fan, I was personally recruited by Gene Simmons to build and manage the band’s new website, I spent the next seven years working inside the KISS world. I was associated with much of their merchandising, including helping guide and develop items such as Kissoploy and the $1000 a ticket Platinum VIP Meet and Greet packages. I was there during the 3D Psycho Circus Tour, the Farewell Tour, the rotating replacement of Peter Criss and Ace Frehley. I received RIAA Gold album plaques for my involvement in the release of the Psycho Circus album, The Box Set album and the DVD release of KISS Symphony.

Love them or hate them, there is absolutely no denying the influence that KISS has had on the music industry. KISS in the course of their 36 year career have sold over 100 million albums, has over 2,500 product licenses (coffins, condoms and credit cards), Gene reportedly earns $100,000 for a speaking engagement and don’t forget the longest celebrity reality series on TV, Gene Simmons Family Jewels. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley get it when it comes to business.

Here are 10 Lessons I Learned from KISS at their School of Marketing:

1. All press is good press. – Going back to the very beginnings of the band they were trashed by the press. Check out this quote, “I HOPE THE FOUR GUYS WHO MAKE UP THE GROUP, WHOSE NAMES DON’T MATTER, ARE PUTTING MONEY FOR THE FUTURE, BECAUSE KISS WON’T BE AROUND LONG.” – SEATTLE DAILY TIMES, MAY 27, 1974. If you believe in what you are doing, in your music… don’t worry about the press. Everybody is a critic, everybody has a opinion.

2. Love me or hate me just spell my name right. – This lesson is closely associated to lesson #1. Make sure they spell your name right, even in bad press. Today you want to make sure they have your URL correct.

3. Wait for the right time. – Don’t rush things. When the time is right for something… a song, a tour, a album, a interview, it will happen. KISS waited for their reunion tour and the results were stellar, selling out nearly 40,000 tickets in 47 minutes to the first show on the tour. The tour lasted for 192 shows over eleven months and earned $43.6 million, making Kiss the top-drawing concert act of 1996.

4. It’s all branding. – Gene Simmons this and Gene Simmons that. – Even I have at times had issues with how KISS has become more of a brand than a band, but that brand is what it is all about. And Gene Simmons knows that. Ask Gene Simmons about his TV show, Family Jewels and he will act like he has never heard of it, replying “you mean Gene Simmons Family Jewels.” Gene Simmons and KISS are associated with everything they do. Make sure you are always thinking about how your band is represented, as a brand. Make sure you are referred to by your band name.

5. Everything you do will not succeed. – Gene Simmons understands that everything he does will not succeed, that does not stop him. He keeps putting out business ventures, KISS product, tours, and albums. He knows that over time some of these will succeed and they will be remembered. Our attention spans are so short today that we will quickly forget the failures. Don’t stress them, learn what you can and move onto the next idea.

Got a content idea for your website, try it. If your fans don’t get excited by it move onto something else. That last contest didn’t work, try a different contest.

6. Treat the media with respect. – You need to love the media! Radio, TV, magazines, newspapers, websites, bloggers, photographers…. all of them! They can make you look like kings or they can make you look like has beens. At every single show KISS performs they give the photographers pose after pose for perfect photos, so they look great in the paper the next day. I have seen them stop and give a reporter or photographer backstage a extra two minutes of undivided attention so they get the cover. Treat the media like the gatekeepers, because they are!

7. The fan is the most important thing, listen to them you work for them.
– Never forget who you work for, the fans! You are doing this for them. Everyone would kill to have a Army of devoted, sometimes blindly, fans. Listen to what the fans want, not what the critics want. Critics don’t buy your music your tickets, they often get it for free. Those with the wallet speak the loudest.

8. The secret to success is offend the greatest number of people. – I love this saying. Think about it, if you have a ton of people who are offended by what you are doing you are doing something right to get attention. In the 70s KISS offended many parents, looking like demons, spitting blood and breathing fire. Alice Cooper before KISS was doing the same. KISS were never the darlings of reviewers, and the critics. That didn’t stop them, they believed in what they were doing. Don’t be afraid to offend someone with your passion. Just make sure you believe in what you are doing.

9. If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it. – If you don’t ask to be on the cover, it is not going to be given to you. If you don’t ask for the headliner slot, it won’t just be volunteered to you. Somebody else will ask for it. If you don’t ask for $1000 a show, it is not just going to be freely offered. If you want your fans to repost something on their Facebook wall, ask them to do it. Ask and you shall receive.

I actually used this lesson the very first time I worked for Gene. He had hired me to manage the online marketing efforts for the book Kisstory II. I had negotiated my pay and then said to myself, I want a leather KISS Army jacket. So I asked, and Gene said yes. I know in the scope of things the cost of the jacket was nothing to Gene and KISS. He was not offering the jacket to me, I had to ask. Ask for what you want.

10. Separate business and pleasure. – This means you do business with someone that you might not like personally. And just the opposite, don’t do business with someone just because they are a friend. It is all about the deal. If it is a great deal don’t sweat it that the person doesn’t like the same things you do, or that they don’t even really like your music.

Here is one bonus lesson…

They Aren’t Afraid to Change Their Minds. – In the pursuit of business KISS is not afraid to change their minds and do something that years ago they claimed to be against. Example, marketing to kids. In the late 70s around the Dynasty tour KISS had become “Disney” with colorful costumes, toys, etc. In a TV program they even said they had become something they weren’t. They were a rock n roll band, but they were seeing young children at their shows. Today the band is directly marketing to and encouraging young kids to become fans. They have realized that if they can grab the kids today they have a new generation of fans growing up with them. On their last tour of the US they offered free tickets to kids, they now have merchandise for kids and even babies. I remember a number of years ago when I pushed for the very first KISS baby bottle and bib to be sold, it was a hit. The fans of the 70s have no grown up and have their own kids who are now growing up with KISS in their family.

My takeaway from KISS was don’t get caught up in everyone’s else opinions and advice… everyone has them and often they aren’t really qualified. Stick to your guns and do what you believe in. And, it is called the music “business.”