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10 Marketing Lessons I Learned from KISS

Gene Simmons and the KISS Coffin

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 an 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.”

Reader Comments (17)

Really nice article. It validated some things I'm already doing and sparked some new ideas, thanks!

March 2 | Unregistered CommenterTrumpet Grrrl

Coming from such a huge KISS fan, you get meta-props for this sentence: "Alice Cooper before KISS was doing the same. "

This was a solid, entertaining writeup, good work captain.

March 2 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Very nice article... I will ask for what I want!

PS. Go to my Fan Page and "LIKE" it, and be on the lookout for my debut!

Thank you everyone.

@Justin - Alice Cooper is the "Godfather" IMO. He broke ground for what so many others are doing.

@Andre - you got my Like.

Thanks for an excellent article. This is a perfect set of marketing instructions for anyone who is in business.

If I ever see Gene in person, I'll follow your lead on the leather KISS Army jacket.

Those are great lessons and I've been a big fan of Gene Simmons. I don't really like Kiss much, but I do respect what they have done with it. Gene is so smart, he is an inspirational figure. I think the lessons you are promoting are right on the mark. I liked them so much, I mentioned it on twitter @grandamsterzo. I look forward to seeing more of your tweets and articles.

Grandmaster Zo

My favorite is No5 "Everything you do will not succeed"

I'm a firm believer that to be successful you need to start failing a lot every day and then notice the few things that work.

Have no fear of things going wrong!

- Chris

LOVE your post Michael! My blog and book are about exactly that... marketing lessons learned from rock 'n roll. And KISS is a great example.

I would offer up one more very important marketing lesson we can learn from KISS: It is more important to be "unique" than it is to be "better". The band Gene and Paul were in before KISS, Wicked Lester, couldn't make a go of it. But with a little make up, pyrotechnics, a comic-book story, fire-breathing, and blood-spitting, they became KISS and rose to become the biggest rock band of the late 70s.

KISS became so massive because they showed the world something it had never, ever seen before!

March 3 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Thanks again for all the feedback.

@Steve, you are right, great addition. Going to check out your blog.

Yes! A great list of what KISS did exactly right. The KISS brand would have to be the most recognisable in the music industry, an extremely hard thing to do but KISS made it look very easy to achieve.

March 3 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Chang

Great article. Here's a couple other lessons I learned from Kiss:

(1) At a live show, you are an entertainer first & a musician second. I've never met anyone who went to a Kiss show & didn't have a great time. We all know Kiss are not the best musicians or songwriters, but they are near the top as entertainers (well at least when in make-up!). At a certain point you need to figure out if you want people at your shows to have a good time. & when you think about it, if you don't want people to have a good time, why are you doing it?

(2) Onstage or offstage, as a musician you are an actor. Most people won't admit this for some reason. Even if you write heartfelt songs, they turn into cartoons by the hundredth performance. It's easier to let any ridiculous insults or accolades role off if you can keep your job as a separate persona. Pretty much any job you play a role, the baggage clerk fakes his smiles & greetings & being a musician is a job, even if better than most.

(3) Don't be afraid to try something new, but if something worked well in the distant past & things are going crappy in the present, try the past over again. Kiss put the makeup back on. At the same time I don't think anyone would appreciate that if they hadn't taken it off for fifteen years or so.

Just saw this post. I do the occasional music and marketing workshop and cite Kiss' show intro. I saw them twice growing up and mention how they start every show the same..

"You wanted the best and you got the best. The hottest band in the land... KISS!!!!!" - genius!!!

Great advice - thanks for the article.

Matt Moran
The Matt Moran Band
The Songwriter Online - free education for musicians

March 6 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Moran

Great points Brian.

Gene has said that is more important how you look on stage than playing the perfect note. Most people remember what they see. I have been going to concerts since 82 and I couldn't tell you if the guitarist played the wrong note in a song or the drummer was a bit fast, but I do remember how cool they looked playing that solo.

Before I get jumped on, skill is definitely important. It is what makes you a professional. I just think that for the vast majority of fans, they will never notice the perfectly played solo or the great skill required to pull off a song. They are at a show to be entertained.

I have always said, if I want to hear the music played perfectly with no show... I can stay home and listen to the album.

Yes, nice article. May you find the use of "an" instead of "a" in front of "instant", "album", and "interview".

March 6 | Unregistered Commenterkatz

Thanks for the read, a lot can be said for their marketing approach/success given that I dont listen to their music yet know all about the 'brand'.

If anyone has any other idesa please shoot them through -

March 7 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Great article! Thank you for the info.

In following your advice, please check out Steve Bargonetti on YouTube to check out my new travel guitar design for Martin Guitars. Thanks.

I love # 8... The secret to success is offend the greatest number of people.

- Andrew

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