Gene Simmons and the business behind KISS.
"At the lowest level you can make more money in a band than you can in a job."
Gene Simmons and the business behind KISS.
Posted By: Metal Sludge
Writer: Don Schawbel
Contributor for Forbes
I recently spoke toGene Simmons, who co-founded KISS back in 1973 and was also the bassist and co-vocalist of the band. KISS has exceeded worldwide sales of more than 100 million albums, 40 million of which were in the US. The merchandising machine of KISS has over 2,500 licenses to date and the band has broken box office records set by both the Beatles and Elvis. Among Simmons’ projects include the KISS Golf Course inLas Vegas, the Kiss Coffeehouse inMyrtle Beach and his reality TV show called “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” which has been on air for nine seasons. He is also a partner with the global restaurant chain called “Rock And Brews” and has written two bestselling books.
Starting today through the 14th, he is celebrating the 15th anniversary of hisRock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp, which is taking place at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Simmons will be headlining the event, which also brings Vince Neil of Motley Crue, Ozzy Osbourne and others. His other project alongside Wolfgang Puck isRocktoberfest, which takes place in LA from October 15th through the 21st. In this interview, he talks about both of these events, the business behind KISS and more.
How did you decide to get involved in Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp and what do you hope people will get out of it?
I’ve been looking to do something like this for the longest time because when I was growing up and I saw The Beatles up on stage and I was a 13 year-old kid, it felt like a disconnect. They were the gods from Olympus and there was a leap to us mortals walking around. There was just no ways to scale Mount Olympus, no roads, you just didn’t know how to do it. Then I started reading Cashbox, Record World and Billboard, the record industry trade magazines and then you started to get a hint of it. So when KISS was being formed I read everything about the music business because at the same time I was learned how to play chords and play songs and play bass in a band, I was also learning the business, the structure, how it works and how things get done.
It is a very peculiar business because it is populated with people who are completely unqualified out of all the businesses in the world to do anything in that business. It’s music, but they can’t read or write music. You’re writing and playing songs, but you never trained in it. You just sort of start doing it. It’s sort of a magical thing, but people don’t understand that it wasn’t called “Music”. It was and always will be called “The Music Business”. As in “Show Business”. There was always a business entity to it. What I intend to do is show corporate entities, Wall Street, Times, anyone that has dreams and aspirations, that you can actually pick up an instrument and learn how to play. I’ll show you, in a very short period of time, how to play in a local band playing covers and make more money than you would working 9-5.
You can play in a bar band and do the hits locally because everyone wants a lot of music. If you play the weekend, maybe Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and you can clear, if you’re decent, maybe two, three thousand dollars. That’s on the lowest end. If you’re lucky to have talent and be young and have charisma and write lots of songs, maybe you can hit the big time. At the lowest level you can make more money in a band than you can in a job. At the highest level you can make one hundred times more than the President of the United States, who makes around $400,000 a year. I make more than that in a night. Wow, indeed. Who’s getting paid too much and who’s getting paid too little. That’s the question.
I think a lot of people will be interested in that because people think there is no money to be made at the lowest levels and they have to do that part-time while they work corporate jobs, so I think that’s a really good message.
Well it is, as in a job you get paid by expertise. So in a cover band, you have to know the cover stuff. Learn Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, learn the things that work but, if you want to do this for real, there are certain facts of life. You can’t have a pot-belly, be 40 or 50 and be bald. That’s not going to happen, but you can be in a bar band and you can make lots of money.
How did you and Wolfgang Puck come together for Rocktoberfest? How do your brands come together and what are you most looking forward to in your experience.
First of all AEG, run by Tim Leiweke, is actually a terrific organization. What happened is I am a part with two other guys in an entity called Rock & Brews. We’ve already been on the cover of Franchise Times and it is fast becoming a global brand for eating and craft beers. You’ll be able to get a hundred draft beers, gluten free pizza and more.
So, AEG and Rock & Brews got interested in the LA Live area at Staples and bringing our food into that area and Wolfgang Puck and I have known each other for the longest time, so we decided to team up for the Rocktoberfest, which has been going on for the longest time in Germanyand throughout that world. We of course trademarked “Rocktoberfest” and made it sort of more American and opened up the cuisine to American, Thai and Mexican, making it more ethnic and multinational ethnicity that is Los Angeles. Wolfgang and I are going to be having a lot of fun and for another giving people an experience that they’re not going to get anywhere else. In addition, all the proceeds of October 15th, when the Rocktober Fest opens at LA Live, are going to Wounded Warriors. The event will continue there after. That night every rock star you can name on the tours will be showing up. Obviously media and tv people waiting to eat good and drink.
What role does philanthropy play in your life?
It always has been important for me. When I was a little boy in Israel, we had nothing- torn sweaters and we never even saw toilet paper, we used rags. From nowhere we got a care package. It came from my Uncle Joe in America and we opened it up and there was a little sweater and a can of peaches and all kinds of stuff that we would normally throw away. For me, as a little boy in Israel, it was like a gift from the gods. You finally had a sense that somebody cared. So, I do as much as a can all the time. Wounded Warriors, Children with Cancer, I support around 1,200 kids in Africa, about 140 kids through Child Fund, which used to be the Christian Child’s Fund and then another thousand kids on my own that I feed. I try not to do press conferences and tug at anyone’s sleeves to convince them that I’m a good guy, but I’m a good guy. I sleep well. I think I am making a difference.
What are your values and what is your definition of success?
I have a problem with the current state of what we call Capitalism in America. I am a capitalist by definition. I believe in supply and demand. I don’t believe the government should stick there noses into the rise and fall of the economy. I don’t believe in the welfare system, I believe in the job system. Don’t give people welfare, give them jobs. You shouldn’t get a check for nothing, you should get a check for doing something. Otherwise you’re training generations for doing nothing. I don’t believe the unions should have a hold on jobs, I believe in work states, I believe in supply and demand. I don’t believe in competition. I believe the current system is closer to Socialism than it is Capitalism. I am a direct result of the capitalist system. I came to America and I had nothing, I had inferred people skills and language skills. I don’t borrow money, and I fund myself and I create jobs and I hate anybody that’s looking for a free ride.
How do you decide which projects to attach your name and the KISS name to? For instance, reality TV?
We guard KISS very closely and there is a KISS empire now. There is a KISS golf course in Las Vegas across from the Hard Rock, a KISS coffee house in Myrtle Beach, and we’ll be branching out into the theme parks across America. There is a lot going on, including a KISS-Hello Kitty cross branding, which shows the kitties where our KISS makeup and just launched across 90 countries. So, KISS is an enormous brand, and certainly the biggest rock brand in history. We outsell The Beatles and Elvis combined and KISS continues to tour. I am on tour right now with the band and we’ll sellout everywhere. We’re very lucky. But, KISS is very guarded where and when we lend our name to.
Gene Simmons is a non-crossed business model. The Gene Simmons brands has Gene Simmons records, Gene Simmons comic books and the Gene Simmons Family Jewels show, which lasted 9 seasons and any number of other Gene Simmons marketing and expos. I like to spread my name around and not to stand behind, but in front of anything I get involved with. There are other entities I don’t put my name on, like coolspringslife.com and rockandbruise.com. One is a restaurant franchise, the other one is a life strategy equity venture. None has a similar business model to the other. They are all different.
Do you feel people buy your product for the name or the product or both? How do think people react to everything you do?
There is such a thing as sugar-coating, people may get interested because of me but you have got to deliver the goods. Food can’t just look good, eventually you’re going to put it in your mouth, so it has got to taste good.
Are you ever worried about over commercialization of your music? Do you think it ever turns off people?
Well whatever it is we’re doing, we should continue to do it because it gets bigger and bigger.
When was the decision to put the business behind KISS and really commercialize the name?
Well that’s kind of a hippy question. That doesn’t sound like a Forbes question. Hippies never understood the nature of business. There are very few instances when you can overexpose yourself because people’s attention spans are very little. How many products do you think Disney has out there?
Too many to count.
See, there is no such thing as too many. That was a hippy comment. That’s like saying when do you have enough money? There’s no such thing because every day Warren Buffet gets up to go to work to make money and of course create jobs and give to charity, but if you’re a true champion you have to go out there everyday and do more. More is the reason for life. If you’re a mountain climber and you climb a mountain, what do you do? Stop and wait to die? No, you go and climb another mountain. Isn’t life about climbing the next mountain? Hippies not so much. By the way, I don’t say “Hippies” disparagingly, but it’s small. It’s a small existence. I don’t want to do small, I want to do big. The earth gives all of us a choice.
When you first got into KISS, did you look at it as more of a business or something you enjoyed doing?
Well everything begins with songs. People are going to want to see you live and when they do your show has got to be real. You have got to be able to deliver. But don’t kid yourself, there is no difference between the hippiest of hippie bands, like “Peace and love” and all that other stuff. They charge for their concerts too and they have t-shirts, just like KISS. As soon as you charge for tickets then you’re in the KISS business, you just don’t do as well as we do.
What are you most proud of in your children? What is one piece of advice you wouldn’t want them to live without?
Opportunity. If life gives you an opportunity, and we’re blessed to be living in America, which is the land of opportunity, there are no excuses. You can not fail. You can launch a business, use your own money, you can borrow and then fail and then all the people you owe money to will come after you and then if you can’t pay your bills the government allows you to declare Chapter 7 and then you can start again. You can not fail. Since you have all the opportunities the universe has to offer, you have no excuse for sitting on your thumb. None.
Dan Schawbel is a Gen Y career expert and the founder of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting company. He is also the #1 international bestselling author of Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future and was named to the Inc. Magazine 30 Under 30 list in 2010. Subscribe to his Personal Branding Blog for more self-help advice.
The above is courtesy of Forbes