KISS, The Franchise
July 10, 2018, a year ago
Back in the 1970s, the New York Music scene was at a turning point. Pop and disco was beginning to be overtaken by rock, early new wave and a new genre from over the pond called heavy metal, and venues like CBGB, The Loft and Club 82 were seeing a much wider variety of acts that were embracing cultural changes that swept across music. One of the bands that rode that wave and became world famous off the back of it was Kiss.
Two young guys from New York who were struggling to pin down work, find girlfriends and fulfil their true passions as musicians began life in the music world as members of the band Wicked Lester, playing rowdy rock tracks and experimenting with makeup, over-the-top outfits and glam rock hairstyles that was totally unique at the time. The pair were joined by Peter Criss in 1972, and Ace Frehley in 1973, before the name Wicked Lester was changed to Kiss.
After a solid decade of playing sold out stadiums and becoming one of the most successful rock groups in history, Kiss had cemented themselves as music legends, with their brand of feel-good rock, wild outfits and of course the makeup that made them famous helping them to worldwide success and a legacy that inspired hundreds of other bands and musicians. The group have survived drug and alcohol addiction, near-misses and moments that verged on break-up, but have weathered the storm, selling 21 million albums in the process.
One of the big differences between Kiss and other bands is that a lot of their commercial success hasn’t just come from touring and album sales. The enigmatic bassist Gene Simmons saw an opportunity in the early days of kiss, and has been the driving force behind a band which is just as much about branding as it is about music.
Ever the level-headed band member, Simmon’s vices were limited to women as the Starchild, Spaceman and Cat (amongst others) spent their time off-stage living the hedonistic life. Simmons on the other hand was striking deals, developing products, and creating a legacy that focused on making money out of the unique style and look that Kiss has developed in the 1970s and 80s.
Every band will sell t-shirts at their gigs, but Kiss took things to the next level with their very own mail order service that allowed fans to grab a shirt without having to see a gig. This was pretty radical at a time when it was only really retailers that offered mail order, but was just one easy revenue stream that began at the foundations of the Kiss franchise. Naturally, the mail order service is still available to this day, but the Kiss dedicated online store is now the main port of call for Kiss fans who want to get their hands on merchandise.
It wasn’t just clothing that became a focus for the Kiss brand. Toys, books, figurines, lunchboxes and even masks were soon added to the catalogue, and before long there were literally hundreds of pieces of official Kiss merchandise available to fans. This was the first time that a band had created the same level of merchandise expected from a movie, and now there are over 3,000 licensed Kiss products that have existed at some time or another.
A run of TV appearances and the willingness to act as sponsors cemented the money-making capabilities off Kiss off stage, and in 1977 a big break came from Marvel comics, who created a special edition Kiss comic that featured the adventures of the band as they saved the world. This further inspired an animated series which aired in the 1980s, and a new image that painted Kiss as child-friendly, and therefore more profitable.
Some of the more weird and wacky pieces of merchandise just go to show how innovative the band have been, especially with the business-minded Simmons at the helm. Kiss Kondoms hit the market in 2002, the Kiss VISA credit card is available to FirstUSA Bank customers, and (literally) die-hard fans can even be buried in the Kiss Kasket, a fully themed coffin emblazoned with images of the band and the now famous logo. Kiss even have their own online slot, complete with logo, images of band members and of course music clips from some of their biggest hits. Generating income from slots and games is nothing new when it comes to the music industry. All of the biggest names have been down the same route and the add-ons can amount to a tidy sum.
All of this money from add-ons however haven’t exactly been spread around the band members equally. Simmons, who is largely responsible for taking Kiss to the next level from a revenue perspective, is worth more than $300 million, and is always looking at new ways to make money.
One of his biggest earners is the Kiss Kruise, a full cruise liner schedule that sees fans enjoy 2 weeks of cruising, including themed bedrooms, a Kiss bar playing non-stop Kiss hits, and even an appearance from the band themselves, as well as live music from cover bands and new names every night on deck. This innovative idea just goes to show where Simmons is ready to take the band’s brand, and doesn’t seem too bothered about just how commercial Kiss have actually become.
The future for Kiss seems like it’ll continue to focus on revenue from merchandise, tie-ins and re-launches of older music. The band have officially retired from writing new music, and it looks like a farewell tour isn’t far off, with Simmons hinting at one final blowout before the gang finally hang up their leather pants and throw out the mascara. None of them will feel too sad about however, with millions of dollars of royalties and image right rolling in each year, and a long-standing awkwardness between Simmons and other band members potentially being put to bed when the music finally stops.
Until then, fans better act quickly when the farewell tour dates are announced, and maybe get ready to put some money into the inevitable farewell tour merchandise that will come with it…