The Capitalist Conundrum of KISS and Jamming Econo

kiss kiss_wallpaper-1a8a26b

The funniest description that I ever heard about KISS is that they are like if The Beatles signed a record contract with McDonald’s.

Most musicians are, by necessity, also businessmen.

They have to be, in order to survive.

But, none take the capitalist cake like KISS.

I am pretty confident that they hold the world record on band merchandising.

Is there anything that they HAVEN’T put their faces or logo on?

I mean, I understand the mentality of a collector, having been one myself.

But, does anyone really need a “KISS Kasket” to be buried in?

The rock band Kiss' wide reaching merchandising is on display in Gene Simmons' office in his Beverly Hills home, which he shares with his wife Shannon Tweed, as seen on HGTV Celebrities at Home. Simmons, a producer, entrepreneur and actor is the bassist and singer-songwriter of the rock band Kiss, which has sold over 100 millions albums.
The rock band Kiss’ wide reaching merchandising is on display in Gene Simmons’ office in his Beverly Hills home, which he shares with his wife Shannon Tweed, as seen on HGTV Celebrities at Home. Simmons, a producer, entrepreneur and actor is the bassist and singer-songwriter of the rock band Kiss, which has sold over 100 millions albums.

The first record that I ever bought was the Paul Stanley 1978 solo LP.

I also got a KISS t-shirt.

It was the silver glittery iron-on logo on black.

I gotta admit, at one time, they were a good band.

They wrote good songs and put on a great show.

That was long before Peter Criss and Ace Frehley were ejected, before it became just two greedy old Jews and their hired hands.

Honestly, the group should have disbanded by the 1980’s.

We would still have better memories of them.

Kiss Krunch

Okay, I understand that putting on a big spectacle every night like they do costs a lot of money.

Revenue has to come from somewhere.

In the band’s early years, they sold out venues, but couldn’t sell any records.

The label was going bankrupt trying to keep the band afloat.

So, merchandising had to take up the slack.

The same phenomenon happened with the film “Star Wars.”

George Lucas received very little money or support from 20th Century FOX.

But, he owned the merchandising rights.

In both cases, merchandising saved the projects.

Hell, during their entire career, The Ramones made most of their income from t-shirt sales, not records.

The Misfits make their money the same way, putting their artwork on skateboards, belt buckles, coffee mugs, almost anything.

You cannot swing a dead cat in a Hot Topic without hitting some Misfits merch!

I don’t begrudge artists trying to find ways to support themselves.

But, it can reach a point where you lose your integrity and become another corporate whore.

John Lydon took a lot of shit for doing a butter commercial.

I admit, it was annoying.

In his defense, though, Public Image Limited wanted to release a new album, but had no backing from a record label.

The financing needed to come from somewhere and this was an opportunity that presented itself.

The butter ad money was exhausted on this project alone.

Now, some bands avoid these moral dilemmas by keeping their overhead low, “jamming econo.”

I can dig that.

I usually TRY to do that.

It means figuring out how to do more with less.

Fugazi never sold merchandise of ANY kind, no t-shirts….nothing.

Their reasoning was that if they had to sell stuff at a table, then that is one more person needed to watch the table and make sales.

Cut out the merch table and cut expenses.

Overall, I guess it depends on what compromises that you can live with.

I am generally against making commercials, unless I can have creative input.

I made some for a friend’s record store once, which appeared on the MTV Music Awards no less.

There is no way that these commercials could be mistaken for something cooked up in committee at an advertising agency.

No way.

Showbiz vs. DIY

Sex Pistols whos on stage

Art and commerce have always had a shaky relationship.

During the renaissance, artists were supported by wealthy benefactors, kings and merchants. Now, art is just another commodity on the market. Artists have to sell themselves to be supported. Every dollar has strings attached, though.

There is a scene from “Man On The Moon” where Andy Kaufman (Jim Carrey) is fired from a club gig because of his stubborn refusal to conform. I couldn’t find a video clip online, unfortunately. But the exchange with the club owner goes like this:

Andy Kaufman: So, Mr. Besserman, same spot tomorrow?

Mr. Besserman: I don’t know, Andy. I think I have to let you go.

Andy Kaufman: You’re firing me? You don’t even pay me.

Mr. Besserman: I don’t want to be insulting, but your act is like amateur hour. Sing-alongs for six-year-olds……puppets that aren’t funny, playing records…?

Andy Kaufman: But it’s original. No one’s ever done it. I’m not like everyone else.

Mr. Besserman: Everybody else gets this place cooking.

Andy Kaufman: I thought it was cooking. There was a man really upset.

Mr. Besserman: He stormed out, and other people left during your act. I can’t sell booze to people who–

Andy Kaufman: It’s about booze. Not comedy, not art?

Mr. Besserman: I can’t sell booze when you’re singing “Pop Goes the Weasel.” I’m running a business. It’s show business. Show. Business. Show. Business. Without the business, there’s no show. And there’s no show for you.

My experience dealing with the “legitimate” side of the music business has not been very pleasant. Half the time, clubs will try to rip you off. I got the sense that they were really mafia fronts for drug smuggling or human trafficking. I overheard talk about some clubs blacklisting bands for playing at DIY shows.

When I tried to book shows myself, I mostly got rejections everywhere because I was too different from what they wanted, except pay-to-play venues. Fuck that. So, I played coffeehouses and parties when I could. Hell, I even played in parking lots, anywhere with electricity.

I would rather avoid the “business” side of music, if at all possible. I am very suspicious about people wanting you to sign a contract or join something. I know that it is often necessary. But, I prefer to do things DIY when possible.

Some artists have done pretty well by this work ethic; Big Black, Fugazi, Crass, NoMeansNo, etc.

Is compromise sometimes necessary? Maybe. But, it usually better not to be put into a situation that forces you to.