How do you become a band that has made 21 platinum albums, sold over 75 million records worldwide, and forty-four years after being formed still headlines summer tours?
As KISS bass player Gene Simmons says in the accompanying video, “You’re wasting your time trying to copy somebody else, because they already exist — so you’ll always be second best. The best thing to do is figure out who you are, and what you stand for.
“We were four bums off the streets of New York who had an idea… We literally decided to put together the band we never saw onstage.”
While the makeup became iconic, the process of differentiation started with the band’s name. The goal was to come up with something not just different, but memorable.
Lead singer Paul Stanley said, “What is it about ‘KISS’? It felt so right… it really embodies so much of what we are. It’s heavy, it’s passionate, and it’s a name that no matter where you go in the world, people know that word, so in the beginning when we were nobody and nobody knew who we were, people would go, ‘Oh, KISS, I’ve heard of you,’ because it’s just a word you hear all the time.”
In just over a year, KISS went from playing gigs to a handful of people to selling out major venues. But record sales lagged in comparison to ticket sales until the band decided to leverage its obvious strength and record a live album.
KISS Alive! was not just the band’s breakthrough album; its success caused record companies to see live albums not as throwaways but as opportunities to expose potential fans to a band — and generate significant revenue.
KISS also led the way in finding other ways than album sales and touring to generate revenue.
As Stanley said, “It’s undeniable that the (non-traditional) revenue streams can be enormous, and to not maximize your potential outside of music would be absurd. It is the music business, and the business element doesn’t negate or detract from the other end of it. We’re a band, and we’re a brand. And without one, the other suffers.”
The next time you slip on your Beats by Dr. Dre or splash on some of Justin Bieber’s Girlfriend cologne (okay, maybe not), remember that KISS was there long before licensing was cool.
As Gene once said: “…I saw that we were a rock and roll brand, not just a rock and roll band.”
Over 3,000 product licensing categories later (including coffins), who can argue with him?
Read stories of successful entrepreneurs and it’s easy to think they have some intangible entrepreneurial something — ideas, talent, drive, skills, creativity, whatever — that you don’t have.
That’s not true. For a self-described bum off the streets of New York, Gene’s — and the band’s — success only seems inevitable in hindsight. It’s easy to look back on a path to success and assume that every vision was clear, every plan was perfect, every step was executed flawlessly, and tremendous success was a foregone conclusion.
It wasn’t. Success is never assured. Only in hindsight does it appear that way.
If you’re willing to work hard and persevere, who you are is more than enough. Don’t measure yourself against other people.
Don’t try to be the next Jobs, or Zuckerberg, or… or the next anyone. Be something even better.
Be the first you.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.