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The Self-Made Man: Gene Simmons

gene2In honor of KISS finally getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, Self Made Men is profiling the man that made that band a brand, so to speak: Gene Simmons. Yes, behind that prehensile tongue and semi-respectable sleaze is a razor-sharp business mind, and he certainly fits TSB’s mold for an entrepreneur.

Gene’s greatest asset as an entrepreneur, which he certainly was when KISS started in 19cc, is confidence. If you’re going to be successful, the first thing you have to do once you’ve set your goals is believe that you can accomplish them. In KISS’ early days, Gene made sure the band presented themselves like stars even when they were eating ramen and sleeping on the floor every night, theorizing that if they were perceived a certain way, they would eventually be treated that way.

He was right, of course. KISS made fun music and borrowed enough pageantry from pro wrestling to make up (ha!) for how insular and masturbatory a lot of rock bands had become on stage. And while Gene’s unrelenting pride in himself can make him a little grating to listen to sometimes, it seems to be working for him.

But KISS didn’t get rich because they have fireworks or because “War Machine” is such an awesome song. No, KISS got rich through marketing and branding, and they put their painted faces on more crap than any other band at that time.

And why not? Simmons told Businessweek that “when the band was starting off, we noticed that T-shirts and non-music items were earning a substantial amount of money…today we have 3,000 licensed products, everything from condoms to caskets. We have you coming and going.”

They even had action figures as early as the 1970s!

Gene claims to be the guy who made all that happen for the band, and his go-getter attitude outside of music suggests that he’s telling the truth. His other business ventures include Simmons Records, brand marketing firm Simmons Abramson Marketing (they did the “I Am Indy” campaign), and his Moneybag clothing line, where he collaborated with Jason Dussault.

He also had his reality show to keep himself in the public eye, and he charges as much as $500,000 to give motivational lectures, which isn’t a bad payday by any means.

Still, the man has limits. Simmons won’t lend his or his band’s name to cigarette or alcohol companies, and he chooses business ventures based on gut instinct and common sense. “The deal has to make sense,” he told Bankrate. “The aesthetic should pull the heartstrings.”

Speaking of pulling strings, here’s KISS playing “War Machine.”

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at

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