CMW 2009: Gene Simmons's KISS and tell
- March 12, 2009 3:34 PM |
- By Arts Online
Music columnist Sarah Liss. (Photo by Paul Gorbould/CBC)
Other than fan fests, it's rare that you see a music conference mob scene on par with the chaos that greeted Gene Simmons's artist keynote at CMW this morning.
I suppose it's a testament to KISS's enduring fan community that legions of devotees bought tickets and mingled with media reporters, showcasing performers and industry folks, just for a chance to get close to the KISS bassist in a fusty conference setting. Heck, I even saw a camera-toting hack sporting his own airbrushed and sequined KISS shirt.
Simmons is unequivocally a marketing genius, having licensed the KISS endorsement to (he claims) over 3000 different products. He's also a shameless entrepreneur, with reality TV shows, book deals and branded merch up the wazoo. Still, many may be wondering why CMW organizers would have invited him to headline a Canadian music convention. In case you haven't heard, Simmons's business new venture is all about Canadian cultural colonization. He's teamed up with Universal Music Canada and private funders like Belinda Stronach to relaunch his Simmons Records label, which had a brief and somewhat fruitless run in the '80s.
This time around, Simmons promises that his label will scour the streets and rock clubs of Canada in search of the next great star. He claims that he has the best interests of our country at heart; according to Simmons, Canadians suffer from a debilitating inferiority complex that prevents us from properly nurturing and supporting talent on home turf, which he insists has caused all of our stars to move elsewhere. Aside from the fact that this isn't true (some of the greatest Canrock success stories of the last decade involve bands like the Arcade Fire and Billy Talent, both of whom are still based in Canada), Simmons still hasn't said or done anything to suggest that he has any privileged knowledge of our domestic music industry or national culture that would make him more capable of helping Canadian bands achieve success than any other label.
I'd hoped that he'd provide insights into his strategy, motivation or marketing plan during the CMW keynote. Not so much. Instead, Simmons's off-the-cuff session served as an extended infomercial for Gene Simmons: The Brand. When he wasn't strutting through the crowd and shoving a microphone in the faces of eager attendees (most of whom just wanted to promote their own band or website), Simmons regaled us with examples of his genius and recited vague statements about the state of the music industry ("The industry is sick; we have to make it better!") and the strength of 360 deals (in which major labels take a cut of every aspect of an act's profits, from merch to publishing to record sales, a model which is generally beneficial for industry suits and detrimental for artists). Not once did I hear an example of outside-the-box thinking -- or, for that matter, any indication that Simmons is actually plugged into the future of the music industry.
The most curious aspect of this latest endeavour is Simmons's adamantly anti-internet stance. In the past, he's slammed groups like Radiohead for their pay-what-you-want download strategies. During this session, he blasted an unassuming woman and a stammering twenty-something, both of whom tried to suggest Simmons Records might benefit from online partnerships. In Simmons's opinion, the internet is the place where people get stuff without paying for it, and giving things away for free is tantamount to killing your babies. (Unless, of course, you're giving Gene Simmons something for free, which is really just the natural order of things.) Even though most informed folks who are plugged into the music business seem firmly convinced that the internet (and mobile technology) represents the future of the industry, Simmons seems stubbornly opposed to acknowledging that any benefits could come from online innovations.
Thanks to a ten-minute video, however, I did learn about the many, many products and projects that have been used to promote the KISS name. As the booming voice of a TV announcer listed off KISS video gaming terminals! and KISS soft drinks!, I realized that we were being bombarded by an epic infomercial for crap that makes Simmons money, none of which had anything to do with his record label. But hey, you can't accuse the man of dropping the ball when it comes to selling stuff. And I suppose the video served to illustrate the manifold branding opportunities that exist for bands who have no qualms about attaching their name to anything that'll earn them cash. That said, I can't think of anything sadder than a future where the music industry adopts the KISS model of indiscriminate (and occasionally unethical) cash-grabs without any investment in artistic integrity.
Here's a clip I shot of Simmons responding (with characteristic misogynistic candour) to musician and interviewer Tara Slone's question about balancing his professional responsibilities with his personal life:
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