Rock world slams KISS CEO Gene Simmons' views on music business
Bass player and entrepreneur behind 3,000 licensed products takes flak for declaring that “rock n roll is finally dead” – and that teenage downloaders have “murdered” it
KISS bassist and all-round business mogul Gene Simmons has been hauled over the coals for pronouncing rock n roll “dead”, and putting the blame on teenage music fans. In an Esquire interview with his journalist son Nick, the hard-rock stalwart – and founder of branding agency Simmons Abramson Marketing – lamented the erosion of the music industry’s business model, and criticised young file sharers for undermining their own opportunities.
Reflecting on the music business in which he had succeeded, Simmons said: “Once you had a record company on your side, they would fund you, and that also meant when you toured they would give you tour support. There was an entire industry to help the next Beatles, Stones, Prince, Hendrix, to prop them up and support them every step of the way. There are still record companies, and it does apply to pop, rap and country to an extent. But for performers who are also songwriters – the creators – for rock music, for soul, for the blues, it’s finally dead.”
Simmons added that he was “so sad” that “the next 15-year-old kid in a garage someplace” will not have anywhere near the same opportunity as he did. “He will most likely, no matter what he does, fail miserably. There is no industry for that anymore. And who is the culprit? … The death of rock was not a natural death. Rock did not die of old age. It was murdered. And the real culprit is that kid’s 15-year-old next-door neighbour, probably a friend of his. Maybe even one of the bandmates he’s jamming with. The tragedy is that they seem to have no idea that they just killed their own opportunity – they killed the artists they would have loved. Some brilliance, somewhere, was going to be expressed, and now it won't, because it's that much harder to earn a living playing and writing songs. No one will pay you to do it.”
He stressed: “The masses do not recognise file sharing and downloading as stealing because there’s a copy left behind for you — [but] it’s not that copy that’s the problem, it’s the other one that someone received but didn’t pay for. The problem is that nobody will pay you for the 10,000 hours you put in to create what you created. I can only imagine the frustration of all that work, and having no one value it enough to pay you for it. It’s very sad for new bands. My heart goes out to them. They just don't have a chance.”
In a Metal Hammer blog, former Guns N’ Roses manager Alan Niven turned on Simmons’ remarks, implying that his stance on giving young acts a break was largely hypocritical. “KISS on the road,” Niven wrote, “have the ability to bring along and help develop genuine new talent – like that band of youngsters from the UK, who they brought along this year – what’s their name? Oh right, Def Leppard.”
Niven added: “One of the many, many, reasons that the music business is in the condition it's in is because of selfish greed. A greed on the part of labels, lawyers, and yes, bands. For one thing, most headliners are completely and solely focused on maximising their profits on the road. Have you seen contemporary ticket and merchandise prices?! … Greed is a personal choice and prerogative, but it’s a little disingenuous, on the one hand, to complain that downloading has killed a music form while not, on the other hand, making any conscious effort to give something back to that medium. By supporting worthwhile new talent for example.”
At online music journal Uproxx, journalist Andrew Roberts accused Simmons of being “out of touch” and, in a wry dig at KISS, warned: “When it comes to the music industry, that is deadly unless you’re in a band that can ride a nostalgia train all the way to the bank. I mean not everyone can get exclusive deals with Wal-Mart or fund an arena football league with a reality TV tie-in.”
Meanwhile, Northern Illinois journal SaukValley.com set down a list of 25 acts that prove rock n roll is very much alive – with readers adding plenty of their own suggestions in the comments thread.
However, the most significant retort was also the shortest: a tweet from multimillion-selling, Dave Grohl-fronted band the Foo Fighters, which simply said: “Not so fast, Mr God of Thunder”.
Since launching glam-rock behemoth KISS in 1973, Simmons has applied that band’s logo to more than 3,000 licensed products, including credit cards, action figures and burial caskets. He has also used the know-how he picked up from the music industry to carve out a host of other business ventures. In addition to Simmons Abramson, he operates the Moneybag clothing line, which uses a logo he designed and registered around 30 years ago.