By Melinda Newman /

There are KISS coffins (or KISS Kaskets, to be precise), KISS bath towels, KISS slot machines, KISS knives, KISS credit cards, and even LA KISS, an arena football team.

KISS may often seem more like a brand than a band, but founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley tell Forbes that all the licensing (around 3,000 items, by the way) would mean nothing if the music wasn’t there.

“There’s no way that a band or an artist can last for 40 years unless that foundation is built on great music,” Stanley says. The group, which has sold more than 100 million albums and continues to sell out stadiums around the world, was presented the Founders Award by ASCAP recently in recognition of its contributions to the world of music.

“People keep pointing to the sizzle and it’s OK with us,” Simmons adds, “but when we started 41 years ago, we didn’t even have a name for the band. We started writing songs. There wasn’t a sit-down session with marketers or radio programmers [on] how do you write a hit single and stuff. We just never played the game.”

What KISS did do is play it smart. The Rock & Roll Hall of Famers surrounded themselves with a team who looked out for their business interests while they were taking care of the creative side.

“What we did in the beginning we did right. We happened to fall into this make-up thing. There was no grand design, we just said, ‘hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we did this,’ and the make-up that we put on then and continue to put on on every night with our own two hands, we created,” Simmons says. “The logo, originally thought of by [former band member] Ace [Frehley], but Paul actually sat down with a ruler, and, it’s not perfect, drew the actual logo that we still use today. The smartest thing that our manager did at the beginning was trademark everything right at the outset.”

Simmons’ best advice to acts coming up today is to be “duly diligent” and trademark everything. “Figure it out in the beginning, you can’t come back years later and say, ‘In retrospect…’.”

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