Marketing image of singers : KISS, Mavericks, Paul McCartney, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder

KISS & Kontroversy

Giving Yourself A Marketing Edge

By Kenny Kerner

I remember my thoughts when I first took a look at the original KISS publicity photo that I found with their demo tape back in the 70s. The word "gimmick" never entered my mind—I swear. I thought it looked so cool. Really. I said, "fans are gonna love this. It's totally different. It's controversial. It's new." And it was. I was right.

So while the fans and a handful of people "got it" immediately and turned KISS into international superstars, the rest of the industry and the world argued about the dilemma of art vs. image. An argument, I might add, that still exists and that will go unresolved for eternity.

There are basically two camps: The Purists, who believe that artists should rely on their artistry, their craft, their talents, to achieve notoriety and success. And the Mavericks—independent thinkers who do not necessarily conform to rules of the game. That's me, by the way! Mavericks believe you should achieve success however you can. Period.

KISS knew all along that they were in the music business, which is part of the Entertainment Industry, and that their job was to provide music and enjoyment to their fans as best they could.

We're now well into the New Millennium and the argument continues: Backstreet Boys ,'N Sync and Britney suck. They're posers. They have no talent. These comments echo loudly through the country from people who believe that adding image as a marketing tool is an excuse for a lack of talent and poor material.

Fact: If a band plays well and has an incredible image, you can always get great material from outside songwriters and/or publishing companies. Nothing wrong with that.

Fact: If a band spends months learning how to sing together and works 12-15 hours a day learning choreography so that they can entertain millions of people around the world, they are still viable, talented artists. Because they do not play like you or sing like you or perform like you does not diminish their talent or their worth to others who understand and appreciate that talent.

If the Hanson brothers were all in their mid-late twenties when they released "Mmm-Bop" as a single, would it have been a huge hit? Would it have rocketed them to international stardom? Would it have plastered their faces on magazine covers the world over? If the Spice Girls dressed in plain blouses and skirts would they have become pop sensations? If George Michael didn't shake his ass in his videos would he have caused the same audience reaction? Hardly. Of course, where are they now is another story entirely!

Keep in mind that this is not a new concept. Fans also screamed for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka, Bobby Darin, Fabian, Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, and a young child-star named Michael Jackson. Remember Stevie Wonder when he debuted as "Little" Stevie Wonder playing "Fingertips: Part Two"? And tell me that you didn't wet your seats every time a young Paul McCartney shook his mop-top? Well, what's the difference?

So what's the point of this article? The point is this: We are in an industry that does not have rules or guidelines for becoming successful. We must therefore rely on our own ingenuity and creativity to achieve that success. We must not censor ourselves or limit ourselves in any way. We must use whatever we were given or whatever we can create to go for that brass ring.

Image and marketing are integrel parts of promoting music. Use them to their fullest. Be proud if you can give yourself or your band an edge over others. They are the enemy.

Any artist that brings people to the record stores in the millions is good for business. Be a maverick.

Excerpted from the book, Going Pro by Kenny Kerner, published by Hal Leonard. Available at all bookstores and at

About Kenny Kerner:

Discovered and produced KISS. Also produced albums for Gladys Knight, Jose Feliciano and Badfinger. As a publicist, he represented Michael J. Fox and Jay Leno. Was the former Senior Editor at Music Connection Magazine and wrote a best-selling music education book called "Going Pro" Kerner is currently the Director of the Music Business Program at Musicians Institute in Hollywood. Specialties include Personal Management, Artist Development and Music Business.

Kenny Kerner
Musicians Institute
Director / Music Business Program
(323) 860-1122
Fax: (323) 462-6508

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