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7 Marketing Lessons From A Disco Record Label

June 23, 2014

VP Cruisin1978The first pop record I ever bought was Cruisin’ by The Village People. It was 1978 and I was six years old.

I had no idea what songs like “My Roommate” and “Y.M.C.A.” were really about…

Years later, I asked my mother if she knew the act was gay. “Of course,” she told me.

In 1978, The Village People was everywhere, even on the mind of a six-year-old boy in Nashville. And the act’s record label, Casablanca Records, was on fire.

I recently finished reading a book about Casablanca Records, And Party Every Day. It’s worth a read for anybody interested in the behind-the-scenes aspects of the music business or how successful companies are built.

Like audio books? Get a FREE copy of And Party Every Day with a trial on Audible.

7 Marketing Lessons From A Disco Record Label

1. Sell A Secondary Product – Disco music was (and still is) about bringing people together and having a good time. It’s music made for dancing and, when you dance to it, you become the star. The music element is actually secondary to that.

Casablanca Records sold a lifestyle, not music.

Your product is similar. What you sell is always different from what you manufacture or the service you provide.

2. Perception Is Reality – A “Gold Record” in the music business used to be that 500,000 copies had shipped. Whether or not they actually sold through to a music consumer was another thing entirely.

But if you could manufacture and ship 500,000 copies, you could say you had a Gold Record and (probably) secure a position on a top-seller chart such as Billboard. That would help you actually sell something.

This is not unlike buying followers on Twitter, friends on Facebook, or blog comments in order to make what you’re doing seem bigger than it is. You can get your numbers up, which is worth something when it comes to marketing. In the end, it might not translate into what you’re really trying to do, such as make money, but the perception of having something successful certainly doesn’t hurt either way.

In general this is how Casablanca Records operated. The label was known for spending extreme amounts of money on parties, events, and promotion. While this would sometimes lead to hit albums, it cut into profits and, according to And Party Every Day, the label never really made money.

In 1977, PolyGram purchased 50% of Casablanca Records and purchased the remaining 50% in 1980. This shows how perception affects what should be a basic, non-emotional decision based on profitability.

3. Test Small – Columbus, OH is often used as a test market for new products because it’s a small area that is similar in demographics to the entire country. If a new product works well in Columbus, it’s likely to work well all over the US.

Casablanca Records had something similar when it came to testing music — pay a disc jockey $3000 to “test” new songs on his local-market radio station to see if they’d be good candidates for nationwide release.

Is testing product like this legal? No. And it wasn’t legal in the 70s when Casablanca was doing it. But testing works and there are plenty of ways to do it which are legal.

You should always test products and marketing in a limited way before going big. For example, if you’re thinking about writing a book on a new subject, post similar items on your blog and see how people react first.

4. Don’t Follow Trends (Unless You Set Them) – Disco wasn’t (and isn’t) for everybody. It was wildly popular for a time in the 70s, but it came from (and returned to) clubs.

Ironically, it was mainstream acts who tried to cash in on disco’s popularity by changing what they were doing to something more club-oriented. Paul McCartney & Wings, KISS, and The Rolling Stones all recorded “disco” material.

Disco music worked for Casablanca Records because Casablanca Records was disco music. The label was so popular that people would buy its albums based solely on the company’s reputation, without having heard the music.

5. When Something Works, Do More Of It – The first act on Casablanca, and arguably the most successful, was KISS. When KISS hit, Casablanca starting releasing new KISS albums as often as every six months.

But KISS didn’t put the record label on the map — disco did. And once disco hit, Casablanca went balls out, buying up and releasing as many disco recordings as they possibly could, often dozens of new releases per year.

6. Everything Comes To An End – Understand that, no matter how well you’re doing now, the success you’re having will eventually end. Ride it like a wave, enjoy it, and do what you can to make the best of it, but know that it won’t last forever.

Nobody stays on top forever. And if you’re looking to get on top, but are not there yet, this is a very good thing.

7. Keep Moving Forward – With the money he made from the sale of Casablanca Records, founder Neil Bogart started a new company, Boardwalk Records, and he signed upcoming solo artist Joan Jett. He continued to work in the music business until his death in 1982.

There are always new opportunities after your current opportunity ends.

Final Thoughts

And Party Every Day is a great book for entrepreneurs, even if you have no specific interest in the music business. It does a great job of showing the ups and downs of a big business, from changes in trends, to building momentum with new products, to navigating personal relationships.

You’ll learn a lot from this bookGet a FREE copy of the audio book with a trial on Audible.

ABOUT THIS SERIES: Every Monday, I analyze the good, bad, and ugly about the marketing behind a common business or famous personality. See other posts in this series here and, if you have a request for something (or someone) you’d like me to analyze for this series, contact me via Twitter.

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