Flying Together To The Moon: Danny Bennett (right) with his father/”client” Tony Bennet at last year’s Whitney Gala and Studio Party at The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City (Photo: Getty Images)
“I don’t just handle a career, I manage a legacy,” proclaimed Danny Bennett, referencing the long-running success of father Tony Bennett, whom he has managed for over three decades.
Danny Bennett has been an innovative force behind his father’s team for years, though he was particularly instrumental in coordinating his latest album.
“Duets II,” released September 20, moved 179,000 units in its first week according to Nielsen Soundscan, making the Columbia Records veteran the oldest living artist to have a Billboard 200 No. 1 album. On this follow-up to 2006’s “Duets: An American Classic,” each track features Bennett in a duet with another prominent vocalist, ranging from Mariah Carey to Willie Nelson to Queen Latifah. Its release commemorates the legendary entertainer’s 85th birthday, five years after “Duets: An American Classic” celebrated his 80th.
“The bar was very high after ‘Duets,’ said Danny Bennett. “In working ‘Duets II,’ I had two main goals: One was to raise our digital sales. The other was to bring our foreign sales up.”
Bennett claimed success on both counts. Digital sales represented about 20% (59,000 of 396,000, according to Nielsen Soundscan) of all units sold Bennett said, marking a sharp rise in his father’s digital presence. In the weeks leading up to release, teaser videos were placed on iTunes, along with a free download of the Michael Buble team-up, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”
Though the United States remains Bennett’s strongest market, “Duets II” fared well elsewhere as well: it peaked at #2 on the Canadian Albums Chart and at #5 on the United Kingdom Albums Chart.
On the physical front, Bennett’s team worked an exclusive retail deal with Target, making that chain the sole distributors of a special edition of “Duets II,” which includes two additional songs and access to behind-the-scenes videos. The same tactic had proved successful with 2006’s first installment in the “Duets” series.
“We have this saying – ‘O.P.M.’ …other people’s money,” joked Bennett. In working with Target, Bennett made a strong effort to relate to the retailer’s point of view, seeking out figures such as “average basket size,” or the amount customers generally spent in each shopping trip.
Next month, Barnes & Noble will serve as the exclusive retailer (along with Bennett’s website) of “Tony Bennett: The Complete Collection,” a career-spanning box set of 73 CDs and 3 DVDs. The set contains numerous rarities, including, as Bennett proudly announced, “Tony’s first ever recording, singing ‘St. James Infirmary Blues’ while he was still with the U.S. Army following World War II.” He was still a teenager at the time.
“You don’t release music in a vacuum,” explained Danny, emphasizing the importance of time and context in the success of an album. Following the success of “Duets: II” and released in holiday shopping season while Bennett tours North America, the box set (with 200 copies personally signed by Tony) appears ready to continue the singer’s banner year.
At Sony, Bennett’s team includes Rob Stringer (Chairman Columbia Epic Label Group), Steve Barnett (Chairman Columbia Records), Fran DeFeo (Senior VP Media), Steve Kennedy (Senior VP of Sales and Retail Marketing), and Christian Schraga (VP of Digital Marketing). Rounding out Bennett’s team are RPM Music Productions’ Hadley Spanier (VP of Marketing) and Sylvia Weiner (VP of Publicity), as well as Ocean View Marketing’s Jay Krugman (Marketing Consultant).
Aside from marketing, “Duets II” can trace much of its success to the music itself. Currently, the Bennett team is focusing on two singles, each with a compelling backstory.
After Amy Winehouse’s death in July, the Tony Bennett duet “Body and Soul” took the spotlight as the UK singer’s last recorded work. A close friend of the Winehouse family, Danny Bennett witnessed the great respect the two singers had for each other, and remembered how his father expressed concern in wanting to help his friend through her struggles. After the tragic news, both he and the Winehouse family agreed to pause plans for the song, leaving time for reflection. They eventually agreed to release the single, with all proceeds going to the Amy Winehouse Foundation, set up by father Mitch Winehouse to help troubled young people. To their great satisfaction, iTunes decided to do the same with digital sales of the song.
The album’s other focal track is “The Lady Is A Tramp,” featuring Lady Gaga, who has been riding the success of her 2011 album, “Born This Way.” Along with Aretha Franklin, Gaga was a late addition to the mix, though Bennett noted their “instant chemistry” in the studio.
“She was dressed like Marilyn Monroe,” he said, recalling his first-hand experience with Gaga’s larger-than-life persona. As the two went through several takes of the song, the younger Bennett captured the session on film, as he did with all of the album’s collaborations.
“‘The Zen Of Tony Bennett’,” he said, “is going to be a very in-depth film, one that places the studio sessions into context with his entire career. It’s not just going to be a ‘making of.'”
Danny Bennett had played a significant role in his father’s career long before the “Duets” series. In 1994, his creative vision was a key factor in the unexpected decision to record an album in MTV’s “Unplugged” series. A devoted Beatles fan, the younger Bennett also admitted to being a supporter of Generation X favorites like the Pixies and Nirvana, which influenced his decision to work his father’s music to a younger generation.
“In live concerts, Tony’s ’90s material like ‘Steppin’ Out With My Baby’ would sometimes get a better reception than his classic songs,” he explained. When the music video for that song began receiving airtime on MTV, Bennett’s team began to realize how successful their bold plan had been.
Following a North American tour through mid-December, the Bennett team will focus on the upcoming Grammy season, hoping voters again recognize Tony among the industry’s biggest achievers. Bennett, a fifteen-time Grammy winner, claimed two awards in 2007 for “Duets: An American Classic.” “Tony is definitely the favorite when it comes to that,” said Bennett with a degree of time-tested certainty, expressing hope that his father would have the opportunity to perform some of “Duets: II” alongside its collaborators.
Regardless of how the Bennett family and its partners fare at Grammy time, they’ve once again proven themselves a dynamic force behind Tony’s legend.