How the Bee Gees plan to stay alive in the era of digital music 

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Music & Musicians

How the Bee Gees plan to stay alive in the era of digital music 

  • The Bee Gees, one of the most popular acts of the 1970s and early 80s, doesn't appear to be resonating in the digital era.
  • Capitol Records is banking on a way to breathe new life into the group, which has seen weak streaming traffic on platforms like Spotify.
Vocal trio the Bee Gees performing at the Music for UNICEF Concert at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, January 1979. Left to right: Maurice, Barry, and Robin Gibb. 
Michael Putland | Hulton Archive | Getty Images
Vocal trio the Bee Gees performing at the Music for UNICEF Concert at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, January 1979. Left to right: Maurice, Barry, and Robin Gibb. 

In their 1970s glory days, the Bee Gees were an unstoppable musical and commercial force. Today, their catalog appears to be in danger of being forgotten by consumers.

The group bolstered the 1977 soundtrack of “Saturday Night Fever” a disco cultural touchstone that’s sold 16 million copies in the U.S. alone. The group has also released several other chart-topping albums, but in the current era, compact disc and vinyl versions of many of their classic albums are out of print.

On streaming services, the situation isn’t much better. According to figures from Spotify, the group boasts approximately 6.5 million monthly listeners, putting them at only the number 375 spot on the service’s most-listened-to list. By comparison, such long-defunct legacy artists as the Beatles and Pink Floyd were among the platform’s top 25 most streamed artists last year.

It may not be realistic to expect the Bee Gees to be as popular now as they were four decades ago. But can anything be done to shake things up?

Back in November 2016, a campaign to do exactly that was announced when Capitol Records signed the group to a long-term contract, pledging to “re-invigorate” their catalog. The label has since released the compilation Timeless: The All-Time Greatest Hits, and a deluxe reissue of the "Saturday Night Fever " soundtrack to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the seminal film and album.

Bruce Resnikoff, president and CEO of Universal Music Enterprises, a division of Universal Music Group that handles Capitol's catalog, said that his organization is aware of what they’ve got on their hands — and plans to handle it with care. Both companies are a division of UMG.

“The Bee Gees are a major part of pop music history, known from the early days for their iconic songwriting and harmonies to their evolution to a chart-topping powerhouse group,” said Resnikoff, who’s an avowed believer in the power of classic catalogs.

“We’re always seeking ways to introduce new audiences to the Bee Gees’ incredible music, most recently with a CBS Television special last year, and we’re constantly thinking of exciting new experiences for the band’s passionate fan base,” the executive added.

The Phil Collins plan

Dave Santaniello, senior vice president of music rights and partnerships for United Entertainment Group, rejected the suggestion that the Bee Gees catalog is in any danger of fading away.

He said that the 2016 Capitol deal, which he guessed could have been worth “north of $30 million,” was only made because the label believes that there’s considerable life left in the catalog.

“The objective opinion says that if it wasn’t making money, this deal would not have happened,” he said.

It’s a start, but can the recently knighted Barry Gibb do anything to put the group on more people’s radars?

“They need to find an ad agency and give them free rights to use their music,” said Rob Miller, an online marketing consultant at ProfitKong.com.

“Look at what Cadbury did for Phil Collins,” he said, referring to a 2007 commercial that featured a gorilla playing drums to the tune of Collins’ 1981 song “In the Air Tonight.” The popularity of the ad put the decades-old song back on the U.K. charts.

Business strategist Rafe Gomez, co-owner of VC Inc. Marketing, said that Gibb could follow the path laid out by Frank Sinatra. His 1993 Duets album featured collaborations between the late crooner and some of the era’s top contemporary artists, such as Luther Vandross and Kenny G.

“Barry's spin on this approach can include duets… with such mainstream artists as Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera and Taylor Swift,” he said.

Regardless of whatever state the group’s catalog is in now, it won’t take much to remind people why they were so popular in the first place, said Mara Schwartz Kuge, president and founder of Superior Music Publishing in Los Angeles.

“The Bee Gees are such a beloved band that they never really went out of the public's consciousness,” Schwatz said.

“The catalog could use a couple of fresh impressions on listeners, but it's not like people have forgotten about their songs,” she added. “It will just take one or two successful marketing efforts to get them top-of-mind for people again.”