The following is part two of the Kindie Music article that Kyle Bylin wrote for Hypebot. The article is pasted below. The original piece can be found here.
Thank you again, Kyle Bylin and Hypebot!
December 8, 2010
This is part two of my interview segment with Debbie Cavalier, who’s a children’s entertainer and vocalist for Debbie and Friends, a kindie music group. She’s also Dean of Continuing Education and Chief Academic Officer at Berklee College of Music. Joining Cavalier in this interview is Beth Blenz-Clucas. She’s the founder of Sugarmountain PR, a firm that specializes in raising awareness children’s and family-friendly music. In this interview, Cavalier and Beth Blenz-Clucas talk about the challenges of marketing kindie music and reaching a younger audience.
Hypebot: The traditional way of marketing music has been to slam as many artists against a wall, see what sticks, and then try everything to get that those particular artists to reach critical mass. Through MTV, in store promotion, and massive radio campaigns, major labels attempted to break through the clutter.
How does marketing children’s music differ from other genres? How are artists today connecting with parents and giving them reasons to buy?
Debbie Cavalier: I think there are a lot of similarities in marketing kids/family music to the commercial fare.
In addition to being the Dean of Continuing Education at Berklee, I also consider myself a student because I am constantly learning from our innovative online curricula at Berkleemusic.com with such online courses as Music Marketing: Press, Promotion, Distribution, and Retail, Online Music Marketing: Campaign Strategies, Social Media, and Digital Distribution, The Future of Music and the Music Business, Music Industry Entrepreneurship, Online Music Marketing with Topspin, and more. I’m fortunate to work with the likes of David Kusek, Michael King, George Howard, and so many others who are at the top of their game in the area of music marketing today.
As a result, I use Topspin for direct-to-fan marketing campaigns and direct sales (you can see examples of this on our home page and music page). Facebook and Twitter are effective communication and community-fostering tools, as is our monthly email newsletter. We have a presence on myspace, but I don’t think that expands our reach too much these days. Our live performances are our best means for fostering strong connections with our fan families and I use the tools previously mention to stay in touch.
Online social media and marketing tools certainly do help to expand our reach. Indeed, there are schools in Brazil and the UK that listen to our music and watch our cartoon music videos but would never have heard of Debbie and Friends if it weren’t for my YouTube Channel or my Topspin campaigns. That being said, the fan families that are most excited about Debbie and Friends are the ones who have seen us in concert and attend show after show, bring their friends, retweet our messages, share concert photos, videos, etc.
Beth Blenz-Clucas: You have it, Debbie. With children’s music, it’s all about direct connections with the fans. Parents need to know that your music will appeal to their kids and that they’ll learn something from it. Kids love it when they get a hug or a shout out from their favorite performers.
Hypebot: Direct-to-fan platforms empower artists by putting the tools to distribute, market, and monetize their music in their hands.
What are the challenges that kindie artists face in attempting to cut out the middlemen and go direct-to-parents?
Debbie Cavalier: I think I answered this in the other questions, however, I will say that the parents of the families that come to our shows are young (certainly younger than I am!). They are technically savvy and are most comfortable staying connected to Debbie and Friends via Facebook, etc. Email is also a great way to communicate with our fan families. I build email lists at my concerts and fine-tune my newsletter outreach so that it’s effective, but hopefully not annoying.
Do the music consumption habits in the kindie music audience differ from those that are affecting the record industry? How are artists designing experiences that appeal to both the younger audience and their parents?
Debbie Cavalier: I believe kids/family artists have always strived to create musical experiences that appeal to the whole family: kids and their parents/caregivers. Indeed, I only want to write, record, and perform music that appeals to me in addition to the kids and families in our audience.
Regarding consumption habits, as I mentioned in an earlier question, digital downloads make up just 10% of Debbie and Friends’ music sales. A physical CD is a tangible “gift” that parents, grandparents and caregivers give to my audience. Kids/family music purchases are not direct to fan, but rather direct to caregivers of our fans. I believe over time we’ll see a decline in physical sales, but for now, it’s strong. Post concert sales are always strong and online sales of physical CDs are consistently strong for Debbie and Friends. I believe the same is true for my colleagues in the field.
Hypebot: I’ve been a songwriter for a number of years and if you told me to write a song for kids my first take would be to try to talk about eating your veggies, brushing your teeth, or just, you know, things kids can relate to.
Do we wrongly assume that kids music should be about these subjects?
Debbie Cavalier: That’s exactly why our genre gets a bad rap in some circles, Kyle! Kids/family music doesn’t need to be simple. Again, the songs “Rainbow Connection” and “Being Green” have resonated with kids (and adults) for 40 years. Those songs have very interesting melodies, complex chord progressions, and strong lyrical phrases.
They are about complex and important topics such as diversity, self-esteem, and acceptance even though the target audience for those songs is preschool. Quality music and high production values are what matter most. The messages/lyrics need to be age appropriate, of course, but never dummed down. You’ll know the minute you start to share a song with kids if you’ve hit the mark!
Beth Blenz-Clucas: I agree. If you think of the children’s songs that have the most staying power – Peter Yarrow’s “Puff the Magic Dragon,” or Raffi’s “Baby Beluga,” they tell a funny or compelling story. Look at the old nursery rhymes and songs. They all have something deeper going on. Kids are people too – just littler! They think and dream all the time.