I’m happy to share a recent two-part article on the Kindie Music Scene that Kyle Bylin wrote for Hypebot. I was incredibly proud to participate in this article along with the top publicist for this genre, Beth Blenz-Clucas of Sugarmountain PR.

The article is pasted below. The original piece can be found here.

Thank you, Kyle Bylin and Hypebot!

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December 7, 2010

Recently, I spoke with Debbie Cavalier, who is 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.

Several months back, I wrote about kindie music and Cavalier was kind enough to get in touch with me. To me, kindie music is an opportunity that emerging artists might be interested in. In this interview, Cavalier and Beth Blenz-Clucas share their perspectives on the kindie music scene and provide insight into how the genre, due its young fans, operates a bit differently from the commercial field.

During this period of economic regression, kids music has been rejuvenated with new life and has almost arisen as a counterforce to the state of popular music.

Why do you think kindie music has seen such expansion? What’s the challenge in informing parents that they have these new options?

Debbie Cavalier: I think high-quality kids/family music recordings have always been in existence. Those of us making music today are standing on the strong shoulders of pioneers like Ella Jenkins, Pete Seeger, Shari Lewis, Bob McGrath, Raffi, and many others. There are current pillars in the industry that have been holding the bar up high for quality kids/family music for 25+ years including Bill Harley, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer.

And artists who have been providing quality programming for the past 10 years such as SteveSongs, Dan Zanes, Ralph’s World, Laurie Berkner, Elizabeth Mitchell, Ben Rudnick, and so on. The list truly goes on and on.

Kids/family music is thriving with quality music and production values that are off the charts. And, there are producers like Tor Hyams who are identifying and producing incredible new talent in this genre like 23 Skidoo, Okee Dokee Brothers, Lunch Money, Mr. Stinky Feet and more. (There really are so many more and I apologize to the many kids/family artists not listed here.)

It’s also nice to see so many mainstream artists such as Bare Naked Ladies, They Might Be Giants, and many others who have crossed over to serve this important audience.

Beth Blenz-Clucas: It’s true that there are hundreds of new bands creating great music for kids. Because indie kids’ music is exploding, the challenge now is just cutting through all of the noise that’s out there and finding the best ways to set yourself apart, and connect with new fans. Really, every two years, you have to reach out to a new fan base as kids grow out of the genre.

Parents are actually luckier than ever because of the digital ecology of music culture online. The flowering of the family music genre is a direct result of this brave new world of web-based marketing and social networking. Artists who previously could not find an audience outside of their hometowns are now reaching out and connecting with people all over the world. Debbie’s connection with her animator in Wales is another example of how technology has actually helped her move her career forward.

Hypebot: At best, the state of popular music is quite perplexing—catchy maybe—but it is so limited in its reach, subject matter, and demographic appeal.

Whether you’re tuning into Ke$ha or Taio Cruz, the lyrical emphasis pertains to such small part of the human experience. Songs subjects range from partying, sex, drugs, break-ups, and love, among other difficulties. Unless fans listen to indie music, they’d be hard-pressed to find songs that are about much else.

What makes the artistic constraints of family music so different from the mainstream? How have the subjects that performers tackle even strayed away from those that “kid’s music” normally deals with?

Debbie Cavalier: I don’t think there are constraints aside from age-appropriate vocabulary, melodic ranges and intervals that are comfortable for young growing voices, and subject matter that is relevant to a child’s world.

The sky is the limit related to style, instrumentation, tempo, form, etc. I think the folks at the Children’s Television Workshop have shown us for 40+ years that it’s important to address challenging issues, to validate a child’s experience and to help them to cope. Joe Raposa’s classic song “Being Green” addressed cultural diversity issues for kids dating back to the early 70s. Justin Roberts has a song that deals with the reality of divorce for kids and families. I recently wrote a goodbye song called “Until Next Time” and recorded it as a duet with Bob McGrath from Sesame Street. The song is being used by families to say goodbye to loved ones, pets who have passed, or friends who are moving away.

I’ve also written songs like “Willy Won’t Smile for the Camera” that deal with truly vexing issues in a fun and effective way. It’s enjoyable for the kids and even helps to relieve a little parental stress along the way.

Hypebot: As physical albums have withered and become displaced by digital singles, many artists have been catapulted into the road indefinitely, in hopes of capturing better, more sustainable incomes though touring.

Yet, with this abundance of artists on the road and the difficulties that others are having in gaining traction in overly saturated genres, the path to success in the record and music industries is being redefined.

Emerging artists are now in search of new opportunities and any means through which they can make money and remain creators of art.

Do you foresee kindie music as an enormous opportunity for artists in this climate? What do you think are some of the greatest barriers that prevent new artists from wanting to perform music for children?

Debbie Cavalier: There are no barriers that prevent kids/family artists from “wanting” to perform music for children. Personally, it’s one of my most favorite things to do and I know many of my colleagues in this space feel the same way. Performing for/with a kids/family audience is incredibly fun and rewarding. The kids are active participants in our Debbie and Friends concerts from start to finish! And, CD sales are very strong at shows as well. I think physical CDs will be relevant in kids/family music for many years to come.

It’s a tangible “present” that a parent, grandparent or caregiver can give to a child. I don’t think that will change any time soon. My experience has been that the “iPod” rip happens after the CD purchase. Currently, downloads make up about 10% of our overall music sales for Debbie and Friends. I believe that is true for many kids/family artists. The only barrier to performing live is related to economic challenges for families. Ticketed theater shows can be financially prohibitive for families.

Beth Blenz-Clucas: I agree that the children’s genre is going to continue to be a good one for physical CD sales, at least for the next few years. Kids like to have something to look at and feel – and they make a fun, lasting gift. There are some artists who do see themselves as primarily studio artists.

They don’t perform for kids much (and with a few of them, you wonder if they like children at all!), but the best ones get out there and learn first-hand what works and doesn’t work with their target audience. Interactivity such as what you do in your shows is KEY for this audience. Children learn best experientially, and we know they just have to MOVE.

It’s true that venues are having a hard time right now finding sponsors that will help defray the costs of tickets. Libraries and schools remain the most reliable way for many artists to earn an income.

Hypebot: A major point of discussion in music and record industry circles has been the DIY artist and debate that they can’t do everything themselves.

It’s said that management and music labels will still play a major role in the future of recorded music and live performers. Bundled in with these conversations is the notion that we are moving away from a top-down, winner-takes-all market to one with an increasing number of musicians that exist somewhere in the middle class, making a steady, humble income, but not getting a jet anytime soon.

Based on your involvement with kindie music, do you think many of the artists are DIY? Have any middle class musicians emerged yet?

Debbie Cavalier: I’m not sure of the moniker “Middle Class,” but I do know many kids/family artists that are earning a full-time living in music and always have. I don’t think the demise of the record labels has had a negative impact on kids/family CD sales. Aside from a few household name artists, I don’t think the majors ever truly embraced the kids/family genre whole-heartedly.

I think kids/family artists have been in DIY mode for many, many years; long before the elegant tools of technology became available. Technology has certainly armed musicians with the ability to expand their reach and be more targeted with marketing messages and direct-to-fan campaigns, but in the end I believe it’s still about relationships and connecting with the fan families at shows.

Beth Blenz-Clucas: The artists who get out on the road and perform do indeed manage to earn a livable income. There’s no doubt this genre demands hard work and dedication. You can’t just release a CD and expect sales to come sailing in. You need to pull all the pieces together – a great concept and “brand,” fantastic music that speaks to kids and parents, then it’s all about how you market what you’ve got, via distribution, publicity, promotions, social networking, and live performances.

Pat Pattison is a world-renowned lyric writing instructor. In addition to being a Professor at Berklee College of Music, he presents songwriting clinics all around the world. Pat has taught thousands of aspiring songwriters and several of his students have won Grammys, including John Mayer and Gillian Welch.

Every time I have the good fortune to see Pat “in action” with a student and a song, I’m amazed by his ability to transform songs from good to great in a matter of minutes with very practical techniques. Here’s one example:

We are very fortunate at Berkleemusic to have three online Lyric Writing courses authored by Pat. I can tell you firsthand they are outstanding courses that will change the way you write and provide you with a powerful songwriting toolkit to use for years to come.

Classes start on Monday!

The playing field has been leveled for independent musicians. It’s true! I have had a series of events and opportunities recently that led me to believe opportunities abound for independent artists who control their own work and leverage the online tools of networking and promotion.

Here’s what happened…

Last week, a friend told me about a Craig’s List ad that stated an “unnamed network” was looking for children’s music to use in a “popular television series.” I responded, like hundreds of others, by throwing my hat in the ring with You Tube links to animated versions of my children’s songs with Debbie and Friends. Five days later, I have signed contracts with Fox Television to use two of my animated songs on their hit series “24″ in January!

I know “24″ is probably the last show you’d expect to find Debbie and Friends music. Our songs are written for the preschool set and their families. However, there will be a scene in an episode of “24″ next season with a young child watching TV, and that’s where my children’s music videos will come into play. The two music videos that will be featured on the show are:

“Three Pigs and a Wolf”
An original song based on the classic children’s tale.

“Hangin’ Around”
An educational song about animal group names such as a school of fish, a flock of birds, etc.

The whole process of licensing the music to Fox has been incredibly smooth. There were no agents, no libraries, not even any existing relationships to leverage (this time!). Just a Craig’s List ad, a response with a You Tube link, verification of ownership, contracts, attorney’s review, signatures, FTP files, and it’s on. Indeed, the playing field is leveled. What a great time to be an independent musician!

Of course, these things don’t always come together so easily. Relationships are an important part of the process as are skills in songwriting and music production. To learn more about Songwriting for Film and Television, check out Berkleemusic’s new online course by Emmy Award-winning composer and Berkleemusic instructor, Brad Hatfield.

The playing field has been leveled for independent musicians. It’s true! I have had a series of events and opportunities recently that led me to believe opportunities abound for independent artists who control their own work and leverage the online tools of networking and promotion.

Here’s what happened…

Last week, a friend told me about a Craig’s List ad that stated an “unnamed network” was looking for children’s music to use in a “popular television series.” I responded, like hundreds of others, by throwing my hat in the ring with You Tube links to animated versions of my children’s songs with Debbie and Friends. Five days later, I have signed contracts with Fox Television to use two of my animated songs on their hit series “24″ in January!

I know “24″ is probably the last show you’d expect to find Debbie and Friends music. Our songs are written for the preschool set and their families. However, there will be a scene in an episode of “24″ next season with a young child watching TV, and that’s where my children’s music videos will come into play. The two music videos that will be featured on the show are:

“Three Pigs and a Wolf”
An original song based on the classic children’s tale.

“Hangin’ Around”
An educational song about animal group names such as a school of fish, a flock of birds, etc.

The whole process of licensing the music to Fox has been incredibly smooth. There were no agents, no libraries, not even any existing relationships to leverage (this time!). Just a Craig’s List ad, a response with a You Tube link, verification of ownership, contracts, attorney’s review, signatures, FTP files, and it’s on. Indeed, the playing field is leveled. What a great time to be an independent musician!

Of course, these things don’t always come together so easily. Relationships are an important part of the process as are skills in songwriting and music production. To learn more about Songwriting for Film and Television, check out Berkleemusic’s new online course by Emmy Award-winning composer and Berkleemusic instructor, Brad Hatfield.

Berklee Today, Berklee’s Alumni Magazine, just published a feature story by Julie Pampinella on Children’s Music.

Check it out here.

Berklee Today, Berklee’s Alumni Magazine, just published a feature story by Julie Pampinella on Children’s Music.

Check it out here.

Berklee Shares!

Oct 22 2008
shares
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

Berklee Shares is a wonderful educational resource filled with free music lessons based on Berklee’s curriculum. The lessons are in the form of videos, interactive PDFs, Flash activities, MP3s and more.

Since its debut in 2003, there have been hundreds of Berklee Shares lessons available to download and share. New lessons are constantly being added to this educational resource. Below is an example of just one of the many new lessons by Berklee Guitar Professor, Joe Musella.

Berklee Shares is an example of Berklee’s commitment to providing music education opportunities to the music community around the world.

Check out Berklee Shares at www.berkleeshares.com.

Not on the Test!

Mar 14 2008

For students and parents who may be stressed out over testing, here’s a lullaby for the times. Grammy Award-winning children’s artist Tom Chapin offers the “Not on the Test” song and video to raise awareness about the importance of music education in all classrooms and to express concern about what is missing from American public education. “Not on the Test,” with music and lyrics by Chapin and his long-time collaborator John Forster, and produced by PST Records, can be downloaded at www.notonthetest.com.

Additional information and advocacy links can be found here.

As a children’s musician I have the wonderful opportunity to share music with kids and their families. We sing, dance, laugh and have a great time making music together. The songs we sing are songs I wrote and before these songs see the light of day, I run them though a 10-point kid-tested checklist and do rewrites accordingly. The 10-point check list came from studying the music of wonderful children’s artists who came before such as Shari Lewis and Buffalo Bob Smith. Also from listening to and attending shows of today’s great children’s artists including Bob McGrath of Sesame-Street fame, Steve Songs, Ralph’s World, Dan Zanes, Vanessa Trien, and many others. The items in this 10-point checklist fall into two main categories: Child Development Considerations and also Music and Production Considerations.

10-Point Kid-tested Checklist

1. Vocal Range and Melodic Intervals

2. Tempo

3. Age-appropriate Skills

4. Language

5. Message

6. Active Participation

7. Song Quality

8. Recording Quality

9. Arrangement

10. Diversity in Style

Child Development Considerations

1. Vocal Range and Melodic Intervals: When writing music for children it’s important to remember that a natural, comfortable range for a young child’s voice is from middle C to G (a perfect fifth above). This range can be extended by a few notes on either end as a child goes from preschool into the primary grades.

In addition to the vocal range, the melodic intervals should be appropriate for the target audience. Does the melody move largely by step or by leap? Are the intervals natural for children to sing—such as the minor third—or unnatural such as a tritone. Of course, a tritone may have its place in a song, but it’s important to be mindful of the challenge and make the rest of the melodic intervals accessible whenever possible.

2. Tempo: A resting heartbeat for a young child is faster than that of an adult. The normal rate is 70 to 90 beats per minute in adults, and 90 to 120 in children. Therefore, songs that an adult would perceive as up tempo might feel more like medium tempo to a young child. This is an important consideration when developing music for a specific energy level.

3. Age-appropriate Skills: Five-year olds know the concept of opposites and can rhyme; two-year olds typically can’t, but they love to make the Itsy Bitsy Spider go up the waterspout with their fingers. Be sure to challenge and engage your audience with opportunities for active participation that address the appropriate skill level for the developing child. Child development publications are helpful resources for this information.

4. Language: Is the vocabulary appropriate for the age-range of the children?

5. Message: Is there a moral to the story or is it nonsensical (both have their place in children’s music). For songs with a value-based message, how will you set that up in the song and then reinforce the message?

6. Active Participation: Children’s music is all about actively engaging kids from start to finish. Are there singing and movement parts for them to do throughout the form? How will you keep them actively engaged in a meaningful way throughout each song for an entire set?

Music and Production Considerations

7. Song Quality: Kids songs should be comprised of the same high-quality standards expected from any other genre.

8. Recording Quality: Give the families who listen to your music the same production values in your recordings as you’d expect from your own favorite recording artists.

9. Arrangement: Do the song sections build? Is there an ebb and flow to the piece? Is the instrumentation interesting and appropriate? Are there hooks and surprises along the way? Where are the memorable moments in the song?

10. Diversity in Style: Stylistically, for a children’s music composer, the world is your oyster. You can write in whatever style is best suited for a given song. It’s not uncommon for a children’s CD to have pop, rock, swing, folk, show-style, and more. Experiment with style. Kids love it!

That’s it!

The true test, of course, is in the actual sharing of songs with children. If they don’t like it… you will know right away! Children are brutally and beautifully honest. If they do connect with your music… you’ll know that right away, too!

Rewriting is the name of the game with songwriting, especially when writing music for children. Keep refining your music to the 10-point checklist and test it out in live performance. When it’s “just right” you’ll know!