The following is an example of a fan engagement activity within the context of an email-for-media campaign. This idea is consistent with the marketing concepts covered in Mike King’s Online Music Marketing course with Berkleemusic.

Debbie and Friends has a new song/cartoon entitled “When You Were One.” The song celebrates a child’s life and special moments from ages 1-5. Here’s a link to our YouTube channel where the song is featured.

After receiving several requests from our fan families, we made the mp3 available to our to use as a soundtrack for their own family movies and slideshows. See the download link below.

We also encouraged folks to post their movies to YouTube with a hash tag #WYW1 so we can see their creations! The results are TBD. For now, the responses have been very positive.

Here’s a link to the campaign.

How have you used media for fan engagement? Please share your thoughts.

I’m excited to share a brand new cartoon music video from my kids/family music project, Debbie and Friends. The song is based on the classic tale of Cinderella with a few twists including a focus on friendship and self esteem for girls.

From the onset of the project, I wanted to make sure our fan families were involved in the production. We launched a “fairy selection” vote via our Debbie and Friends Facebook page and asked our fan families to help shape our version of the Cinderella story song by voting on one of the following fairies.

fairy

The fairy “Godfather” won by an overwhelming majority!

FAIRY ALT-0005

So, my producer Michael Carrera and I worked on some dialog, and then he summoned his best “Brando” voice for the recording.

We launched the new cartoon on our YouTube channel yesterday and the response has been very strong. Our fan families feel a real connection to the piece having been involved in the storyline and character selection from the beginning.

Presenting “Cinderella” by Debbie and Friends. I hope you enjoy it!

Special thanks to Planet Sunday of Wales. They are brilliant animators and add so much creativity, humor, and quality to everything they do.

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.

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!

__________________________________

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.

Fan Concert Memories

Jul 11 2010

Debbie and Friends is a kids/family music project I started a few years ago. The project has grown and it’s been great fun and extremely rewarding. The concerts are all about interacting with the kids and families at our shows. The following is a “thank you” slideshow I put together for our fan families to show my appreciation for their support. They are at the heart of our success. I think the same keepsake can be done for fans of any genre.


What kinds of memory keepsakes have you put together for your band’s fanbase?

Digging into Topspin

Feb 21 2010

It’s true that in addition to being the dean of continuing education at Berklee, I am also a student. I learn so much from our Berkleemusic students, instructors, and staff on a daily basis.

Just last month, we launched a brand new online course by Michael King entitled Online Music Marketing with Topspin. It’s a brilliant combination of cutting edge, best practices in online marketing wrapped around the new direct-to-fan sales and marketing platform, Topspin.

The course is extremely popular and by the tweets and blog posts of our current students, it’s a hit! For me, the course and the Topspin platform provide practical tools that I’ve been able to use immediately with my own kids/family music project, Debbie and Friends. With very little effort, I’ve created streaming audio and video widgets, as well as “email for media” widgets, like the one shown below.

When logged in, my Topspin account shows me all of the additional “shares” this widget has and the number of hits it’s getting in each location. The email for media widgets are so effective, in fact, that my email list is growing in a way that only used to happen at shows. It’s very exciting to see how well it all works, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this platform can do!

The Topspin account interface is easy to get around and the tools provided are extremely practical and useful for today’s aspiring musician (author, etc.). Next month, when it’s time to release our new CD, I’ll begin digging into the sales functionality of the Topspin application and will have more to report. In the meantime, what has your experience been with Topspin so far?

You outta be in pictures! In fact, as a performing musician in today’s self-promoting, DIY world, every one of your shows should be photographed and everyone who is there supporting your music should be included. Take pictures of your fans having a great time at your show. You should also have pictures taken of the band performing, the crowd interacting, the sound man, the club manager, the show poster on the door, the waitresses… everyone! (Of course, if you do children’s music, it’s important to secure the proper permissions before taking pictures of your audience.) Then, immediately after each show, follow up with everyone who was there using the pictures from the gig for viral marketing!

There are several web-based applications, such as Flickr, that will provide storage for your images online, and easy-to-use tools that enable you to share your memories with fans through your email newsletters, and Web sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Reverbnation, and your band’s own Web site.

Before you know it, your fans will link to the images from within their own personal blogs and social networking sites, and your gig pictures will quickly become viral marketing vehicles, making more and more people aware of your music!

With Flickr, you can upload pictures, add descriptions, links, and keyword tags, and then organize them into “Sets.” Here’s a link to my gig Sets on Flickr. A screen capture of my gig Sets page is presented below. Notice, each Set is focused on a particular show.

Picture 10

Each thumbnail image above leads to a Flickr Set page. Here is a link to a Set of pictures from a recent Debbie and Friends gig at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, MA. The Set contains 17 pictures. Interesting to note that even though I only sent the link to a handful of people, the gig Set has been viewed 290 times on Flickr as of this article’s writing. The hits came from link-sharing and viral marketing efforts by a few fans. Nice!

You can add descriptions and thank you messages to the fans as a way to personalize your gig picture Sets, along with a link to drive traffic to your band’s site, after the images have been enjoyed. See an example of this below.

Picture 9

Here’s a quick, step-by-step list on how to get started using Flickr for your band’s gig memories.

1. Create a Flickr account. There are free- and fee-based versions available, depending on your needs. You will also need a Yahoo email account to create a Flickr account.
2. Log into your account.
3. Upload pictures.
4. Edit your pictures with comments and tags.
5. Organize your pictures into sets.
6. Spread the word: embed the set page link into your email newsletter and on your Web site(s).

There are many more features to explore on Flickr. To learn more, take the tour at http://www.flickr.com/tour

Sharing pictures after a gig is a great way to help build community with your fans and provide tools that enable them to share their excitement about your music with others.

You really outta be in pictures!

It’s an exciting time to be a musician. There are so many new channels of distribution, new formats, and new delivery options that can help you expose your music to potential fans. I have found animated music videos to be an excellent platform for reaching new fans and reconnecting with existing ones.

The three main ingredients needed to produce an animated music video are:

1. A fully produced song that lends itself to visual representation. Although the example that follows is for children/family music, animation can work for any genre or age demographic.

2. A graphic designer to create compelling characters and imagery.

3. An animator who can storyboard the project and create the animation.

The entire process can take 6 to 12 weeks.

Start with a Song
All Debbie and Friends’ animated music videos are based on the original songs that we perform from our CD, Story Songs and Sing Alongs. The final mastered version of the song is used for preproduction planning purposes only. The audio mix is somewhat different in the animated feature to best support the visuals.

Our most recent animated music video was based on our “Jack and the Beanstalk” story song.

Jack and the Beanstalk by DebbieandFriends

Main Character Design
A creative brief is sent to the designer, Robert Heath at Barkley Studios who designs the main characters and elements of the story.

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“Jack and the Beanstalk” main characters by Rob Heath.

Backgrounds and Scenes
Next, the designers and animators at Planet Sunday create backgrounds and scenes to support the characters and the overall storyline.

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Jack and the cow.
CASTLE INT-0001
The Giant taking a nap.

Storyboard Sketch
Once the characters and background scenes are developed, a storyboard movie is created putting rough action sketches to music. We typically do two or three iterations of the storyboard movie before locking it down and going into production on the final movie.

“Easter Eggs”
Al Hirschfeld, the visual artist best known for his cartoon-like line renditions of musicians and actors, always hid his daughter’s name “Nina” in his artwork. Along this line, all Debbie and Friends’ music videos have a “Spider” that drops down and makes a brief cameo at some point during our cartoons. It’s become a fun activity for our fan families to “find the spider” and write to tell me where it is. This is another example of how the music videos help us stay connected with our fans.

Final Movie
The finished movie is uploaded to our You Tube channel and related children’s music video sites such as jitterbug.tv and totlol.com. They are promoted to our fan families via our Debbie and Friends email newsletter, Facebook posts, and blog posts, etc.

The animated music video becomes a viral marketing tool as our fan families share the links and embed codes with their friends. The videos have proven to be great market research tools as well. We are receiving lots of requests to turn the music videos into a DVD product that can be played at home or in the car. Individual music video downloads can be made available to purchase as well. And, the animated music videos can serve as licensing vehicles for film and TV placements.

Indeed, it’s an exciting time to be a musician!

It truly is the “best of times” for independent musicians right now. I’m reminded of this fact each week as new opportunities for licensing Debbie and Friends’ songs unfold.

This week, “Three Pigs and a Wolf,” the same animated music video I blogged about being licensed for use on the show “24,” has just been licensed by a Canadian textbook publisher. The video will appear in a Teacher’s Guide/DVD product for second grade reading programs and distributed throughout Canada.

Just like the “24” opportunity, this came about as a result of a strong web-based presence for the music and the use of online communication tools.

The textbook publisher found my animated music video on a parent-vetted video aggregator site called Totlol. The Totlol video description includes links to my Debbie and Friends Web site. The Web site contains a “contact Debbie” email link. The publisher emailed me their permission request and proposed budget, and in less than a day we had a signed license agreement and video files FTP’d to the publisher.

Personally, I couldn’t be happier to have my music used for educational purposes. Story Songs, such as “Three Pigs and a Wolf,” are intended to be a fun reinforcement of a love of reading for kids. This licensing opportunity will further that mission while providing a new income stream for the catalog.

What an exciting time to be in the music business, indeed!

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.