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!

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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.

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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.

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How about some music with all that candy? Give your trick or treaters a free song download coupon this year (attach it to their candy), compliments of Debbie and Friends!

Get your free, printable song download cards from Debbie and Friends here.

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Hap Palmer

I’m thrilled to tell you about a wonderful educational resource for families and education professionals called BAM Radio Network.

Bam’s co-founder and renowned educator, Rae Pica, recently invited to be part of an interview on Bam with legendary music educator Hap Palmer. Hap is an innovator in the use of music and movement to teach skills and encourage the use of imagination for kids. His music has received numerous honors. Hap’s music was always a big part of my work as an elementary music educator years ago, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with him and the host of the show, Maryann Harmon!

Here’s a link to the show. I hope you enjoy it!

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As many of you know, I have a kids/family project called Debbie and Friends. One of the most rewarding aspects is interacting with our fan families and making them proactive contributors to our overall plans, including song and video production.

A recent example is “casting” the part of the fairy for our new song about Cinderella. We offered up half a dozen “fairy” characters for our fan families to weigh in on and we received more than 100 enthusiastic votes!

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The Fairy Godfather won. We are having a great time working on his lines! The song and the cartoon are currently in production.

Here’s a “sneak preview” into the music and animation (currently in development) that we recently shared with our fan families via Facebook and our Kids’ Music blog.

Our fan families are always part of our new product development process from start to finish. This kind of engagement not only furthers our relationship, but also makes for a better product!

The final version will be released in December.

No matter the genre, fan engagement is important! What are some of the ways you involve your fans?

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I’m happy to announce that our new CD, More Story Songs & Sing Alongs has been honored with a Parents’ Choice Award! Here’s what Parents’ Choice reviewer, Lynne Heffley had to say:

“I Think I Can” (a song version of “The Little Engine That Could”) and “Rosie Wrong Rhyme” exemplify the child-savvy, play-along spirit that singer Debbie Cavalier brings to her music for the preschool and little lunchbox set. “I Think I Can” echoes the gentle encouragement that is Cavalier’s trademark. “Rosie,” a little girl who can’t get her rhymes right, gives young listeners the comical context that allows them to anticipate the right answer. (Written by Norman Martin, “Rosie” is one of only two songs that are not Cavalier originals here). She is well-accompanied by a host of adult musicians and vocalists of all ages, including “Sesame Street’s” Bob McGrath, who helps out on the mellow, harmonic good-bye song, “Until Next Time.”

For more information, or to read about some of the other great award-winning CDs, visit the Parents’ Choice Fall 2010 Audio Awards Web site.

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littleairplane

This summer, I attended a three-day intensive course entitled “How To Make A Great Preschool Series.” It was offered by Emmy Award-Winning Josh Selig’s company, Little Airplane Productions in NYC.

It was an incredible experience and I learned so much! The presenters were a never-ending A-list of truly accomplished and dedicated professionals. During the three day program, I learned about pitching, writing, curriculum development, directing, music, legal, and production aspects of both live-action and animated preschool programs.

The overarching message I came away with was “through education, anything is possible!” The presenters were incredibly informative and encouraging, and they all offered to help the attendees beyond the conclusion of the academy.

Much like Berkleemusic students, the attendees were an eclectic mix of diverse professionals with a common passion and a desire to learn more. Whether it’s music, preschool program development, or any professional pursuit, I’m constantly reminded that continuing education and lifelong learning is key to a successful and rewarding career.

Thanks Josh Selig, Tone Thyne, Jeffrey Lesser, and Melinda Richards and all of the Little Airplane Academy staff and Instructors for an amazing experience and a reminder that anything is possible through education!

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World Class!

Aug 23 2010
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What do Houston TX, South Africa, Mexico City, San Juan PR, Ontario Canada, Brooklyn NY, Nonthaburi Thailand, Portland OR, Stockholm Sweden, Hampshire UK, Salt Late City UT, and Nashville TN all have in common?

They are home to just a handful of the more than 150 Berkleemusic students who successfully completed their online certificate programs last term. Today, I had the great pleasure of signing their letters of completion. It is always exciting for me to see how Berkleemusic brings people, with a passion for music and a desire to learn more, together from all corners of the world.

Congratulations to our Certificate Program graduates!

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I’m excited to tell you that our kids/family music group “Debbie and Friends” has been nominated to the top 5 for the Nickelodeon Parents’ Pick Award for Kids’ CD of the Year! WE NEED YOUR VOTES TO WIN!

Please click the link below to register to vote. You can vote once a day through Aug. 30!

Nominated for best kids’ music cd. Vote now!

To hear the music, please visit

Thank you from all of us at Debbie and Friends!

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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?

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